What is it?
Volkswagen’s second-generation new Beetle. This 1.4-litre TSI Sport tops the range until a near-200bhp 2-litre version arrives later in the year.
Beetles with 160PS (158bhp in old money) or more get VW’s diff-aping XDS technology, as debuted on the Golf GTI. It usefully increases traction out of corners and gives the Beetle a sporting chance of putting its power to good use.
The 1.4-litre engine is familiar from a plethora of other small, fast VWs and uses both a turbocharger and supercharger to provide twist at both ends of the rev-range.
Inside, there’s plenty of appealing technology available in the new Beetle, including an optional Fender audio system. Your £495 buys a 400W output and eight speakers, some of which are ambient lit at night. Lovely.
What’s it like to drive?
Better than you’d expect, quite probably. It’s more performance-minded than the car it replaces, and while the steering is artificially heavy and somewhat hesitant in its responses at urban speeds, it quickens up and is much more precise at speed. It's a similar story with the ride, which is a bit unsettled over town tarmac but very compliant on faster roads, and with plenty of grip and that clever faux-diff, you can get into a real groove when traversing B-roads. Trouble is, it doesn’t communicate or reward as much as rivals, be it fellow retro-hatch the Mini Cooper, or VW’s own Scirocco.
The 1.4-litre twin-charged engine is undeniably clever, and makes some interesting noises. With a lack of punch in its mid-range, though, you’ll need to rev this Beetle to get the best out of it, making the claimed 42mpg fuel economy very hard to match.
How does it compare?
As mentioned, the Mini and Scirocco are both better drives; a 181bhp Cooper S costs £18,075 as a four-seater hatchback or £19,775 as a two-pew Coupe, while the more practical four-seat Scirocco – with the same engine as the Beetle - is £21,875. But the Beetle’s more masculine new look and appealing driving experience provide a better case than ever for choosing one over more conventional rivals.
Anything else I need to know?
The performance choice remains the 197bhp 2.0 TSI (reviewed here); it’ll cost around £3000 more than this 1.4 Sport when it goes on sale in summer 2012.