What is it?
The new Volkswagen Beetle Turbo, the most potent version you can currently buy. It’s powered by VW’s tried and tested 2-litre TSI engine, familiar from Scirocco GTs and Golf GTIs, here producing 197bhp. Prices start from £22,395 for a Sport 2.0 TSI, with Turbo Black or Turbo Silver special editions (the latter tested here, despite its black paint!) costing £23,095.
All Beetles with 160PS or more get VW’s electronic differential lock – known as XDS – as standard, helping increase traction and better transfer the power and torque through the front wheels. This 2-litre TSI range-topper also gets a multiple-link rear axle rather than the torsion beam of lesser models. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, while the six-speed twin-clutch DSG transmission of this test car is a £1510 option.
A DAB digital radio-equipped touchscreen media system is standard fit, and can be upgraded to include voice-activated satnav and a 30GB hard drive (£1305), while a 400W Fender stereo with eight speakers (some of them ambient lit!) is a £520 option.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s good fun, especially as its retro (and not particularly sleek) shape doesn’t immediately suggest sportiness. It lags behind a 2-litre TSI Scirocco for ultimate grip, agility and driver satisfaction, but with nicely weighted steering and that XDS faux-diff maximising traction, it handles cleanly and precisely. It just never delivers much more than that; it’s not a car that excels right at its limits, and it feels better when you push a little less hard and revel in its unique style instead.
The engine is typically good, with a wide band of torque and a rasping soundtrack, especially at higher revs. That said, the Beetle’s upright shape does seem to generate above-average levels of road and wind noise, causing the engine to be drowned out at higher speeds. The DSG gearbox of our car proved a little frustrating; too hesitant in its regular Drive mode, and keen to hang on to a gear too low when nudged into Sport. Without the optional £170 steering-wheel paddles, we were left to use the gearstick, which works in the distinctly un-motorsport-like forwards-for-up/backwards-for-down fashion.
How does it compare?
The Beetle is a car with many conceivable rivals, not least similarly engined relatives in the shape of the VW Golf and Scirocco. It’s a more extrovert choice than either, and is likely to be compared to the likes of the Peugeot RCZ or a personalised and well-specced Citroen DS3 or Mini Cooper S. It’s not quite as much fun to drive as those – and is someway off delivering the Mini’s levels of satisfaction – but with impressive practicality (the rear seats can accommodate most adults and there's a well-sized boot) plus more mainstream appeal than before, it’s a car we’re happy to recommend if you’re sold on the looks.
Anything else I need to know?
Choosing one of the Turbo special editions (their Silver or Black tags referring to the colour of available decals, not their paintjob) means you can only have a set of 19in ‘Tornado’ alloy wheels. Pick the cheaper 2-litre TSI Sport and you can have 18s, which hopefully take the edge off a firm ride that can be unsettled in urban driving.