Punch buggy! Walt Disney's "Herbie the Love Bug" movies were among the pinnacle of my childhood. I admired the beloved Volkswagen Bug with the number 53 on its doors and longed for a car that would drive itself.
A diehard enthusiast since the days when I drove a Fisher Price Cozy Coupe, Walt Disney’s “Herbie the Love Bug” movies were among the pinnacle of my childhood. I admired the beloved Volkswagen Bug with the number 53 on its doors and longed for a car that would drive itself. Having had the opportunity to drive the all-new, much sportier 2012 Volkswagen Beetle, my expectations were half met. While I was given a car that didn’t exactly have a mind of its own, some parts of it certainly did.
The Beetle, reintroduced in 1998, has virtually gone on for 15 years without a significant redesign. I’m sure a good number of those years consisted of Volkswagen’s design team scratching their heads as to how they were going to evolve the Bug in the first place. Let’s get one thing straight about the new one though; it’s not a “people’s car”. It’s not a car that you go out and buy if you’re looking for, to quote villain character Peter Thorndyke from the Herbie series, “cheap honest transportation”. At just under $33,000 for my Sportline tester, it’s not cheap. Then again, those shopping Beetles generally buy them because they like the character and heritage behind the car.
The Sportline model is powered by one of my favourite engines currently on the market, the Volkswagen 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder. Coupled with the 6-speed DSG, on paper this Love Bug already put a smile on my face. Sure, it only has 200 horsepower, but let’s not forget that the original air-cooled Beetle had 29 horsepower. If you go into the Beetle Sportline expecting GTI performance and GTI dynamics, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. While sharing a powerplant with the quintessential hot-hatch, the Bug has its own character that differentiates it from anything else in Volkswagen‘s lineup.
This all-new Beetle, with its new ‘chopped’ roofline does have much better aerodynamics than the outgoing model. It’s also a lot more pleasant to look at. Unfortunately, the previous-generation Bug, with its plastic flower vase on the dashboard, was a car clearly targeted towards women. While there are some vehicles that stereotypically have a predominant female demographic (PT Cruiser, Jetta), I consider myself objective enough to never flatly refuse to drive a car based on that stigma. The 1998-2011 Beetle is the only car I feel that way about, and I’m not the only one. Volkswagen deliberately styled this new one and offers some wonderful powertrain options in order to deviate from this.
The “Sportline”, outside of the turbocharged motor, comes with a bunch of neat gizmos that put it at the top of the Beetle lineup. It comes equipped with heated leather seats, sport seats, sport suspension, a navigation system, and 18″ alloy wheels. Also, the Fender premium audio system is absolutely stellar. The 400-watt stereo coupled with Volkswagen’s MDI (Media Device Interface) is most excellent to browse through, and while screen size is a little smaller than I’d have liked, the overall feel is great.
Dash materials are of typical Volkswagen-feel. The car feels put-together well and behaves as such. I compare the niche-market Beetle to the likes of the Mini Cooper and the Fiat 500. The one (in my opinion, huge) advantage the Beetle has is that its back seat is the easiest to enter and exit of any two door I’ve ever been in. Using the handle to flip and roll forward the front seat, a full-size adult can literally walk into the back seat. As a “proud” Mini owner, this is definitely a welcomed surprise.
The new aerodynamics plus the already-efficient character of the Beetle led to an unsurprising 6.9L/100km in both city and highway driving. This is, of course, with a light foot and the turbocharged engine’s required premium 91-octane fuel. Driving with in a more spirited mood, I still averaged just around the 9.0L/100km mark in the Bug. Not awful for a car of this size.
I like the Bug. In fact, everyone on the team had the opportunity to drive it and short of minor complaints here and there about turbo lag or “it’s not as good as a GTI“, no one had anything truly negative to say. It’s not what I was expecting though; and I can’t help but feel as though it’s lost the charisma of the “People’s Car” and has gotten far too pricey.