Tuesday, 18 October 2011
More Power, Less Flower
The New Beetle arrived in 1998 with an image problem. From the roly-poly body style to the doll-eye headlights to the non-optional dashboard-mounted vase, it was concentrated cutesiness—the drivable equivalent of a YouTube video where a puppy hugs a kitten while a baby panda looks on knowingly. In 2010 only 44 percent of New Beetle buyers were men—no other car on the market had a lower percentage of guys behind the wheel.
So when the time came for a replacement, it makes sense that VW would have wanted to butch things up. Its inspiration: that bastion of masculinity, the original Beetle. Wait, wha?
VW took the basic silhouette of the first People's Car (born in 1938), then injected it with automotive HGH. You can see the hallmarks in the new 2012 Beetle: the stretched nose, the flat roof allowing for deceptive amounts of backseat headroom, the bulging fenders. Except now the design is lower, wider, more lithe. The newest Beetle is hunkered down and inclined to ignore posted speed limits.
Which it very much will do, so long as you tick the box for the optional 200-hp turbocharged engine—the same hunk of metal you'll find under the hood of the sporty Volkswagen GTI. Tick. That. Box. While the Beetle Turbo won't smoke a Camaro SS off the line, I can verify that it's happy to hold triple digits on Germany's Autobahn.
The original Beetle, not so much. My first car was a '73 baby blue model, a 26-year-old antique by the time my parents bought it for me just before my senior year of high school. My record for maximum velocity: eighty-two miles per hour. That triumph required two traffic-free miles of highway, a downhill, and a tailwind. Once, I lost a drag race to a Saturn. And he spotted me fifty yards.
But I will say this: My wheezy blue hunchback, so light and nimble, could dance through corners—and when it comes to handling, the newest Beetle very much takes after its grandpa. As I was hustling it through the curves of a tree-lined back road north of Berlin, with "sport" mode engaged and the Beetle Turbo's six-speed DSG transmission keeping the engine on full boil, I grinned. This retro-ballsy coupe is just as fun as the original, but meaner in all the right ways. That's exactly the kind of attitude adjustment it needed.
0-60 mph: 6.8 sec
Top speed: 130 mph