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Smitten by the Bug!

| | Updated on: Dec 03, 2015
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Test_drive

Test_drive

The Volkswagen Beetle is back in India. And it looks like this one can be a boy’s toy too.

When we talk of pure design in automobiles today, most often it conjures up images of minimalist straight lines and sharp angles. Pure design is bereft of excess. But if you look at pure design’s other trait – timelessness, then the images that come to mind are mostly cute or curvy. Cars that have defined the last century; have withstood the test of time and are still fresh by current design sensibilities have no straight lines.

Only a few of these curvy cars have attained cult status, capturing popular imagination like none of the others. The Volkswagen Beetle is one of those cars. Its design remains pretty much unchanged and it is still fresh, and still makes onlookers break into a smile every time it is driven by. Draw three semi-circles in a row, with the one in the middle being larger than the ones on either side, and that would be the design interpretation of the Beetle. How simple is that? It is incredible that the Beetle’s fundamental design concept has remained almost unchanged for nearly eight decades. The VW Kafer (German for beetle) as it was known, was one of the longest running and most manufactured cars built on one platform. Older readers might also recall the ‘Herbie’ movie franchise, which was immensely popular because of the VW Bug (what the Beetle was called in the US).

Trail of smiles

Though there are quite a few of the old Beetles still around here, Volkswagen officially launched only the New Beetle, which was in production worldwide between 1997 and 2011. This generation of the car simply called the New Beetle was unmissable on Indian roads. Most often sporting its signature yellow body colour, the New Beetle was obviously not a big seller, but always left a trail of smiles. Being an import coming all the way from Puebla, Mexico, it had priced itself out of our market.

Its successor, introduced globally for the model year 2012, and now called just the Beetle, is likely to face a similar situation in terms of its potential pricing. But that has not stopped VW India from launching it here. Bookings for the Beetle were opened late last month. The 2016 model has a lot of new equipment and will essentially take on the likes of the MINI Cooper and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class.

Last week we travelled to VW’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, where the original Type 1 Beetle was conceived and built, in order to test drive the current model.

The Beetle’s overall design has gotten much closer to the original’s lines than its predecessor.

The New Beetle, which was discontinued in 2011, had a cutesy charm about it. Its design was a bit effeminate. It even had a small flower vase on the dash. But, the 2016 Beetle has gone through a complete redesign, to give it a modern streak of masculinity and a more aggressive profile.

A bug’s life

But interestingly, the current Beetle’s design is closer to the original than the predecessor. This second generation new Beetle even shares a name with the original ‘Kafer’ in Germany. Viewed from the side, the roofline and chubby wheel arches remind you instantly of the original. The oval headlamps and the impish ‘smiling’ front design are other direct connections with the Type 1.

The 2016 Beetle shares its A5 platform with the Jetta. VW engineers have ensured that this new model is more useable than the predecessor. It is now wider and longer than the predecessor, but it has also got a lower profile. At the rear, almond-shaped tail-lamps and a tailgate hinged at the top of the C-pillar gives access to 310 litres of boot space – about 100 litres more than in the predecessor. Of course, the Type 1 would have featured the engine in this space.

In the Sport trim and in the Beetle Turbo, a rear spoiler located in the middle dividing the rear glass and the bottom half of the tailgate gives the rear a sporty and special character.

The Beetle’s cabin is a delightful reflection of the funky exterior design. With the bright, young exterior colours making their way inside, the cabin of the Beetle gets a whole new flavour. It should please buyers in the Rs 20 lakh+ price category, with its panoramic sunroof, ambient lighting, leather upholstery, and premium materials and finish.

Hitting the road

The Beetle is offered with a choice of three petrol and two diesel engines in various combinations in different markets globally. But, Volkswagen India is bringing in only the 1.4-litre TSI, which is a turbo-charged, direct injection petrol engine. The engine generates a peak power of 110kW or 150PS and is paired with a 7-speed DSG gearbox. This automatic gearbox is VW’s quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission. In keeping with the Beetle’s sporty character, it also gets steering-mounted paddle shifters for manual gear selection.

The two-litre turbocharged engine in the Beetle R-Line and the Turbo produces a higher 201HP of peak power; and feels quicker off the block. But, during our day out in and around Wolfsburg with the Beetle 1.4L, it proved that it is no push over either.

There is enough low-end torque to propel the Beetle forward faster that than you would expect a compact car to be capable of. The ride quality is predictably stiff and sporty, but not jarring while driving on bad roads.

Bottomline

The Beetle is a compact car; its wheelbase is 2,537mm and so while it is meant to be a 5-seater, the rear isn’t the most spacious in that price segment. VW is also choosing the smaller, less expensive engine to keep its pricing competitive. The company is yet to make the price announcement, but we expect it to be about Rs 25-30 lakh. It is a shame though that VW is not bringing in the Beetle Cabriolet. That model adds another layer of cuteness to the car.

For Volkswagen, which is gearing up to face the gathering storm from the emissions scandal and the recall of its Indian models, the Beetle could act like a much needed distraction. It is unlikely to rake in the numbers, but the Beetle will remind buyers that VW makes cars that talk to your heart too.

Published on March 10, 2018

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