The Volkswagen Beetle has been one of the automotive world’s success stories for over 70 years. With the original and basic design from the 1930s barely changing in real terms, it was in the mind “noughties where production ceased for the original model style. In 1997 Volkswagen had released the New Beetle which changed from rear engined and air cooled to a rounded, modernised, front engined and water cooled model. Complete with vase and flower it was a reasonable hit and predominantly bought by women. A rejig occurred in 2011 which coincided with a change back to Beetle. An exterior redesign with a flatter roof, changes to the front and rear bumpers, moving the front window back slightly for a longer bonnet look and a ditching of the feminine oriented flower was intended to attract more of the make market. To that end, the VW Beetle Fender Special Edition was released in 2012 in black, Bentley style chrome wheels and a cranking Fender 400 watt audio system. Priced from around $35K plus ORCs and with VW’s 1.4L TSI engine/7 speed DSG combo, how does it measure up on the road? A Wheel Thing takes a look and a listen.
The Driven Heart
Front engine, front drive, supercharger and turbo weaponry, seven gear ratios in a dual clutch automatic with manual selection, 118kw and 240Nm of torque in a car weighing just on 1300 kilograms, with torque on tap from 1500rpm means a heavy right foot equates to consistent, linear surge of acceleration, with the twin combination of on tap surge from the supercharger running seamlessly into the turbo’s torque. It rolls on like a wave to a cutoff around 7000rpm with upshifts barely perceptible. Downshifts are almost the same except when coming down a hilly road such as Sydney’s Old Bathurst Road, where the computer will hold a gear. Fuel economy is said to be 6.4L per 100 but it was disconcerting to watch the gauge visibly move, like the old days of a heavy drinking V8. Although essentially the same drivetrain as the Golf, there was a feeling that economy wasn’t quite the same from the Beetle nor was the feeling of refinement the same. There was an almost subliminal buzz through the driveline sometimes, the lag between moving from reverse to drive and waiting for the gears to re-engage, the indecisiveness of the lower gears when moving off on light throttle with hesitancy and stuttering being exhibited, added to a feeling of not beeing 100 percent smooth and composed. Although overall economy finished at just under 7.0L per 100, comparable to the 103 Highline, the expected range in the Highline was a couple of hundred kilometres further than the Beetle. Underway, the gearchanges were sharp, short and crisp and in sports mode held gears just a touch longer.
The Office Space
Unsurprisingly, it’s not a bad place to be, inside the Fender Beetle. Of immediate notice is the laminated “Sunburst” wood strip, full width across the dash, contrasting vividly against the gloss and matt blacks otherwise used and broken only by the vents framing the touchscreen navitainment system and a splash of chrome. Seats are of a sports bucket style, are comfortable enough, manually operated for fore and aft as is the steering column, adjustable for both rake (up and down) and reach (in and out) and attached to the flat bottomed wheel, another sign of its Golf origins. Dash dials are Teutonically efficient (speedometer and info framed by tacho and fuel), clinically designed black and white for the aircon controls ahead of the sports shifter. The four seats are a mix of a staid cloth patter splitting the leather on either side whilst the doors eschew full plastic for an elastic strip to hold things in. The boot is of a decent size (310L) accessible via the hatch or the 60/40 split fold rear seat. The headlights have LED daytime running lights from start which look great however there is no “Auto” headlight setting.
The signature piece is the sound system. Yes, it goes loud. Yes, it has plenty of punch. But there’s more to it; it’s clean, crisp, clear, it has tightness in the bass, the sound has definition rather than being a jumbled mess with the highs distinguishable from the midrange. When pushed there was no noticeable distortion, just a feeling of having your insides jellified from the subterranean low notes whilst listening to crystal perfect music, accessible via six stacker CD, SD card, auxiliary and, oddly, USB hidden inside the glovebox rather than next to the Aux. What a pity then, that the touchscreen was a jumbled layout and not intuitive; would not display a station’s RDS without it being needed (under a submenu) to be ticked every time the engine had been restarted and didn’t seem to allow easy access to different stations preset on different pages. Compared to so many other layouts it’s a shocker.
Available in any colour as long as it’s black, it’s less upright, a touch flatter on the roof and features a rear spoiler, set just under the window. The redesign was intended to take it away from the female oriented styling and add some more masculinity to it. Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder it seems to have worked. The Golf origins are seen in the front bumper’s lower edges, the front wheel arch is almost bonnet height, with the rear arches longer and flowing into the taillights. Being a two door car, the doors themselves are well proportioned in respect to the overall dimensions. Back to the front, the bi-xenon lights throw out an icy blue-white, almost surgical in its colouring, at night.
On The Road
I’ve hinted at the flexibility of the Fender Beetle’s drive combination with the supercharger lighting the fire at low revs with the turbo continuing the burn as the revs increase; the roadholding isn’t too bad either. The grippy Continental tyres, 235/45 profile wrapping that almost Bentley style chrome wheel, hung on in both dry and wet weather with minimal slip, a good indication of the active safety systems doing their job. There was a momentary lack of traction at the rear when flung into a tight corner but on long sweepers with tightening radius corners the Beetle simply goes where it’s told. When launched, the front driven tyres scrabble momentarily for grip however there’s no noticeable torque steer. It sits flat, but does get a touch jiggly and unsettled on some of the more raw and unfinished roads, otherwise it’s compliant and absorbent, neutralising surface issues. There’s plenty of all round vision however the slightly too small rear vision mirror is a downside. Although built on a Golf base, overall handling though isn’t quite as razor sharp, with the suspension settings feeling just a little less refined, perhaps due to the lower profile rubber.
Sound system aside, it’s still a competent enough vehicle to have. If you’re buying it for the fact it’s a Beetle, then that’s not a bad thing; with that most immensely usable and flexible drivetrain combination, reasonable room, road handling thanks to the donor chassis. Lob in the quality of sound system, plus a better designed screen interface (please) and for the price, it makes a great rolling hifi.
More information on the Beetle is here: http://volkswagenaustralia.com.au/PassengerVehicleVariants/vehicle/newbeetle