The Beetle, since followed by the likes of the PT Cruiser and BMW's MINI, was the first of the current batch of cute retro cars. Unlike the original 'people's car', the new Beetle has its engine under the bonnet rather than hanging out the back, and whichever engine you choose (there is now quite a wide range) they're all water rather than air-cooled, and they drive the front wheels rather than the rear. Underneath that familiar but still attention- grabbing shape, the Beetle's much the same as a Golf, which means that it's a decent drive and offered with modern equipment. However, the Beetle is not as well finished inside as the Golf, and suffers the odd rattle and squeak. The earliest 1999 cars were all left-hand drive as Volkswagen UK tried to meet customer demand (and fend off imports), but all are now RHD. The (relatively) practical Cabriolet joined the range in spring 2003. RELIABILITY AND QUALITY RATING: ***
Actually, two stars for quality of finish, four for reliability. The Beetle, being based on the Golf, has most of that car's strong points, such as robust mechanicals, decent reliability, and so on. However, the quality of some of the fixtures and fittings on the inside is well short of Golf standards, there being too much hard plastic and some surprisingly shoddy finishes. A recent V5 test car had loose cupholders and an ashtray lid that wouldn't shut properly, too. The same car had an engine management fault. The new Beetle is made in the Puebla, Mexico plant, incidentally, like the original was until recently. Nevertheless, the born-again Beetle has scored well in reliability surveys, and on the whole, owners are reporting high levels of satisfaction. The Cabriolet is subject to the odd rattle, as expected in a soft-top - it feels passably solid, and is free from serious scuttle shake.IMAGE RATING: ****
When it first appeared in 1999, the Beetle was highly desirable, but as with so many items of fashion, it has been partly eclipsed by the next big thing, which in this case has been the new MINI. The arrival of the Cabriolet has rejuvenated the VW somewhat, but the Beetle does feel a little old hat now. Owners, however, love them, and wave at fellow drivers - having a Beetle is a bit like belonging to a club. It tends to be a car that polarises opinions - some wouldn't be seen dead in one, while for others, it's the only car to have. DRIVING RATING: ***
Like the Golf on which it's based, the Beetle is quite user-friendly, with light power-assisted steering, a light and positive - if a little rubbery - gearshift, and soft-feeling brake and clutch pedals. All are a little too over-assisted, if anything. Visibility isn't great, though, which comes partly from sitting right in the middle of the car, which leaves the B-pillar right by your side and means that judging where the front is a bit of an issue too. Rear visibility isn't brilliant in either model, least of all in the Cabriolet. No Beetle - not even a hotter one - feels like an out-and-out driver's car, but all have safe, stable handling and provide reasonably roll-resistant cornering. All models ride on the same suspension settings, incidentally. So if you think the more powerful models are going to provide an entertaining drive, forget it - you're much better off with a Mini Cooper S. The steering is responsive, though, and the V5 makes an endearingly smooth growl. However, most Beetle pleasures stem from sticking a brightly coloured flower in the vase and going for an ego-massaging pose, which for the extrovert, is best effected in the Cabriolet. PERFORMANCE RATING: ****
Performance isn't the reason for buying this car. Nevertheless, the Beetle isn't all style over substance, as the engine options are many. To start with, there's the 1.4 (75bhp), which is rather breathless. The 1.6 is a better bet: a smooth engine with more than adequate performance. At under twelve grand, this model is comparable with the MINI One - only with a bit more room in the back and a larger boot. Then there's a 2.0-litre - not much more power than the 1.6, not as smooth and not worth the extra eight hundred pounds or so that it demands over a similarly specified 1.6. The 100bhp 1.9 diesel is powerful and quietish, while there's a 150bhp 1.8 Turbo and the smooth 2.3 V5. All models can handle fast motorway cruising with ease, with 1.8T and V5 versions proving quite rapid. SAFETY AND SECURITY RATING: ****
As with the Golf, the Beetle has scored four-stars in the EuroNCAP independent crash tests. All models come with ABS, driver, passenger and side-airbags, seat-belt pre-tensioners and ESP (electronic stability programme). An immobiliser and alarm are also standard, as is remote central locking. Cabrio is best performing convertible in German automobile association, thanks to pop-up rollover bars, which are unusual in this class of cabriolet. RUNNING COSTS RATING: ***
Although its servicing costs and fuel consumption are broadly similar to a Golf's - which means competitive - the Beetle is significantly more expensive to insure. It holds its value better than average for the class, also like the Golf. Early left-hand-drive models have dropped in value because right-hand-drive (hatchback) models are now widely available second-hand; the Cabriolet should hold its value fairly well. Insurance ratings range up to Group 15 for the V5. Fuel economy is pretty average, the highlight being 53.3mpg from the 1.9 turbodiesel. Because it's a fashion item it demanded a premium at first, but the Beetle is now proving a lot more affordable. There are plenty of used examples around, so you can shop for the better options - one in a non-dating colour (best avoid the pasty canary yellow) in right-hand-drive, and with air-con and alloys. The 1.8T is likely to be the easiest to sell, because the V5, at 2.3-litres, will seem a bit thirsty for some. The diesel is the most objectively sensible choice, but if you want to avoid getting your hands dirty at the pumps and wish to live without mild clatter on a cold morning, then the 1.6 is the Beetle of choice. Difficult to judge when the Beetle's such a style-led marketing exercise, which leaves value somewhat in the eye of the beholder. It's not a totally sensible choice but, given that it has a lot more room than the MINI, not a totally outlandish purchase either. Practical enough for two people, or occasionally four, it is competent on the road and has all the creature comforts you might expect. Residual values are proving pretty good, too, which makes the Beetle a capable compromise between fun and sensibility. COMFORT AND EQUIPMENT RATING: ***
Counting against the Beetle on this score is the restricted rear space, which makes a lengthy journey in the back of a Beetle something to be avoided. The ride, meanwhile, isn't quite as settled over rough surfaces as it could be. The cabin is largely well upholstered and inviting, the body coloured sections giving the interior a lift, though they'll be cold on a winter's day. Wind and road noise are fairly well suppressed, with air conditioning standard on most models. Front-seat occupants are well served, with seats much larger than those in a Mini and a very airy feel, thanks to the large windscreen which stretches miles away from you. That leaves quite a lot of dashboard to dust, mind you. Those in the back fare less well, however. The sloping roof-line seriously restricts headroom, although legroom isn't too bad. The boot is small, narrow and difficult to access, and is further restricted in the Cabriolet, especially with the roof down and when carrying the wind deflector. Oddments space on the inside is fair, even amounting to a dash-mounted flower vase. Three stars for the stereo, because satellite navigation isn't even an option. Most models come with a six-speaker RDS radio/cassette, which is of reasonable sound quality. A single-disc CD player, sadly, is relegated to the options list, unless you buy a V5, which comes with a six-disc changer, located under an armrest between the front seats (this is also an option on other models).
There's even a diesel
There's even a diesel Six engines are now available: the 1.4 (75bhp), 1.6 (102bhp), 1.8 T turbo (150bhp), 2.0 (115bhp) and 2.3 V5 (170bhp) petrol units, and the 100bhp TDI PD diesel. That makes the Beetle Cabriolet one of the few soft-tops on the market available with a diesel engine. The 2.0-litre engine is offered with the optional Tiptronic automatic transmission with sequential-shift function.
All Cabriolets but the entry-level 1.4 have an electrically-folding roof. All you need do is release a catch above the rear-view mirror, then pull a switch behind the handbrake. The roof retracts into folds behind the rear seats - and surprisingly, doesn't flap at high speeds. A wind deflector is optional, and can be fitted when there is noone sitting in the back.
Filling up, pumping out
The Beetle isn't particularly economical for its size - it's a heavily-built car - but the diesel is the most cost-effective, returning 53.3mpg and emitting 143g/km (hatch). The 1.4 returns 39.2mpg and 173g/km, putting it in an altogether higher tax bracket, the 1.6 36.7mpg and 185g/km, the 1.8 T 34.4mpg and 197g/km, the 2.0 32.5mpg and 209g/km, and the 2.3 V5 31.7mpg and 214g/km.
Boot it up
No, the engine's not in here any more. Instead, you get a meagre 209 litres of load capacity (769 litres with the rear seats folded flat). This space is also narrow and difficult to access, with a high 'tailgate' (little more than a flap on the Cabriolet).
The Beetle is 4081mm long, 1724mm wide and 1498mm high, and considerably heavier and chunkier than its ancestor at 1230-1327kg (hatch, depending on engine) and up to 1406kg for the cabriolet. Maximum towing weight, should you wish to pull a retro mini-Winnebago, is 1000kg.
Standard equipment on all models includes driver, passenger and side airbags, ABS anti-lock brakes, ESP (electronic stability programme), remote central locking, electric front windows and alloy wheels. Air conditioning is optional on 1.4 and 1.6 models, standard on others, and leather upholstery is another (pricey) extra on all but the 2.3 V5, which gets it factory-fitted. The V5 also gets a standard CD autochanger.
Volkswagen has been offering Sport Edition models, based on the V5. These have unique 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, more aerodynamic front and rear bumpers, extra spotlights, twin chromed exhaust rear tailpipes, interior aluminium trim details, aluminium drilled pedals and two-tone heated leather seats. Check out our prices and versions page for more details of the latest models on offer; VW is likely to offer more special edition Beetles over the next year or so, to keep up interest now that its initial appeal as an exciting all-new model has faded.
Beetle 2.0 and 1.8 T models are offered with an optional Colour Concept pack, which gives colour-coded leather seats (heated and sporty-shaped) and 'San Diego' 16-inch alloy wheels. Five paint colours are available with this option, Double Yellow, Red, Cyber Green metallic, Raven Blue metallic and Black. 2.3 V5 models can also be colour-co-ordinated, and these Colour Concept models come with 'Daytona' 17-inch alloys.