Review: Volkswagen Beetle

A fashionable car you will select with your heart rather than your head

16 Nov 15 Tim Barnes-Clay

Pros

  • Large boot

  • Stylish design

  • Economical

Cons

  • Costly repairs and servicing

  • Rear seats are cramped

  • Firm ride

Our expert rating

In a 65-year production run from 1938 to 2003, more than 21 million VW Beetles were produced. Love it or loathe it, the car is a genuine motoring legend. The New Beetle of 1998 is not yet an icon, but it’s still tremendously popular.

So much so that in 2012 Volkswagen launched an even fresher version, the VW Beetle Mark 3, which shares many parts with the Volkswagen Golf.

Performance

Four engines are available with the 2012 model Beetle. There is a 1.6-litre diesel, a 1.2-litre petrol, a 1.4-litre petrol or the flagship 2.0-litre petrol. All the petrol engines are powerful, thanks to turbocharging.

However, the sprightly 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine gives the Beetle a real ‘hot-hatch’ character, allowing you to sprint away from the lights, or overtake easily. A range of gearboxes is available, including a fluid six-speed manual and two automatics.

Volkswagen servicing, parts and labour costs can sometimes be pricey, but long service intervals and hearty reliability will help keep running costs low. The 1.6-litre diesel Bluemotion Technology model is the cheapest to run. It averages 66mpg and emits a low 114g/km of CO2, meaning cheap annual road tax.

Volkswagen Beetle side

Ride and handling

With its broad stance the VW Beetle feels planted on the road, and the chassis and steering let you know what is going on. That said, it lacks the last few degrees of involvement that would make it fun to drive.

Still, the Beetle from 2012 on is far better in this respect than the older car from 1998. The Sport models are a little firm, meaning they hold on to bends well, but riding on 18-inch wheels means this variant can make the car crash uncomfortable over potholes or scarred tarmac.

Models with big tyres also throw up a fair amount of road noise and some wind roar from the door mirrors can irritate. The previous 1998 VW Beetle generation received four stars in Euro NCAP testing and the 2012 version improved on that, receiving the highest five star rating.

Every Beetle from this age bracket gets anti-lock brakes, brake assistance and electronic stability control. You and your front seat passenger also get front airbags and side and head airbags.

The VW’s hazard lights are also triggered under heavy braking, warning other vehicles of your diminishing speed.

Volkswagen Beetle interior

Interior space

The Beetle from 2012 has a usefully big 310 litre boot, though the rear seat is a bit restricted, especially when it comes to headroom. There isn’t much cabin storage, either. In many ways the Beetle is more of a two-plus-two, rather than a full four-seater.

In other words, it’s great for two adults in the front, with plenty of elbow and leg room. Two small kids will be fine in the back, too – and the car’s large side windows flood the cabin with light. But, be warned, you will be changing the car the minute your kids start getting into double figures.

All models of Beetle from 2012 come with an abundance of equipment, including air conditioning, DAB digital radio, alloy wheels, connections for MP3 players, electric windows and mirrors.

Optional extras when new include satellite navigation and heated leather seats, so it’s worth paying a bit more if you find a Beetle fitted with these on a used car forecourt. ‘Design’ trim adds upgraded wheels, Bluetooth, climate control and colour coordinated interior trim, while ‘Sport’ trim adds options such as 17 inch wheels, a rear spoiler, parking sensors and black wing mirrors.

Volkswagen Beetle back

What to know before you buy

Generally, Volkswagen’s are dependable, but clutches may need changing at 40,000 miles and replacements are costly. An easy way to tell if the clutch is going is to start your test car on a level road, put the clutch in, put the car into third gear, take the handbrake off and slowly release the clutch.

It should stall rapidly. If the engine labours for a bit as you let the clutch out, tries to pull away, then stalls, the clutch is slipping. There have also been two recalls on the Beetle, one concerning the fuel pump, and the other the anti-lock braking system that can lead to fire damage.

If you buy from a dealer then they should check for any outstanding recalls as part of their pre-sales preparation. If you buy privately, it’s possible that a past recall may have been ignored. If in doubt, you can check online.

Volkswagen Beetle and Fiat 500 alternative

Alternative cars

If you want a designer hatchback, the Beetle’s main foes are the MINI and the Fiat 500. The MINI is better to drive and the Fiat miles cheaper. But both are even less practical than the Volkswagen.

Indeed, if you take the Beetle as the sports coupe VW marketed it as, its chief competition comes from Volkswagen’s own line-up, in the shape of the Scirocco, which is lots more entertaining to steer and better value for money.

Overall verdict

The Volkswagen Beetle does just about meet VW’s claims of sportiness. But the German company’s own Scirocco is unquestionably the better coupe. Nonetheless, the 2012 VW Beetle is a substantial step forwards compared with the previous iteration from 1998 onwards. If you are attracted to it, buy it.

After all, it’s a fashionable car you will select with your heart rather than your head.

Expert rating

Performance

Reliability

Space & comfort

Running costs

Value for money

Overall