The first one wasn’t even called a Beetle. It was the Type 1 ‘people’s car’ that Adolf Hitler ordered Ferdinand Porsche to design and build back in the 1930s. Ironically, it was the British who put the badly bombed factory at Wolfsburg into civilian production after the War.
With an air-cooled engine at the back and a fairly useless ‘boot’ at the front, this was the unlikely beginnings of a legend. The quirky, rounded shaped quickly led to the nickname of Beetle which was eventually adopted by the makers. Despite being branded as ‘unsafe at any speed’ in the US, the Beetle went on to sell 21 million all over the world.
It spawned the Herbie movies and had an enthusiastic following that ultimately gave it cult status. Dublin was the first place outside Germany where the cars were assembled. Stephen O’Flaherty got the franchise in 1949 and the cars were put together at Shelbourne Road, Ballsbridge, from crates shipped in from Wolfsburg.
The 1950s and 1960s were the heyday of Beetle sales when it was up against another icon, the Morris Minor. Cheap, reliable and economical the original car still sold steadily for many more years. It was 2003 when it finally went out of production in Mexico.
But the memory lingered on and 12 years ago the first of the ‘new’ Beetles was launched. Based on the Mark IV Golf, it was a modern take on the people’s car. While it did not quite match the sales of that other retro classic, the MINI, the Beetle with the flower vase on the dash, sold a modest one million. That was sufficiently encouraging for VW now to launch the third take – you could call it new, new Beetle. With hindsight, they seem to have made a much better job of it.
They have gone for a lower look with a longer bonnet and a flatter roofline that almost mirrors an Audi TT. Still instantly recognisable as a Beetle, it has a more purposeful look that hints at a sportier drive. This will be fully exploited when the 200PS GTI version arrives later.
On the road it feels much more responsive thanks to its advanced suspension which gives a firmish but comfortable ride. When it goes on sale early next year, the first available engines will be the impressive 105PS 1.2 TSI and the 160PS 1.4 TSI petrol. These use ‘soft’ turbocharging for refinement and economy.
Later, these will be joined by the 200PS, 2.0-litre flagship and a highly economical 105PS, 1.6-litre BlueMotion TDI diesel offering up to 65mpg and emissions of 112 g/km. All of these engines have already won praise when fitted to other VW models so they should be good in the Beetle.
The new, new Beetle is priced from £14,875 to take on the MINI. It will come in Beetle, Design and Sport trims with options including Keyless Access, satellite navigation, panoramic sunroof, bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights.
With a much bigger boot, good drivability and all the latest safety features the newest Beetle is right on the money. The people’s car has become a designer package. While the shape goes back more than 60 years, this is very much a car of today, sophisticated and refined.