£16,820 - £25,145 Price range
49 - 65 MPG
The Volkswagen Beetle has been with us since 1938, but this is only its third iteration and, by all accounts, it’s the best one yet. The two-door car market has evolved quite a bit since then and the modern Beetle is up against some highly accomplished competition such as the nostalgic Fiat 500 and Mini Hatchback, but also the decidedly un-retro DS 3.
For 2016, the Beetle was refreshed and got a new range-topping R-line trim along with some interior tech upgrades. The exterior has also been updated, but you have to be an expert in the breed to spot the new fog light surrounds and revised bumpers.
For 2016 the biggest changes happen on the inside, where you’ll find the latest tech available across the VW range including one of the best touchscreen infotainment systems on the market. What remains unchanged is the colourful interior that is built to a much higher standard than in rivals, and the near-perfect driving position. Practicality isn’t spectacular but, for a two-door trendy hatch, it isn’t bad either.
Based on the now obsolete Golf VI platform, the modern Beetle is enjoyable to drive and rides with poise, but it doesn’t blow you away in any criteria – solid and predictable best describes the experience. There is a jacked-up version called the Dune, but it’s not in any way better off-road than the regular Beetle.
At a glance, there is a fairly limited engine range, comprising of four units, but what is available is very hard to fault. The 148hp 1.4-litre petrol is enjoyable to drive more-exuberantly, while the 2.0-litre diesel is relaxed and refined. The optional DSG gearbox is highly recommended because it’s one of the best in the business.
Equipment levels on entry-level models are comparable to rivals, you get a 6.5-inch touchscreen as standard along with air-con and a height-adjustable driver’s seat.
Fans of the old car’s cheesy vase complete with plastic sunflower may be disappointed that it’s no longer present in this model. The interior build quality has been noticeably improved, though not fully to the levels you may expect from a modern Volkswagen, and there’s now a bit more passenger and luggage space than before.
New for 2016 is the introduction of VW’s Car-Net App-Connect. This strangely named system adds Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink, allowing you to show your compatible smartphone’s display on the car’s touchscreen via a USB connection. The system is a £125 option and lets you use different apps such as sat-nav and voice control, providing you have an internet connection.
VW Beetle passenger space
Despite the updated tech, there are still a few practicality issues. Taller people may find the rear seats uncomfortable due to the sloping roofline, and access to these seats is a little tricky as the car is only available as a three-door. It’s OK for children, though, with Isofix baby seat mounting points that are standard in the rear seats and optional in the front.
VW Beetle boot space
Boot space has been improved by nearly 45% over the previous model, which is good news. At 310 litres in capacity it’s ahead of the DS 3 (285 litres) and the Mini (211 litres), so in this respect, it’s quite practical for a two-door coupe. Flip the rear seats and an impressive 905 litres of space are at your disposal, but the step created by the folded seats makes the load area less usable than you think.
Underneath the retro skin lies a chassis that is almost identical to the one you’ll find underpinning the previous Volkswagen Golf, so it’s not too surprising to find that ride and drive are perfectly acceptable, however, many opined that the newer Golf is the better-handling car.
Most critics reckon it’s a pleasant enough car to steer in a variety of conditions, and the improved visibility makes it an easier car to navigate around town than the previous Beetle. There were a few negatives with how the Beetle drove, specifically the ride, which even on the standard set-up seems to be a bit too firm and jittery at slower speeds.
Currently, there’s a range of four engines to opt for – two petrols and two diesels – and all offer respectable performance, are suitably civilised and refined and shouldn’t be too expensive to run.
VW Beetle petrol engines
The petrols, in particular, provide a remarkable amount of power given the limited capacity they have – the 1.2-litre produces 104hp and can do nearly 52mpg. The other petrol in the range is a 1.4-litre with 148hp that can be found in nearly all VW group cars – it’s decently quick and, remarkably, nearly as frugal as the 1.2-litre with a fuel economy figure of 50mpg.
VW Beetle diesel engines
There are two diesel options for those thinking of racking up higher mileages, the 2.0-litre with 109hp and a more potent version with 148hp. The former is the better-rated unit, achieving over 65mpg and has enough grunt to hustle the Beetle’s body along nicely. If you want the sporty-looking Beetle R-Line you can only have it with the 148hp diesel, which is powerful and refined. It too can be frugal with a fuel economy of up to 61mpg.
Praise was given to the car’s surprisingly generous specification for what is meant to be an ‘entry-level model’, along with motor’s decent performance and the relatively affordable asking price and running costs. That said, it’s by no means a perfect all-rounder, especially if it’s outright thrills you’re after.
It’s attached, as standard in the Beetle, to Volkswagen’s DSG twin-clutch transmission, with seven ratios to choose from. That’s quite a specification for the base model in the range.
It’ll reach 60mph in 10.9 seconds, and go on to 118mph. Volkswagen quotes average economy of 47.9mpg and CO2 of 137g/km, which means Band E road tax of £115 a year.
Reviewers like the combination of 1.2 engine and DSG, saying it feels sporty and delivers better performance than you’d expect. There’s a nice note from the exhaust when you accelerate and the DSG makes for swift, easy changes - and those seven gears improve economy.
Unfortunately, there are no gearshift paddles which would make the experience even more fun, and one reviewer says that the DSG can be a little clunky in low-speed manoeuvring, but at higher speeds it’s fine, and the engine is refined.
The 1.2 TSI should be one of the most popular options in the Beetle range and it's easy to recommend!
Though a few critics thought it wasn’t quite as fiery as a motor with a turbo and a supercharger could be, they did state that the fairly flat torque curve contributed to the good performance figures, and there isn’t a huge compromise in fuel economy – the claimed 42mpg isn’t too bad for a twincharged 160hp engine, and the £155 road tax fee is acceptable. The powerplant’s overall refinement was also an area of praise.
However, an impressive engine doesn’t always guarantee a good car, and that case seems to apply here – quite a few reports stated the Beetle was quite pricey when compared with some of its rivals, whilst others thought the ride and handling lacked the composure you’d expect from a sporty model, especially when fitted with the optional and far firmer sports suspension.
Performance is strong, reaching 62mph from rest in 8.3 seconds, with a top speed of 129mph.
Overall, the Beetle 1.4 TSI is a decent overall car that, according to the reports, can’t quite live up to the mighty motor. As a Jack of all trades kind of car, the Beetle does appear to be fairly competent, and is worthy of a closer look if such a car appeals to you. However, if your focus is on running costs or performance, then this spec won’t particularly be the right one for you.
Underneath, the 2.0 TSI model is an ever-so-slightly detuned Golf GTI, so it’s not surprising that most of the testers were satisfied of the car’s handling and performance. 0-60 in 7.5 seconds and 138mph isn’t what you’d call shabby, and many thought this model was quite good fun to drive.
Quite a few were also fond of the turbo-petrol motor, as it’s punchy yet refined, sounds nice at higher revs and isn’t too expensive to run, given the performance on offer – VW claims up to 37mpg can be achieved, and the road tax of £200 a year is acceptable for the power and pace on offer.
However, even in this guise, the Beetle does have some noteworthy flaws – a few had negative comments regarding the slightly firm ride, quite a few thought that some rivals, and even other Volkswagens like the equivalent Golf and Scirocco variants, are better overall propositions. That said, it’s still a commendable car, and if you can afford the slightly steep asking price and running costs, then we can see why you’d opt for the retro and rapid VW.
The new Beetle improves upon the previous model’s four star Euro NCAP rating by achieving the full five stars, which should come as no surprise from a brand such as Volkswagen.
As you’d expect, there are six airbags and electronic stability control as standard.
On top of this, Volkswagen has included other touches like hazard warning lights that activate automatically when you brake heavily, to warn traffic you are slowing down rapidly, and also a system that helps the driver when towing a trailer.
The rather powerful 2.0-litre TSI model with a smidgen under 200hp has a system that manages the engine’s power to help eliminate wheel-spin and help the driver control the car in slippery conditions.
The Beetle is a tiny bit cheaper to buy than the cheapest Golf it’s based on, yet has more standard equipment – even the base model has DAB radio, alloy wheels, and dual-zone air conditioning, and you can even specify the rather good £1,600 DSG automatic with the base 1.2-litre engine.
VW Beetle R-Line
Replacing the Sport trim level, R-Line Beetles get aggressive styling courtesy of sporty front and rear bumpers, a duck-tail spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels. A chrome, twin exhaust pipe finishes off the exterior makeover. Inside, there is a leather trimmed steering wheel, extra dials on top of the dashboard, trendy ambient lighting, cruise control, and parking sensors. This trim level really ticks all the boxes, but it’s pricey compared to a similarly equipped Kia Pro Cee’d GT.
Overall, the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle is an undoubted improvement over its predecessor – not only is it a more fitting tribute to the original than the first ‘New’ Beetle was, but it has a better ride and improved handling characteristics.
The Beetle isn’t brilliant in every area, and there are other cars in this class that are better all-round propositions. That said, the Volkswagen is still a good overall car, and it’s highly likely that a majority of buyers will opt for the Bug purely for the way it looks.