The original 1949 Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet is a car recognised the world over. The ‘Bug’ needs no introduction.
Here we had a fantastically original design that captured the heart of 330,000 buyers in its 31-year lifespan. Its success lay in great styling that essentially followed the car’s function, and good timing as the bubble shape was a perfect one for the irreverent post war years. In fact it is hard to imagine the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s without the Beetle.
VW’s second take on the car proved less successful. The 2002 Mark 2 design was a little too chunky, too toy-like. You could almost argue that it relied too heavily on retro-styling in a bid to recreate the cheeky, happy-go-lucky feel of the original soft-top. Times though had changed and what resonated with customers in the glory years didn’t necessary work at the start of the millennium.
Thankfully the third and newest Beetle Cabriolet seems to have found the right balance. Here we have a car that retains the bug aesthetic – that unique Beetle architecture that looks almost like an up-side-down pram with the cloth roof lowered – yet is a Beetle for the modern age as we were to discover on the first drive in Nice.
The new car rides and handles reasonably. This isn’t a serious driver’s car, and doesn’t pretend to be either. What it is, and does perfectly well, is to be a handsome product and is a fun companion on the twisting, winding roads around Côte d’Azure.
The cloth roof is now automatic, folding down in nine seconds. Roof down and the car feels like a proper Beetle Cabriolet, a little strange looking yet still funky and fun. Roof in place and the new thicker material keeps noise levels to a minimum.
Climb inside and you are treated to the sort of playfulness you would expect from a car like this. It isn’t faultless, mind you, and the plastics could do with being a little more tactile and the finishing a little more seamless, but for some reason the Beetle gets away with not being a perfect German machine.
Much like the Beetle Coupé, there are three turbo petrol engines displacing 1.2, 1.4 and 2.0-litres and a two turbo-diesel units with 1.6 and 2.0-litres on offer, all with front-wheel-drive. Transmissions are five- and six-speed manuals and six- or seven-speed, twin-clutch DSG automatic units.
The 2013 car is longer, lower and wider than its immediate predecessor, with a longer wheelbase. The design is restrained, avoiding unnecessary references to the original model. It is also more car-like, less gimmicky and certainly less toy-like. In this way it is likely to appeal to a wider customer base, and possibly more male drivers who may have been put off by the former car’s non-car qualities.
For men and women alike, though, VW is offering three special editions that pay homage to the 50s, 60s, and 70s air-cooled soft-tops. They cost between £24,665 and £25,450 and are completely worth it as at the end of the day, the Beetle is a retro car, so even if VW has had to tweak it for the 21st century, it remains rooted in the Bug up-side-down pram appeal of its first life. -Referred from Nargess Shamanesh-Banks.