It is not easy redesigning an icon. But that's what Volkswagen has now done to its Beetle—twice. The new squashed proportions of this latest version are both truer to the original form, more practical, and arguably more masculine. But does that make this latest Beetle a better car?
The test model we bought is a bright red base model, with VW's 170-hp, 2.5-liter inline, five-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission. In other VW models, we found this engine to be underwhelming and its fuel economy mediocre. At least here the five-cylinder engine delivers punchy low- to mid-range torque and the sound isn't objectionable. But there are better powertrains for the Beetle: VW's 2.0T turbocharged four-cylinder and TDI diesel, which returns excellent fuel economy in other VWs we've tested. Both are available with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automated manual transmission.
The new form provides more elbow room in the wider car, with more space for rear passengers. The roof is now low enough that visors can actually block the sun. Unfortunately, the squashed roofline can also block the view of traffic lights overhead. Rear visibility is also compromised.
The interior is a bit more conventional than before, replacing the mile-deep dash with one of more common proportions. A swath of body-color across the dash front gives the car a welcomed retro-inspired design flair, but a wide center console compromises the driving position.
While the new car may look sportier, its sloppy at-the-limit handling doesn't live up to the reputation of VW's other sporty compacts. Handling is responsive but not sporty or particularly capable. At least the ride is quite complaint now. If it weren't for the predominant wind noise, the Beetle would be a semi-decent traveling companion, but like the Jetta, it suffers from overt cost-cutting measures.
The story of the latest Beetle certainly has its highs and lows. For all the details, check out our full Volkswagen Beetle road test and watch the video, below.