It’s sheer luck, you know, that the original Volkswagen factory wasn’t bombed into oblivion by the allies. It nearly happened, too – at the end of the war, one of the first tasks required to get the place up and running again was the removal of an unexploded bomb lying between two vital pieces of manufacturing equipment. The VW Beetle was very nearly squished right in its cradle.
Since then, the Beetle has died several times, depending on whom you speak to. Perhaps it spluttered its air-cooled last the day production ended in Wolfsburg in 1974. Perhaps the bookend was the last Mexican-built Beetle to jitterbug out of VW’s Puebla factory in 2003. Perhaps this Bug will finally get that last spray of Raid thanks to Volkswagen’s rumoured reorganization of their two-door models.
Whatever the case, who would have thought that such an ungainly little thriftmobile would found a global powerhouse that now encompasses Bugatti, Lamborghini, Audi, Ducati, and has a boot pressed firmly on the neck of Porsche? Engine in the wrong place, noisy as hell, heater doesn’t work worth a damn – and yet the Beetle was an invasive species, spawning enough of a following to found a series of Disney movies, and justify the existence of this modern version.
This, my friends, is a Golf. It is a Golf that someone has attacked with a belt-sander. Underneath its glistening white carapace, the Beetle is very closely related to the sixth-generation Golf, though this particular one comes with the new 1.8L turbocharged four-cylinder as the basic engine offering.
If you show up in this car to a VW Beetle fan club meeting, you may be bitten by one of the more rabid members. The engine is now water-cooled and tucked in front, there’s satellite navigation and leather on offer, it’s front-wheel drive, it’s complicated, modern and heavy – these are not the qualities that make a “real” Beetle. This is just another modern car that happens to look a bit like the old version.
Here’s the thing though – the Golf is actually a pretty nice car. And this new 1.8L turbo-four is quite lovely. So what if the Beetle pretends to be something it’s not? Think of it as a cover band: yes, it’s not the original lineup, but John and George are dead, Paul looks like somebody’s granny, and Ringo – well, let’s not even go there.