Driven: The modern time-traveller – VW Beetle 1.2 TSI

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Many of the cars you see on the road today are built not only on metal, glass, composites and plastics – but also legacy. As humans which our lives revolve around the sense of attachment it only makes sense that those who designed and built those cars – same people like yourself – would too, follow in the same step.

“It’s 10% more efficient than the previous generation’, the marketing yells. ‘All new design, with increased safety – but it’s the same car you love!’, or so to speak. The fact is, it’s brand equity in its most purest sense; how it all works is that it acts as a reference point for buyers, knowing when they size things up they know they’ll be getting the same good thing, but just better.

And what other car is there with such an adherent following – yes, it’s the Beetle, the Bug, the Kodok, or the Vocho in all the other countries where it has stepped foot on. Now in its third generation, the Beetle has grown from an envisioning sketch from the then-Chancellor Adolf to the enigma we have on our roads today. The original Beetles off the line, to say the least were monumental in the industrial and social aspects of the world; it was the first wave of personal vehicle ownership, and indubitably – the People’s Car. But then was then and today is now, we shall see if the Bug still has a place in the modern consumer’s market.

Now this model of the Beetle isn’t exactly new, per se – several years back we had the 1.4 TSI and 2.0 TSI versions on our roads, and the latest iteration here is Volkswagen’s bid to bring the bug fever to the further masses. With two variants on the brochure; the Design and the Sport we have the latter to review this time around.

Virtually indistinguishable from afar, the Beetle stays true to the original design with its sloped rear, overzealous fascination with rounded angles and chunky supersized fenders. The Silk Blue on the Bug’s surface is a fine match as opposed to the pastel-like colors of the previous models and it’s great to see Volkswagen exploring other shades than the usual mainstay – it’s absolutely appealing to the eye, and we’d like to see more of these explored on other models; not only the ‘fun’ ones.

The inside comes with no surprise, with the interior being a constant reminder of the 1973 Beetle I had driven years back. The obsession further continues with the inverted Mickey inspired instrumentation cluster, rounded air-conditioning dials and the almost wall-flat dashboard design on the passenger end. Things certainly have come a long way, from a design stemmed from utilitarianism to a layout that’s pays tribute to the original, yet able to deal with the modern technicalities of today.

However, the components used in the interior is more of a mixed bag – literally. Developed on the almost defunct PQ35 platform – remember the Beetle first came around several years back during 2011 – the interior is made up from the parts bin borrowed from the current, if not previous models. While it’s no secret that manufacturers do share the same components across different model lineups, the entire visage is relying on its uniqueness, and it certainly disrupts that ‘same old but new’ proposition they’re trying to achieve with the Beetle.

Taking the Beetle Sport onto the roads left us a lot more to be desired. Inside the engine bay lies their 1.2 TSI turbocharged engine, featured in many of their other road-going B-segment models such as the Polo and Vento; and while we have seen the Beetle housing powerplants such as the 1.4 TSI and even the 2.0 TSI engine from the Golf GTI, the decision made with the Beetle Sport is rather unassuming, to say the least – because the Beetle is one hefty 2+2 seater.

With a total of 1,445 kilograms weighing at both axles – that’s about the same weight as the Jetta – and the paltry 102 HP the 1.2 TSI can deliver at peak, the experience without a doubt is just downright disappointing. Sorry VW folks, but you’ll need to bring back at least the 1.4 TSI to sate us Malaysians. You can keep the smooth shifting 7-speed DSG though; we still like it. We’ve also seen far fewer complaints about the gearbox, so that is some peace of mind.

Over at the handling department, it’s not so reassuring either when we put the Beetle onto our favorite roads. Weight plays a pivotal role on how a car handles and generally, going lighter is a better option. The Beetle Sport comes with 215/60/R16 Bridgestone Turanzas at all four wheels, and it’s rare that a vehicle at this size (not weight) sees such wide wheels installed. Its sleek, low profile somewhat offsets the dull handling, but there’s only so much you can put it thru before the ESP starts taking control.

With the Beetle Sport, the entire package will cost you RM147,888 which you get HID headlamps, a larger touchscreen, leather seats, cruise control system and dual zone Climatronic air-conditioning compared to the Design variant. But with poor performance and features omitted such as electronic seats, keyless entry, reverse sensors with cameras, aged chassis design and only four airbags it’s difficult to make any strong proposition with it other than its iconic value. We don’t want to be overtly sexist, but this is the sort of car that will appeal to the fairer sex, less for anyone else who is a closet petrol-head.

The Bug started life as a frugal every day runner during the seventies, which has taken a different turn here and now; perhaps it is time for a redesign from ground up to make modern sense.

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Having a penchant for cars since youth, he firmly believes that speed and stature go hand-in-hand. He enjoys the occasional spirited drive and can be found personally grooming his cars from time to time.

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