THE world is catching the bug again. Volkswagen has gone viral, rebounding with a new, new Beetle that despite a silhouette as old as pre-war Germany, is fresh and very unlike its predecessor. It's a changed car because it's aimed at all markets, all ages and more pertinent, at both sexes. VW says 66 per cent of previous Beetle buyers were female and now expects a 50:50 split as it appeals to more men.
The outgoing New Beetle was successful, but very specifically in the US market. By comparison, it was coolly received in Europe as it came under threat from the Mini. What is new is that it is much closer in engineering to the Golf. That immediately makes it a better drive (see Driving below) but also allows Volkswagen to share components and therefore reduce the price.
Clearly Volkswagen has Mini in its sights, but the Beetle also fires at Citroen's DS3 and intrudes into premium Euro coupes such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Based on the European pricing and that of rivals, the Beetle is likely to be priced from $25,000 (1.2-litre) to $42,000 (2-litre GTI). The DS3 is about $35,000; the BMW 120i Coupe at $53,000; and the Mini Cooper S at about $50,000. But - and it's a big but - the Beetle is very well equipped (again, I've based this on Euro-spec models) and quality of the Mexican-built bubble is almost up to German standards. Let downs include the dashboard of hard plastic.
DESIGNIconic. It's a total change from the New Beetle. It grows in length and wheelbase and width and track, but is lower and has a flatter roofline. Things reminiscent of the 20th Century Beetle are subtle but visible - the protruding lower sills that look like running boards; big, round headlights (now the only VW with these); no discernible grille; and on the inside, a glovebox styled on the 1960s model (there are actually two gloveboxes) and a sling grip on the B-pillars.