Volkswagen Beetle is back

Some of us have memories of driving the original Volkswagen Beetle. It was cramped, slow, noisy, blessed with a placebo heater and handling that see-sawed between recalcitrant and diabolical. But we loved ’em.

  • Beetle bug

Some of us have memories of driving the original Volkswagen Beetle. It was cramped, slow, noisy, blessed with a placebo heater and handling that see-sawed between recalcitrant and diabolical. But we loved ’em.

In production from 1938 to 2003, and with over 21 million sold, the Bug is the most populous automobile the earth has ever known.

The current Beetle redux that VW manufactures in Mexico is a thoroughly modern effort based on the current Jetta platform. No longer a car for mobilizing the masses, this front-engine front-driver with the instantly recognizable profile is a niche market salute to the automaker’s heritage.

And for 2015, Volkswagen is getting all retro on us with the limited-edition Beetle Classic. You’ll spot this car by its prominent rear spoiler and charming, 17-inch alloys that mimic the old chrome ring and hubcap look. Best of all, the Beetle Classic comes with a somewhat retro price.

Starting at $21,990, the Classic Coupe with standard five-speed manual transmission is arguably the best value in the Beetle family, and unlike its legendary ancestor, this one has a working heater, along with a whole bunch of unexpected kit for the price.

But before we get into that, let’s get into the interior. One peek at those two-tone checked cloth seats with tan leatherette trim and you’ll be hooked, boated and flopping on the deck of nostalgia. Another pleasing retro touch is the dash panel, colour coded to the exterior, which here is Moonrock Silver Metallic — a hue specific to the Classic.

The six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission adds $2,000 to this tester’s bottom line.

It’s all very capri pants and beehive hairdos in here, the latter not at risk of being compromised, thanks to the Beetle’s generous headroom.

Standard equipment in the 2015 Beetle Classic includes interior ambient lighting, cruise, heated front seats and washer nozzles, a very nice leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, A/C, Bluetooth, satellite radio and navigation. The audio sounds good, too. No backup camera, though.

Along with the automatic transmission, the only other available option is a panoramic sunroof ($1,400).

As with all Volkswagen products, the interior feels premium. The materials are high quality, fit and finish is good, and the big gauges are clearly backlit. Ergonomically sound, too — it’s easy to navigate all the controls and touchscreen.

The front seats are manually adjusted and feature lumbar support. They are a bit flat and lack lateral support, suggesting this model is all about the cruise and not the crazy. No complaints with the long-distance comfort, however. There are only two seats in the back. and getting in is a bit of a chore, but once seated, the environment is OK for average-size adults.

Due to the Beetle’s tapered rear end, the hatch is a bit pinched. But hey, isn’t that why you’re buying this ovoid slice of whimsy? If VW practicality is your thing, the Golf and Jetta are just across the showroom floor.

As of late, at least here in North America, entry-point engines for Volkswagen cars have been antediluvian (albeit reliable) boat anchors, well past their sell-by dates. Not anymore. The old 2.0L four and 2.5L five are history, replaced by this thoroughly modern 1.8L turbo direct-injected, four cylinder that makes 170 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque. It’s smooth, quiet, efficient and pulls with unbridled authority from low in the rev range.

In the world of compact economy cars, that’s somewhat of a revelation, when you consider the naturally aspirated fours in the Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla are soft on torque and require revs and a firm right foot to get the power. Conversely, the Beetle surges forward with little fuss from any speed, helped along by this smooth-shifting, six-speed auto.

You might be getting ’60s flashbacks from the thin-rimmed steering wheel and travertine fabric, but the driving experience is all modern V-Dub. OK, maybe not completely up to date, as the Beetle and Jetta do not use Volkswagen’s newest MBQ structure that underpins the MK7 Golf, but it still shows the composure, refinement, and handling that marks all these “German engineered” cars, setting them on a dynamic plane above the regular compact car fare.

Unerring highway path control is also a hallmark of the brand. With the 1.8T turning a lazy 1900 r.p.m. at 110 kilometres per hour, the auto-equipped Beetle Classic is a long-distance champ. Fuel economy at the end of my week of mixed driving was 7.6 L/100 km, which seems to line up favourably with the completion. And it must be noted that VW has engineered this entry-level turbocharged engine to run on regular grade gasoline. Danke.

In 2014, Volkswagen Canada sold just over 2,000 Beetles. Compare that to 31,042 Jettas and 12,184 Golfs and you see just how much of a specialized car this is. Nonetheless, it’s the automaker’s prerogative, and perhaps duty, to honour its heritage. With the value packed and charming 2015 Beetle Classic, we can say the Punch Buggy is back.

With some extra punch this time.


2015 VW Beetle Classic

BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $21,990/$25,390

ADD-ONS: Destination charge $1,605; taxes $3,609.35

TYPE: Compact Coupe

PROPULSION: Front engine, front-drive

CARGO: 246/846 L

TOW RATING: Not advised

ENGINE: 1.8L turbocharged four

TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual/ six-speed auto

POWER/TORQUE: 170 hp, 184 lb-ft

FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 9.6 city, 7.2 hwy.; regular grade fuel

BRAKES: 4-wheel disc

TIRES: 215/55R17 all season

STANDARD FEATURES: 17-inch “Heritage” alloys, rear spoiler, two-tone interior, navigation, heated front seats and nozzles, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, A/C, Bluetooth, satellite radio

ACCESSIBILITY: Rear-seat access is awkward

COMPETITION: Mini Cooper, Fiat 500, Smart Car

WHAT’S BEST: Turbo engine, dynamic composure, retro whimsy

WHAT’S WORST: Tight back seat, compromised hatchback space

WHAT’S INTERESTING: Colour-matched dash panel


SCORE: 7 out of 10

Peter Bleakney is a regular contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. The vehicle tested was provided by the manufacturer. For more Toronto Star automotive coverage, go to . To reach Wheels Editor Norris McDonald: .

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