Sunday, June 24, 2018

Test Drive - The 2018 Volkswagen Beetle 1.2 TSI - Does It Still Hack It After All These Years?

The current Volkswagen Beetle has been around for quite awhile. It was first launched as the replacement for the Volkswagen New Beetle in 2011 and it has been the new, New Beetle to buy ever since. Launched as a 2012 model, it has been in production for about seven years and in car years, it could be almost time for production to end if it was any other car.

But not this car. The Volkswagen Beetle (A5 Series) isn't like any normal bread and butter car. It is one of those cars which was made to carry the brand of the company that makes it. This is a halo car or iconic car of sorts, and because of this, cars like the Beetle usually have a longer production life than usual. Of course, being something like a Volkswagen Beetle makes it a little iconic, much like Fiat with its 500, Jeep with its Wrangler, BMW with their Mini brand and Range Rover, well, with the Range Rover.

So it has been seven years since the car was first launched. It has also been about three years and three months since I last tested one. So when I was given the keys to the latest, 2018 model year Beetle 1.2 TSI, I decided that this was a good opportunity to try out something new, yet has been around for quite a while and see how does it perform this time around.

The sole variant which we get here in Malaysia at this moment is the Beetle 1.2 TSI Sport. This latest, slightly upgraded new Beetle arrived on our shores sometime in May 2017 in two variants, but now we're down to only one. It features a different front and rear bumper design which makes it look slightly refreshed on the outside and the inside you get the 'composition' media unit with touch screen display with App-Connect, a 6.5” touchscreen display with USB, AUX-IN, SD Card, iPod/iPhone interface and Bluetooth with 8 speakers for up to date and added connectivity - Very 2018 in terms of infotainment, folks. 

The two items mentioned above are the major upgrades from the Beetle of previous years and it also comes with Bi-Xenon Headlights with LED daytime running lights “Climatronic” air conditioning system with 2-zone temperature control, Cruise control, Front sports seats with height adjustment and lumbar support, Paddle shifters and “Vienna” leather seat upholstery - which is the ribbed design leather seats you see in the pics.

Of course, most of these already came with the Beetle when I tested it awhile ago. You also get that iconic Beetle styling that is quite familiar to most. As it is basically a 3 door hatchback, people who buy this car are those that want its styling and looks. It isn't about all out practicality but more about going around in a bit more style than something like a Volkswagen Polo, Golf or Jetta (of which the Beetle shares the same underpinnings with). 

It is a niche product. People buy it for what it is and usually it is more about its looks than for all out performance. Which also explains why Volkswagen only chose to bring in the 1.2liter variant here most of the time with the occasional special 1.4 or 2.0liter variants (like the Beetle Dune) from time to time.

So, is it still something that is nice to drive?

For something that has been around for quite a while I must say that it still is a nice drive. The 1.2liter TSI turbocharged direct injected engine provides ample power - 105PS and 175Nm torque. This is enough to push the Beetle to a 0-100kmh of about 10.9 seconds (when I last tested it) and onwards to a maximum speed of 180kmh. This is ample performance for most and it actually settles down to a nice gait on the highway even at 140kmh (if you want). 

The mid-range push feels something like a 1.6 liter C-segment car which says a lot to what little horsepower it has. It is also that sweet shifting dual clutch gearbox (DSG) fitted to the Beetle. It seems smooth enough even though it is the dry clutch variant. This 1.2 TSI and gearbox combo is also fitted to the Vento 1.2 TSI and from what I reckon, it quite durable, more than the some of the earlier twin charged 1.4 TSI engines made by Volkswagen. It should be as the engine actually makes under the 100hp per 1liter ratio (around 87hp/liter), meaning that for a turbocharged engine, it is quite understressed.

I wrote this in the previous review I had of the Beetle 1.2 TSI and I have to say that I still feel the same way about it today.

"On the move you find that the Beetle 1.2 feels like a Mk 6 Golf TSI in terms of how it rides and goes over bumps. The suspension, multi links up front and a torsion beam at the rear (only the 2.0 version gets a multi link rear suspension) works fine on the highway, sweeping B roads and where things are smooth and flowing. When the road surfaces are a little bad or there are ripples on the tarmac, some of the irregularities are filtered into the cabin as road noise. But more on the tyre/road noise than actual suspension clobber or up-down secondary body movement. It likes better built surfaces. It is actually very Mk 6 Golf like in this aspect. Slightly down from the better riding Mk 7 Golf we have now. The Jetta which shares the same platform rides better because of the extra length in the wheelbase. But if you compare in general to the cars in the Beetle's pricetag, there is nothing really much to complain as it does not really do things badly. Just a tad bit average in terms of overall ride comfort.

Noise insulation is good in town and at most speeds. However, I took the car on an outstation jaunt to Muar over the weekend and on the more open highway, there was some wind buffeting right at the middle of the windscreen. Whilst there is no susceptibility to crosswinds in terms of handling, the slightly upright design of the windscreen may be the cause of the extra wind noise at speeds in excess of 130kmh.

In terms of high speed stability and tracking the Beetle 1.2 TSI is extremely stable for a car in the compact car category. Even on sweeping and undulating corners on the B roads around Muar the Beetle grips well and can be flung with some abandon. However it prefers smooth inputs rather than manhandling it. This means if you keep it smooth, the Beetle will be quite rewarding to drive. As for steering feel, the Beetle 1.2 TSI has a lack of it. It may have the proper weighting and it may be accurate, but has little feeedback. Much like a computer game. Somehow Volkswagen must have different teams tuning up the suspension of their cars as the Jetta which uses the same platform has better feel."

So in terms of vehicle dynamics, ride and handling, the 2018 Beetle 1.2 TSI still feels as able as it ever was. For an imported car priced in the RM130K region there isn't much lacking in terms of driving pleasure. By that I mean that for a 1.2 liter car with a coupe looking body that was meant to be a boulevard cruiser, it will do everything just fine. It does play that part very well. 

As for the equipment levels you can't complain much either. The new infotainment unit works well if you like pairing your phones with it. The controls are quite logically laid out and after a few days with it I didn't really find anything really bad about it. Maybe because its a Beetle. When you drive around in something round and bulbous like this there isn't much hate going on. Everyone should have something like this in their garage from time to time. It is quite a likeable car even though it does not make tyre smoking trails when you slowly accelerate at the traffic lights. 

Of course, like one other journalist mentioned - the Beetle is the only car that can get away with painted hard plastics for the interior. This car basically has the exterior colour plastered on the interior too. If any other non-cutesy wootsy car did this and was priced at over RM100,000, every one would be up in arms with it. It would be crucified, burnt at the stake, brought back to life and killed to death again because it had bits of the exterior paint showing up inside the car.....

But because this is the Beetle, and the interior actually harks back to the original Beetle from those days (no, not the 1990s...earlier than that lah), it is cherished and loved. By me even. I actually like the play of surfaces and paint inside this car. Even that very 1970s brownish bronze (called Dark Bronze by Volkswagen) is fine by me. 

And so, if any of you readers out there are thinking of buying a Beetle, I don't see why you shouldn't. It still hacks it after all these years and would still be that slightly cool looking, non-performance type of ride some look for.

The rumours in the automotive industry say that this could be the last Beetle that Volkswagen will produce for a while as the marque may end production without a direct replacement till later. So this could be an opportunity to get your hands on a design icon before if goes into hiatus for a while. You never know. 

2018 Volkswagen Beetle 1.2 TSI Sport 

Price (as tested) - RM140,193 (0% GST)

0-100kmh  - 10.9 seconds 

Top speed - 180kmh (tested)

Average Fuel Consumption - 10.5liters/100km (Tested)

Engine & Gearbox 

1.2L 105PS turbocharged direct petrol injection 4-cylinder 
TSI engine

DSG 7-speed direct shift gearbox driving the front wheels

More photos after the official brochure below (click to enlarge):

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