The Love Bug

There are few cars that inspire love at first sight and the Volkswagen Beetle tops that list. We drive the icon.

Vikrant Singh        Print Edition: March 7, 2010

It's just another day. But for some reason, I am being showered with a lot of attention, especially from the fairer sex, and that, too, of the young and fashionable kind. They are smiling, waving and pointing in my direction. Sadly, there's no reason for me to feel elated because the alluring stares and the wide smiles aren't directed at me, but at my ride for the day, a spanking new yellow Beetle. The fact that the car is fantastically cute is obviously one of the reasons for this attention. But, another equally important reason is its iconic status.

It started off as the car dreamed up and designed by Ferdinand Porsche (the founder of the company that bears his name) when Adolf Hitler demanded a "People's Car". So, the Beetle was the Nano of its time. But what really made it an icon was its role in the movies such as Herbie. Anybody who has seen Walt Disney's The Love Bug has wanted one, be it your grandfather, father or you yourself.

Like the old car, the new one, too, has a stunning mix of curves, and from its large, eye-like headlights to the smiling bonnet line, the Beetle oozes charm. The new Beetle's basic fidelity to the old design means that its magic is undiminished. It makes people around the car happy, and though they might completely ignore you, the one driving the Beetle, it's still a satisfying and selfless feeling.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Model: Volkswagen Beetle
  • Engine: 1984cc, 4-cylinder, petrol
  • Max power: 116bhp@5400rpm
  • Max torque: 172Nm@3200rpm
  • Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
  • Top speed: 165 kmph
  • 0-100 kmph: 13 seconds
  • Price: Rs 22.2 lakh (Delhi)
Selfless also because the insides of the car aren't as charming as its exteriors; the black dashboard with a conventional design and typically Volkswagen switches, knobs and systems, leaves you with a feeling of being in any other car. The insides are ergonomically thought out, nonetheless, and everything inside works with precision and strength. Even the unconventional doormounted power window switches don't take time getting used to.

It's got comfortable front seats to boot-a tad firm, but supportive. The side bolstering, along with a supportive seat squab, make it a great place to be in, even for hours on end. It also rides well, be it over concrete road joints, squarish bumps or unexpected troughs, especially at slower speeds. It smoothens out every road irregularity with authority without once troubling its occupants.

Moreover, the Beetle is tremendously spacious at the front for a car its size, thanks to the high roof and huge side windows. The rear seating feels claustrophobic in comparison, and there isn't actually much room there. The knee-room is still acceptable, but there's no head room to speak of-the seats aren't large enough to house adults in comfort.

We weren't too impressed with the steering either: It feels vague around the centre. But the car's cornering abilities are commendable. First of all, the grip offered by the tyres is fantastic. It also maintains a neutral stance around bends, neatly sidestepping the typical understeering tendencies of a front wheel drive car.

The Beetle is not a very fast car, bogged down by an average drivetrain that it is sold with in India. The 2-litre engine upfront makes 116bhp and is coupled with a 6-speed automatic. On paper, this doesn't read too badly, but in reality, the car seriously lacks speed. It is about as quick as 1.2-litre hatchbacks. Revving the engine hard doesn't yield great results either, and the strained and rough engine note at higher rpms, only worsens the experience.

As a car then, the Beetle isn't outstanding. Sure, it rides and handles well and is well-built and comfortable, too. But, its price of over Rs 20 lakh is simply ridiculous, especially when you consider the fact that it hardly packs in any comfort equipment-there's no climate control, no multifunctional steering wheel, no parking sensors or even an electrically adjustable seat.

There aren't any decent stowage areas either. Naturally, the iconic VW isn't a sensible buy at all. But then, the Beetle, like the Fiat 500, isn't for the practical and discerning customer. It's for the truly affluent lot, who cherish charm and cheerfulness; things one can't really put a price to.

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