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The Beetle 3 – still an unremarkable chick car

2015-04-22T20:00:22+00:00

When I arrived on this planet, the original Volkswagen Beetle, the “People’s Car” commissioned by noted megalomaniac Adolf Hitler, was still relatively new. Small, tinny, yet relatively robust for its size, the little air-cooled, rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive car soldiered on for decades unchanged until its demise in 2003 after 65 years of production totaling more than 21 million units. Many examples of this “Type 1” Beetle still survive and provide daily service for their owners.

From 1997 to 2011, the “New Beetle,” or the Beetle 2, was produced. It sold less well, totaling roughly 1.1 million units.

Since 2011, the “New Beetle,” or the Beetle 3, has been produced. Confusingly, the original New Beetle is now just called the Beetle, so that the New New Beetle could be called the New Beetle. VW calls it the A5, so named for the chassis number which it shares with the Jetta model.

I am driving a Beetle 3. I do not particularly like it.

It is fast, stable, and it handles predictably. The 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine revs high and produces a lot of torque for the six-speed automanual transmission. The instrumentation is clear and easy to read. The electronic controls are well-designed and easy to figure out, unlike Fiat or BMW Mini electronics. Those are all good things.

The bad things are mainly in the ergonomics of the car.

  • To lower the roofline yet still make the back seat usable, VW pushed the front seats and the dashboard forward toward the engine. This means that it is difficult to get in and out of the front seats, because the door hinge is in the way.
  • The shoulder belt is VERY far behind the front seat, making it difficult to reach.
  • The steering wheel sticks out more horizontally toward the driver, which means that VW had to design the steering wheel with a flat spot on the bottom so that would clear a human operator’s legs. It feels cumbersome and looks strange.
  • The interior door handles were designed for a German robot with Lego claw-hands; they are that clunky.
  • The rear hatch lid has no recesses to fit a human hand under it and lift it. It only unlocks for a few seconds before it locks again. This can make it difficult to open it. Probably Volkswagen knows that most Beetle owners never bother to put anything in the “cargo area” anyway. It’s fairly small.
  • The windows are frameless, meaning that the glass is not surrounded on its upper edge with the metal doorframe. Instead, the windows twitch up and down by themselves automatically, lowering themselves a few millimeters when you open the door so that the glass can untuck itself from the seal on the car roof, and then raising themselves again when you shut the door so they can form a seal with the roof again. I find the automated movement very annoying. But then, I rarely drive vehicles that do not have full-frame windows.

The Beetle 3 is a zippy little German econobox car, and if it weren’t for the legendary VW unreliability and expensive repairs, it might be a good choice for a young single woman. Which I am not.

Overall, it’s just another chick car. Unremarkable except for its distinctive shape. Which is not enough of a good reason to buy it.

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