Because I’m happy! Oh, it is that Pharell Williams happy song again, but if there is a song to describe the latest Volkswagen Beetle, this would be it. There’s a saying in the entertainment industry, ‘if you do not have a story, you don’t have a movie.’ The same thing applies in automotive design. No story, no car. To create a story it is necessary to create an emotional world where the story can take place. You can either take your audience somewhere they have never been before, or take them somewhere they have not been for a very long time.
Retrofuturism is an art movement that started during the mid-nineties and was popularized after the new millennium. Many car manufacturers have injected retrofuturism car design into their products. This movement has revolutionized the industry by integrating branding and identity with the design process. They are inspired by iconic cars from the past or by significant historical and cultural movements. Heritage is very important as it reflects the image or the vision the company had in mind back in time.
Retrofuturism is also about looking ahead because designing a car is all about the future. Is it very important to create an emotional connection for the consumer and the product. Brand and identity has always been important. Back in the early nineties, Volkswagen’s sales have dramatically dropped over the years. And the Germans worked out a plan for a car that they believed would prove successful for the company.
They knew that a car that is strongly identified with Volkswagen was the old classic Beetle. The car’s creative “think small” campaign during the sixties appealed to young people because it seemed to be aimed directly at them. The car’s unusual shape and small size were seen by many as anti-establishment; a statement against materialism and consumption in direct opposition to the values by the large cars driven by their parents. It is the symbol of freedom.
By creating a replacement for the loveable Beetle, Volkswagen regained its popularity and commercial success it once enjoyed. Most people loved the old Beetle and it represented something altogether different to the usual conservative German design ethos. The original car was associated with Hitler and the rise of Nazism. Volkswagen itself literally means ‘people’s car’. In the 1940s, Hitler commissioned Ferdinand Porsche to design a car that was small, cheap and economical to run, which became the Beetle.
When working on the replacement model, they knew they had to recreate or recapture the essence of the original car. The old Beetle was famous for its rounded shapes and they wanted the replacement model to shadow the predecessor’s timeless design cues. Second generation Volkswagen Beetle was introduced in 1997. During the car’s development, they asked consumers what they liked about Volkswagen. The immediate response was “the classic Beetle”, when asked why, respondents used the words “simple, honest and reliable”.
In a comparison of the original Beetle, the new car has a fresh and contemporary look. The cartoonish bubble-shaped car became an instant hit thanks to its clean futuristic modern design that helped the German carmaker regain the popularity and commercial success it had enjoyed decades earlier. The association with the original Beetle is immediate and because of the basic formal similarities between the two.
Volkswagen is back with its new Beetle and a look that’s much more in line with the original Beetle of the 1930s and certainly looks manlier than the outgoing model sporting the same dynamic, sporty and masculine look to make it appealing to both sexes but yet at the same time features additional ‘go-fast’ bits such as the rear spoiler and bigger wheels. Today’s Beetle also is aimed squarely at premium rivals. A MINI Cooper rival? Not exactly, that is because the Volkswagen Beetle is larger car than the small-sized and more expensive MINI. Those frameless front doors and the clean cut exterior design might remind you of an Audi TT Coupe.
Step inside and you’re confronted by an unusually high dashboard that has been styled to replicate that of the original Beetle, complete with the recognisable flip-up glovebox built into it. Thankfully, Volkswagen has stuck with modern controls and switches, which means everything is clearly laid out and easy to operate. The dashboard is dominated by the large bright colour touch screen display that displays all the main controls of the car. The Beetle features a dual-zone climate control, a six CD changer with eight louspeakers with SD card reader and an auxiliary iPod/iPhone port connector. Strangely the Beetle does not have a USB reader port or features a Bluetooth connectivity.
The Beetle has only four seats. It is also a wonderful place to be in. The seats are beautifully stitched with soft leather that exudes a pleasurable fragrance. Pull the front chair forward to get into the two individual chairs at the rear. Unlike the previous Beetle, the rear passengers have plenty of leg and headroom making it ideal to carry three of your best friends for a fun road trip. It will never match a conventional family hatchback, but there’s plenty of room up front for everyone with a good all-around visibility. The boot space area is even larger than Volkswagen Golf’s but the sloped bootlid makes it difficult to carry tall items, though.
Unfortunately some of the Beetle’s interior trim feels surprisingly cheap. There’s no soft-touch dashboard like you’ll find in a Golf. The materials plastics on the centre console and around the front centre armrest are disappointingly hard and scratchy. At least most of the switches and controls feel reassuringly weighty. We particularly like the well positioned driver’s centre armrest and the neat curry hook to secure your groceries or take-away food. Because it is a Volkswagen, it is easy to get your ideal driving position thanks to the multi-adjustable steering column and seat. Unfortunately the Beetle does not feature a keyless entry with an engine start button and does the old fashioned way by twisting the key.
Our Beetle is equipped with a 1.4-litre TSI engine that develops a maximum output of 158 hp with 240 Nm. That’s 2.4 litre engine performance, thanks to a combination of a supercharger and a turbocharger ensures seamless performance. The supercharger provides the initial boost when moving off and the turbocharger taking over at higher revs, ensuring that there is an absence in turbo lag. Such a combination equates to excellent power delivery and fuel efficiency which Volkswagen is famed for.
This wonderful engine is then paired with Volkswagen’s super quick seven-speed automatic transmission with dual-clutch and a set of racey paddleshifters that makes the driver feels like Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso. The Beetle does from 0-100km/h at around eight seconds, not bad for a 1.4-litre engine. What is more impressive is its fuel economy where it averages 7-litres of petrol per 100 kilometres or 14.3 kilometres per litre of petrol. Set the cruise control at 90km/h and the Beetle does 4.4-litre or 22.7 kilometres per litre or petrol!
The Beetle pretty much drives and rides like a regular Golf Mk6 hatchback, a car that it is based on. Despite of being slightly overweight, it fails to deliver the overall composure or the agility of the Golf. Our Beetle 1.4 features a XDS Extended Differential Lock present that transfers the power carefully to the front wheels to add a more enjoyable driving experience with an electronic stability control to prevent the Beetle from skidding. There is also four airbags fitted as standard in our car coupled with a strong body construction that should come in handy if such unforeseen occurs. The Beetle’s grip is vastly improved over the old model by hanging on well in corners, hugely entertaining when it is put on bending roads. Dynamically, it is a huge leap over the previous car.
Another giant leap that is made with the latest Beetle over the outgoing model is its retail price: it starts at RM139,888 for the 1.2-litre car and RM179,888 for the 1.4-litre. In a bid to attract more male buyers to the Beetle brand, Volkswagen is offering this generation with Golf GTI’s sourced turbocharged 2.0-litre engine. Predictably, the RM219,888 range-topping Beetle delivers its 197 hp and 280 Nm with more kit such as the panoramic glass roof, bi-Xenon headlamps, stiffer suspension and a flashier wheels. The 1.2, 1.4 and the 2.0 litre version of the Beetles are equally equipped and since the Beetle is a lifestyle car, I would get the 105 hp with 175 Nm of torque 1.2-litre version. Bizarrely, the 1.2 version have the dash painted the same colour as the car. Just tell everyone that it is the half-priced, equally desirable Audi TT Coupe.
Since the release of the New Beetle a decade ago, cars like the New MINI, Nissan Fairlady, Ford Mustang, Jaguar F-Type, Range Rover and Audi TT have chose to stay close to their original design philosophies and thus far, proven to be hugely successful. The image of a car has to evoke reactions that will in essence turn to either a need or a want, partly attributed by the car’s history and its social and cultural overlay.
The Beetle is not car (maybe a bug). It’s an icon. Retrofuturism is an adoption of a marketing approach alongside the actual design process has changed the established order of things and challenged car companies to rethink the way they approach design. Retrofuturism is an innovative approach; understanding of human emotion and an ability to size up our aspirations for the future.
|Engine||1,390cc four-cylinder inline turbocharged petrol engine|
|Configuration||Front-engine, front-wheel drive|
|Power||158hp at 5,800rpm|
|Torque||240Nm at 1,500-4,500rpm|
|Transmission||Seven speed automatic (dual-clutch)|
|Brakes||Front and rear ventilated disc brakes|
|Suspension||Front McPherson struts, Rear bean axle|
|Performance||0-100 km/h in 8.3 seconds, 208 km/h maximum speed|
|Fuel Consumption (average)||14.3 kilometres per litre of petrol, 7.0-litres of petrol per 100km (claimed)|
|Tyre size||215/55R17, 17-inch alloy wheels|