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Newest Beetle gets more juice

2012-10-15 13:35


The New New Beetle has just been launched in South Africa but not, VW SA says, as a fresh version of the New Beetle launched in SA in 2000 but which sold only 2600 in the dozen years it sold here) but as a reincarnation of the original which was born in the early 1930’s.

VW SA’s hope, it seems, is to have the latest cars re-ignite the public’s enthusiasm for the early ones, assembled as they were at VW’s plant in Uitenhage, but (sadly) without its immediate predecessor’s fascia flower-holder. Maybe, if you’re in the market for this the latest car, you’d like to buy your own for nostalgia’s sake – perhaps with a sucker to attach it to the dash.

My dad had one in his Ford Popular.

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The latest car also has one thing in common with the original original Beetles – one of its choice of three engines is a 1200, though those of the '30’s put out only 27kW against today’s 77 with its promise of topping 180km/h.

The NNB (New New Beetle) does, however, look much like the NB (New Beetle) though the tail, especially with the available small spoiler, tends to remind more of a Porsche – a brand now firmly in the VW stable.

VW calls the NNB “the 21st Century Beetle” but T21CB is more like a registration number than an abbreviation so we’ll forget it...

The front-engined NNB is, essentially, a two-door coupe, with rear seats more suited to legs belonging to a primary-schooler but with a bonnet very like the early cars. The boot, where the originals’ engine used to live, is large at 310 litres and much expandable (to a whopping 905) with the rear seats folded – an arrangement which, I guess, many buyers will adopt as default.


To emphasise the body similarity to the first Bugs the NNB launch started with a drive from Cape Town airport into the Stellenbosch winelands in a number or’50’s and ‘60’s Beetles; the 1963 version I drove had bouncy springs in the front seats and were far more comfortable than many modern cars I’ve driven. One, apparently already suffering valve trouble, packed up on the N2 eastbound.

The distinctive beat of the first horizontally opposed engine, stirred along with a long and grouchy four-speed gear-shifter, created a nostalgia trip all of its own; indeed, perhaps preferable to the almost-silent, modern, turbocharged, four-cylinder of the dimensionally much larger 1.2-litre TSI to which I all-too-soon transferred.

That follows the New Mini (NM) which, given its bulk, is ANYTHING but mini compared to ITS predecessor. Interestingly, the Mini shares history with the Beetle, sort of... the first Beetles were built post-war in Germany by the occupying British; the NM is built by the occupying Germans in Britain. Which just shows how effin’ stupid wars are...

Whatever, also nostalgic was the reminiscence of VW’s Matt Gennrich who, in a quick history lesson, reminded that the OB (Old Beetle) hardly changed its looks during its build life in SA from 1951, when the first one rolled off the lines, until 1979 when the last one gave way to the now ubiquitous Golf in its many evolutions (also from petite to plump, though built by occupying Germans everywhere).


Back to the history books: back in 1951, SA was so short of foreign currency that the first car kits were paid for with deliveries of South African wine. Honest! At that time the plant was assembling Beetles (290 in the first year!), VW 411 wagons – and American Studebakers.

OB production rose to 400 in 1952 and so good were the cars that one won the 1953 Pretoria-Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) LM Rally; in 1956 another was the first two-wheel drive car to master the Sani Pass.

In 1973, now in its dotage, the OB sold 21 034 and in 1974 came a series of run-out specials... remember the Fun Bug, the Lux Bug (to celebrate 25 years of production) and in ’76/77 the Jeans Bug and (then awesome) 49kW 1600 SP?

Will the NNB find the sales success the NM failed to achieve? Hard to say, but if you’re bold enough to buy one (hairdresser, yummy Mummy or not) you’re going to get a helluva nice car. You’re certainly going to be noticed and, yes, there are yellow ones, but nobody at the launch mentioned Love Bug stripes or the number 53 (under 40’s, ask your dad about Herbie).

Here’s why...

VW’s Beetle expert Mike Petrie reminded that, along with the Coke bottle and Ray-Bans, the Beetle is one of the most iconic shapes in history (well, maybe the Pyramids come close). The NB, he added, was an interpretation of the OB, but the NNB is the real New Beetle.


Yeah, it’s confusing... anyway, he added, it has a longer bonnet, a steeper windscreen, a flat, instead of rounded, roof and a tail more like the OB. It’s also the only VW product with round headlights (like the OB) though they do contain signature C-curved daytime running lights “that are instantly recognisable at night”.

The cars are also lower (12mm), longer (152mm) and wider (84mm) and have more headroom (60mm) than the NB so David Kramer will be able to carry his guitar upright, should he appear in future adverts. The wheelbase is longer and the front and rear tracks wider.

From a distance the NNB seems to have running boards like the OB; nope, just some clever 3D bodywork – but EuroNCAP has awarded a five-star safety rating.

You’ll have noticed we’re now in the present, so...

..three engines, and don’t be put off by their “smallness”. The 1197cc TSI puts out 77kW at 5000rpm and 175Nm from 1550-4100rpm and feels more like a 1.6 or 1.8 and comes is the entry Design model; the 1.4 TSI Sport puts out a whopping 118kW at 5800rpm and 240Nm from 1500-4500rpm.


Respectively, that means 0-100km/h in 10.9 and 8.3sec, 180 and 208km/h, 5.9 and 6.6 litres/100km and 137 and 153g of CO2/km. Each is hooked to a six-speed manual transmission and each goes like sherbert off a shovel with sports-car handling helped by 215/65 or 215/55 tyres. Tried them on the Franschhoek Pass.

Base prices are R235 400 and R296 600 – though options on each of the cars as driven at the launch (see below for the options) escalated those figures to R272 650 and R344 750. Respectively.

There’s also a 1.4 Sport with a seven-speed DSG (auto pre-select) gearbox with steering-wheel paddles which, as a base, will whack you for another R24 000 at R311 100 over the other 1.4. The NB had a two-litre engine.

All of which might give sudden pause for thought. If not, then, as VW says:

“Anybody who knows about rock music is familiar with greats such as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. The first played Fender guitars, the latter still does. Now the legendary producer of US musical instruments and amplifiers – in a joint venture with Panasonic – is exclusively sharing its know-how with the Volkswagen brand.

“The result is an optional Fender sound system that is being offered only offered in the Beetle.”

That’s certainly one up on the OB and NB. OK?

Prices (VAT and emissions tax included)
1.2 TSI 77kW Design manual - R235 400
The launch drive model was also equipped with...
Pearlescent paint - R850
Leather upholstery – R8600
Power sunroof – R8800
Keyless entry – R3200
Bluetooth phone connection – R2000
Technology package – R4800
Xenon headlights – R8200
Media device interface – R800
...taking the total to R272 650

1.4 TSI 118kW Sport manual - R296 600
The launch drive model was also equipped with metallic paint (R850), keyless entry, sunroof, tech package, xenon headlights and media interface as well as Twister 18” alloy rims (R3500) and satnav (R18 000
...taking the total to R344 750/

1.4 TSI 118kW Sport DSG - R311 100
(Not driven)

The cars will be sold with a five-year or 60 000km Automotion maintenance plan, three-year or 120 000km warranty and a 12-year anti-rust perforation warranty. Service Intervals 15 000km.


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