First Drive: 2015 VW Beetle Classic

When Volkswagen launch the “new” Beetle back in 1997, it was undeniably cute.

With its bubble shape and bubbly personality to match, the relaunched Bug captured the hearts of buyers the world over.

But, after 14 years of production, the Beetle grew tired, and designers were faced with a conundrum: How to maintain the car’s retro styling while giving it an update worthy of the 21st Century.

Enter the second generation new Beetle, a decidedly more masculine-looking car thanks to its flat roof and more handsome interior.

Now, just a few years later, Volkswagen has added even more character to the cute commuter with the launch of the Beetle Classic, an entry-level Bug that combines old school flare with modern amenities expected in today’s cars.

The value proposition of the Beetle Classic is obvious from the outset: At $21,990, the base Classic carries a $2,000 premium over the base Beetle Trendline’s sticker price, but adds nifty features like 17-inch “Heritage” alloy wheels—they feature dog dish hub caps just like the Beetles of yesteryear—and a rear spoiler outside, and navigation and heated seats on the inside.

Add in the cool two-tone cloth and leatherette seats—the cloth is a gingham plaid—and colour-coded dash that matches the car’s exterior, and the Classic is the Beetle you want to drive.

The seats, which are eight-way manually adjustable and feature lumbar support, are comfortable and supportive, though I did find the seatbelts up front a touch hard to reach from a comfortable seating position.

They could really benefit from a seatbelt holder integrated into the seat shoulders or headrest posts.

Rear seat legroom is rather cramped, though I can’t envision many Beetle buyers looking to transport a family of four on a regular basis.

Cargo room is quite respectable—440 litres with the rear seats up, and 850 litres with the seats folded—though the rear seats don’t fold flat, meaning volume isn’t maximized when called upon.

The car I drove was equipped with a panoramic power sunroof—a $1,300 option, but one worth adding if you have the means.

The Beetle Classic is powered by Volkswagen’s 1.8-litre TSI inline four-cylinder—the larger 2.0-litre TSI or 2.0-litre TDI diesel engines are not available—mated to either a five-speed manual or six-speed slush box with Tiptronic.

With the six-speed auto box between the seats, the Classic cruises comfortably both in the city and on the highway, with the option to flick through the gears yourself.

Drop the shifter into sport mode, however, and let the car handle the job—and handle the job it does, staying in the gears longer to hit the meaty part of the power band, giving the Beetle the extra oomph it needs when passing on the highway.

When you’re done, simply drop it back into drive and watch the revs fall below 2,000 rpm at cruising speeds.

The turbocharged engine makes 170 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 184 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,500- and 4,750 rpm, giving the Beetle Classic plenty of pep and making for, shall we say, a spirited drive.

Weighing in at 3,012 lbs., the automatic-equipped car is a little on the heavy side—the Jetta sedan, by comparison, with its two extra doors weighs more than 200 lbs. less—but delivers fuel economy in the neighbourhood of Volkswagen’s estimated 9.6 L/100 km in the city and 7.2 L/100 km on the highway or better, depending on what speed you’re travelling.

With the car in cruise control—cruise control, it should be noted, is available as part a of $675 “convenience package” on the Beetle Trendline, along with heated seats and washer nozzles, and iPod connectivity, all standard equipment on the Classic—on a weekend trip along Highway 401, the car was averaging under 6 L/100 km while keeping up with traffic.

Those more concerned with fuel economy should opt instead for the TDI-powered Beetle and its 7.7 L/100 km in the city and 5.8 L/100 km on the highway.

All told, the Beetle Classic is great at what it does—and it does exactly what you need it to.

From getting to work to getting groceries, and even getting some smiles and the occasional thumbs-up in traffic, the Classic isn’t your average commuter car—but it behaves like one when called upon.

Chalk this one up as a win for Volkswagen, and don’t overlook it when shopping for a compact with some spirit.

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