REVIEW DATE: 19 Apr 2007
As The Entry-Level Point To The Beetle Range, The 1.4-Litre Engined Luna Versions Look Set To Mop Up Plenty Of New Customers. Andy Enright Reports
Now that the Beetle's fickle veneer of novelty has worn off, Volkswagen has had to revert to more traditional methods of marketing in order to move metal. The line-up has recently been facelifted following the revitalisation of interest in the range after the introduction of a Cabriolet version, plus the entry-level 1.4-litre petrol engine featured here.
When the Beetle was first launched there were plenty of naysayers who grumbled that it was merely an overpriced Golf with pretty clothes on. This was perhaps a little harsh, ignoring as it did the Beetle's unique personality and charisma as well as the fact that later versions of the Beetle were often priced at less than their Golf equivalents. The Cabriolet version of the entry 1.4 Luna variant we look at here is priced at £14,360, which is competitive in its market, but the premium of nearly £3,000 over the hard top car for the benefit of a folding roof seems quite a hefty surcharge. Bear in mind that unlike the 1.6-litre Cabriolet, this one does without the electric power roof, Volkswagen reliving you of more cash should manually operating the roof prove beyond the pale.
As we've said, the car has been recently mildly facelifted but the changes haven't amounted to much. There are revised bumpers and wheelarches, with sharper edges than before, plus subtly restyled headlights and front indicators, and tail lights with white circles inside the red circles. The 'VW' emblems have also been modified at the front and rear. In addition, there's a new range of colours and alloy wheels, complemented by fresher fabrics for the interior. Chrome now adorns the air vents and surrounds the instruments, for what Volkswagen reckon is an even higher quality feel inside. The Luna tag means buyers of this car can now expect 16" Houston alloy wheels, in addition to ESP (Electronic Stabilisation Programme) with ABS, twin front and side airbags with active front seat head restraints, a radio/CD player, electric windows and remote central locking with alarm and interior protection.
"The fact that a brand new Beetle can be yours from £11,535 will make a whole new breed of competitors peer rather nervously over their shoulders"
The 1390cc 16-valve 75bhp engine is a staple of the Volkswagen range and at one time or another has been found plumbed beneath the bonnets of the Lupo, Polo and Golf as well as the Beetle and is a perfectly serviceable little engine, not excelling in any one area but offering a well rounded blend of abilities. Fitted to the Beetle hatch it will accelerate the car to 60mph in 14.4 seconds and carry on to a top speed of 100mph. A combined fuel economy figure of 39.8mpg is surprisingly good for a small engine powering a relatively heavy car. The slightly weightier Cabriolet takes a second longer for the benchmark sprint, posts an identical top speed and will return a fractionally thirstier 39.2mpg.
The fact that a brand new Beetle can be yours from £11,535 in this form will make a whole new breed of competitors peer rather nervously over their shoulders. For little more than a Ford Fiesta 1.4, you could instead put a Beetle on your driveway and despite the fact that the shape's now a few years old, it still makes more of a style statement. Specify one in a bright primary colour and it will still attract the odd admiring glance. The Cabriolet model is a guaranteed head-swiveller, although these cars look better in neutral silvers and blacks. Volkswagen expect the 1.4-litre model to account for 30% of all Cabriolet sales and 25% of all Beetle hatchback buys.
Even without the power hood, the 1.4-litre Beetle Cabriolet still feels a good deal more car than £14,360 will normally buy. The hood itself is a cloth-lined three-layer construction that does a surprisingly good job of cutting down on wind noise when in the upright position and includes a proper heated glass rear window. You do lose a little of the hard top car's geometric perfection with the hood in place, but drop it back and your Beetle Cabriolet will look a million dollars - a fair return, we think you'll agree given the asking price. Although the hood doesn't disappear neatly into a cranny in the bodywork when in the down position, the overall effect isn't unpleasant, being vaguely reminiscent of the original.
Given that Volkswagen expect to sell twice as many hatches as Cabriolets its little wonder that the majority of their marketing push has been aimed at the hard top. Reacquaint yourself with the car and you're instantly surprised at quite what a strange environment the cabin is. The view out of the windscreen is rather like sitting back in a comfy chair and watching proceedings on a wide-screen plasma screen television. Drive at night and the interior is illuminated by the spooky indigo glow of the clocks, the base of the windscreen a good four feet away from your face.
Of course, there are plenty of telltale Volkswagen signs; the switches, the firm seats, the positive gearbox - but you don't really notice them. What you do notice are all the natty stylish touches. The big central circular instrument cluster with its huge numbers and cute little built-in rev counter. Plus of course, the vase (yes, you read that right), ready for you to fill with flower power. More macho buyers can pretend it's a penholder or something.
As you'd expect from the bubble-like shape, there's enough room inside to wear a top hat should the mood take you. More practically, that high roofline does make travelling in the rear reasonably palatable - though legroom is at a bit of a premium. Unlike many open-top conversions, the Beetle Cabriolet doesn't flex like a wobbleboard when the road is anything less than billiard table smooth.
There's a lot to be said for the Beetle 1.4-litre models. Few people buy a Beetle for the performance on offer and the inescapable result of this thread of logic dictates that cheapest is best. And so it proves. Spend any more than you would on a 1.4-litre car and you'll probably end up observing the law of diminishing returns. This probably wasn't what Volkswagen had in mind when offering an affordable Beetle, but there it is. Cheap works for us.
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