LAUSANNE, Switzerland – The Volkswagen Beetle nameplate is one of the most recognised of the 20th century. With the Wolfsburg-based automaker earlier confirming that the current-generation Beetle’s production is set to end (the last SA-bound models were imported in August 2017), we grabbed the chance while in Europe to drive one of the last models earmarked for Switzerland.
Our test unit is a well-specced Beetle Cabriolet R-Line. Under that rounded bonnet you'll find an engine closely related to the one powering the Golf GTI, here delivering 162 kW and 350 N.m.
Although the base price starts at the equivalent of around R359 000, in R-Line trim our model is priced at about R475 000. A few of the selected options include 20-inch “Monterey” wheels (for about R29 400), the “Technik Paket” (at R21 000) and a "Vienna” leather interior (for around R41 200). With a few more extras in the mix, the total cost of this particular vehicle came to the equivalent of R664 500. It is an expensive car, but it sure looks the part.
Indeed, the Europeans have such a wide variety of optional specifications, which means they can really go to town when specifying a Beetle on VW's configurator.
The photographer and I have plenty of luggage between us, and although boot space is limited, we're able to easily plonk our large suitcases onto the rear seats. The cabin is a comfortable place, with a high perceived quality, as we've come to expect from Volkswagen. The fact that the car’s exterior shape is replicated on the window sills is a nostalgic hat-tip to the original Beetle.
On the road
Our route takes us from Switzerland into the south of Germany and then back to the Alps. It takes only a few kilometres for me to appreciate the punchy nature of this 2,0-litre turbopetrol. Shifting gears manually makes for a relatively old-school experience in what is still a fairly modern car, but with very little stop-start traffic on our trip, I never really yearn for the DSG transmission (which is also available).
With oodles of available torque, it's a relaxing experience to keep the Beetle in sixth gear, from speeds as low as 60 km/h, and watch as it easily picks up speed when asked to. Heading into Germany, stretches of derestricted Autobahn allow me to pin the throttle numerous times. Although no sports car, the Beetle easily clocks 200 km/h and happily stays at such speeds for several kilometres (the top speed is a claimed 230 km/h).
What is more impressive on these highways, though, is just how quiet the convertible Beetle is inside. Holding a conversion with my passenger is never a challenge, despite the high speeds. It's only when you drive past a truck or through a tunnel that you realise you have a soft-top over your head. Once you’ve lowered the roof and put the windows up, wind buffeting is minimal and the engine and exhaust sound, as is the case when the roof is closed, is never intrusive.
Another highlight is the ride quality. Even running on large, optional 20-inch wheels with low-profile tyres, the damping is impressive and few bumps are intense enough to filter through to the cabin.
There are undoubtedly models in the "New Beetle" range, manufactured from 1997 until present day, that will one day become collectable. This vehicle has been refined into a very likeable car and, having spent 1 700 km behind the wheel on some of the best roads in Europe, I can certainly see its appeal ... for now and into the future.