The Volkswagen Beetle. If the complete history of all automobiles were a pie, the Beetle is the biggest slice. Its history is larger than life, so it is no surprise then that the two characters who are responsible for its birth were two men who were in their own right, larger than life as well - Adolf Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche. While Hitler has always been credited for presenting the first sketches of the Beetle to Ferdinand Porsche, some sensationalized stories have said that the Nazi leader had stolen the idea from a Jewish engineer named Josef Ganz. Regardless of the truth, the "People's Car" has been seen by many as the only worthwhile achievement of the ruthless dictator.
With 21,529,464 cars produced, the original Type 1 "Beetle" has been the longest running manufactured car of all time with a life spanning from 1938-2003. It was praised for its reliability, durability, and versatility. The Beetle has always been spartan in its approach, with many variations that came later on. It has truly been the car for the people for almost a century now.
"The two characters who are responsible for its birth were two men who were in their own right, larger than life as well - Adolf Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche."
Today the Beetle is in its third generation, but is it still the people's car?
Its design is as familiar as the reflection you see when you look into the mirror. There are some changes here and there, but it's still unmistakable in your eyes and in everyone elses. From a design perspective, it looks great. I love the proportions and how the shape harks back more to the Type 1 than the second generation does. The stance is really nice too, and somehow gives off a hint that this Beetle is a tad more athletic than its older siblings.
Inside, you'll find all the luxuries that you can find in any modern day Volkswagen. It has a fantastic stereo system, effective xenon headlights with cornering lights, a lovely sports steering wheel, seats that hold you in place, and enough space at the back for the kids or some friends. The suspension is stiff, but supple. It helps you enjoy twisty roads the way you would in any other European car.
"All this time I thought I was piloting a 2-liter engine. "
When you open the door, you are welcomed to a beautiful cockpit that reeks of modern retro touches. The cabin is airy and almost feels like a greenhouse. The exterior paint somehow melts into the interior, and you get this beautiful signature finish from the original Beetle. Of course, what you are seeing are no longer exposed metal body bits like the old Type 1. They're plastic, but it's a nice touch nonetheless.
"I put the gear selector on Sport, and the car's dynamic morphed into a completely different entity."
Driving this car came as a bit of a shock to me. It was unmistakably German. Everything felt so tightly bolted together, it handled the corners with a lot of dignity, and the engine was docile. Upon heading up to some nice and twisty mountain roads, I put the gear selector on Sport, and the car's dynamic morphed into a completely different entity. The engine was a peach and it pulled a lot harder than I expected. It felt a bit like a torque monster. It was a very welcome surprise, and even more shockingly, I was told that the engine was only a 1.4-liter. 1.4! That's smaller than the free Coca-Cola that Pizza parlors give you. All this time I thought I was piloting a 2-liter engine.
The turbocharging technology of Volkswagen is simply sublime. I think this particular engine has to be one of the best engines on the market today. I drove the car everywhere, and I struggled to finish the fuel. I climbed some steep mountain roads, and not once did it struggle. It is so efficient yet so effective on the road. It allows you to have your cake and eat it too. The result of driving it on Sport where I could? A returned combined cycle of 12.7 km/L. Where on Earth do you get that from a gasoline engine these days?
"The suspension is stiff, but supple. It helps you enjoy twisty roads the way you would in any other European car. "
The truth about the Beetle is that many people will buy it because of its styling and because of its automotive pedigree. A lot could care less about its technological advancements, because buying one is like buying a piece of motoring history and being a part of it. Volkswagen didn't have to bless this car with cutting edge technology and progress in driving dynamics. They just had to make it transport people from point A to point B and it still would've sold like hotcakes - but they've done so much more than that.
Today, the Beetle is the very representation of the common man who climbed the ladder and spent his years dedicating his life to his craft in hopes that someday the world would turn, and that he'd have his day under the sun. The day has come for the Beetle. No longer is it the "People's Car". It has served its time and it paid its dues, and now it may revel as a top dog and a living legend in the automotive industry - ultimately without any peers.
"Buying one is like buying a piece of motoring history and being a part of it."