Overview: Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen unveiled the latest generation Beetle in Shanghai on the eve of the city’s motor show in April 2011. When the original was launched in 1938, it was known just as the Volkswagen or, more formally, the KdF Wagen — Kraft durch Freude or Strength through Joy, a Nazi party idea by which you could save for a car or a pleasure cruise by buying stamps. But the car’s design, like a short, squat Tatra — which in a sense it was — eventually earned the car a raft of nicknames around the world. It took a while, though, because the Volkswagen did not enter large-scale production for civilian consumption until the factory was taken over by the British army after the War.

The original car was designed by Ferdinand Porsche, taking a great deal of ‘inspiration’ (if that is a synonym for theft) from Tatra’s chief engineer and designer — and fellow Austrian — Hans Ledwinka. The latter’s body designs and engineering tastes, notably for rear-mounted, air-cooled alloy engines, effectively defined the Beetle’s looks and mechanical layout.

It is odd to think what these two Austrian engineers, working in the feverish heat of the 1930s, would make of the new Beetle, or of the fact that, well into the 21st century, we are still copying their styling.

In the latest generation, the Beetle is longer, wider and lower than its immediate predecessor, at 4278mm in length ( up by 152 mm, 1808mm in width (an increase of 84 mm) and 1486mm in height (down 12 mm). The track width front and rear, as well as the wheelbase of 2537mm, are also increased.

Overseen by Walter de Silva (for the Volkswagen Group) and Klaus Bischoff (for the Volkswagen Brand), with Marc Lichte as team leader for exterior design, the car’s new proportions mean the roof extends back further, the windscreen is shifted back and the rear section is now more akin to that of the original Beetle. The boot capacity is a rather feeble 310l, which is what you would expect in a supermini. Still, it’s better than the previous model’s 209l. Refreshingly, Volkswagen describes the Beetle as a four-seater; the rear seats have a split-fold function.

A wide range of optional equipment is available, ranging from Keyless Access through satellite navigation systems to bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, all of which are available for the first time on a Beetle. Another new option is the Fender-branded sound pack, developed in conjunction with the electric guitar firm of the same name and delivering a 400W output.

In the UK, a choice of four engines is available: three petrol — a 1.2-litre TSI 105PS, a 1.4-litre TSI 160PS and a 2.0-litre TSI 200PS — and one 2.0-litre TDI 140PS diesel. A 1.6-litre TDI 105PS with Blue Motion Technology is expected by the end of 2012: this uses a stop-start system and off-load charging, and is predicted to return a combined fuel consumption of 65.7mpg with carbon dioxide emissions of 114g/km.

The bodyshell of the new Beetle is a laser-welded and galvanised structure which has one of the highest torsional rigidity values in the segment at 26,000Nm/°. The car has been awarded a five star safety rating by NCAP.

The 1.4-litre 160PS and 2.0-litre 200PS petrol models feature standard XDS electronic differential lock, as fitted to the Golf GTI.

New suspension is aimed at achieving superior handling to the previous model. A very lightweight strut type set-up at the front is completed by semi-independent torsion-beam rear suspension. The 2.0-litre TSI Sport model has four-link rear suspension. The Beetle uses a platform that is closely related to that of the Golf Mk VI (shortened by 50 mm).

Twin front and side airbags are fitted, and ABS and ESP feature on all models.

Inside, the Beetle is all new. The bud vase is gone; the second glovebox integrated into the facia with an upward folding lid (familiar to those who know the air-cooled version) is back.

The new model, like its predecessor, is built at Volkswagen’s Puebla plant in Mexico, alongside the Jetta and Golf Estate, 120km south-east of Mexico City.

In the Mexican market, Volkswagen de México represents not only the Volkswagen Brand, but also SEAT, Audi, Bentley and Porsche. The range also includes heavy trucks up to 23 tons, which are assembled in Mexico from part kits from Brazil. The Volkswagen brand is present all over the country with 169 dealerships. In addition, SEAT has 51, Audi 26, Porsche seven and Bentley one sales and service facility.

Objectives and exterior

The design team wanted to incorporate the original Beetle’s profile more than they had with the 1998 ‘New Beetle’, and to get back to the car’s roots. Apparently many of the design team — young and old — actually own original Beetles.

The car not only has a lower profile; it is also substantially wider, the front bonnet is longer, the front windscreen is shifted further back and has a much more swept-back angle.

While the New Beetle was defined by three semicircles — front wing, rear wing, domed roof — the new model has broken free of this geometry. The roof profile now runs distinctly lower and can be considered a continuation of the Ragster concept car shown in Detroit in 2005 — a type of hot rod based on the New Beetle.

The gain in length meant that the roof could be extended further, the windscreen could be shifted back, and the rear section could follow the contour of the original Beetle. The new focal point is the C-pillar. In parallel, the development team increased the car’s track widths and wheelbase.

Some of the Beetle’s longstanding characteristics remain: these include its flared wings and the clean design of its rear lights, the shape of the bonnet, the side and door sills and — more than ever — its ability to integrate large wheels (up to 19 inch).

A new feature is the rear spoiler that is homogeneously integrated in the design (standard on 160PS and 200PS TSI engines) to maintain high-speed stability.

For the first time, bi-xenon headlights are available; mercury-free xenon gas discharge lamps with a power consumption of 25W per headlight are used for the projection module and when these are specified, daytime running lights are also included, each of which consists of 15 LEDs arranged along the outer border of the headlight housing.


Every element of the interior has been redesigned. In front of the driver, three round instruments (tachometer, speedometer, fuel gauge) supply key information and in the central speedometer dial there is a multifunction display. Like the original Beetle, the new car has an extra glovebox integrated in the front facia; its lid folds upwards, while the standard glovebox opens downward.

A distinguishing feature of the Beetle is that its interior ergonomics and packaging are based on completely new parameters. While drivers in the air-cooled Beetle travelled in a very low-slung seat, and drivers of the New Beetle felt as if they were seated very far back, the latest Beetle offers a conventional and quite sporty driving position.

If the panoramic tilt/slide sunroof is specified, the controls for this are found in the roof area. The round turning knob is used to adjust the opening of the transparent roof in various stages, while pressing the other control initiates the tilt function.

In front, the Beetle is now somewhat lower in profile, since the domed roof of its predecessor has been ‘squashed’. It now offers 1005mm interior height (1000mm with the panoramic sunroof) compared to the previous 1082mm. Meanwhile, in the rear seating area, the longer roof section results in a greater feeling of space. Available here — with or without the panoramic roof — is 942mm of headroom, which is around 10mm more than on the previous model. Legroom has also increased in the rear, to 797mm, while the Beetle also exhibits a noticeable growth in interior width — front: 1459mm, rear: 1308mm. The seats are of a new design, with claimed benefits to comfort. We can testify that they offer good support.

All Beetle and Design models have standard Climatic semi-automatic climate control, allowing passengers to select a desired cabin temperature which is then maintained automatically, whatever the outside temperature. Optional on Design and standard on Sport is a two-zone electronic climate control, a fully automatic air conditioning system which allows the driver and front-seat passenger to adjust their own climates individually. Temperatures within the two zones are maintained to an accuracy of a degree, with no readjustment necessary whatever the outside conditions. In our experience, the fully featured system is vastly superior to the Climatic, which is prone to ‘cycling’.

TSI engines

The TSI designation applies to all of Volkswagen’s forced-induction petrol engines. They are directly fuelled and either dual-charged — using a combination of an engine-driven supercharger and an exhaust gas turbocharger arranged in series for higher power outputs — or just mechanically supercharged for lower power outputs and lower cost.

Direct injection allows an abnormally high compression ratio (for a supercharged engine) of 10:1, in conjunction with high maximum boost pressure of up to 2.5 bar absolute. This enables the relatively small engines to use very long gearing in the interest of fuel economy. The TSI engines have a wide operating range, from 1000rpm to 6500rpm, with quite good torque between 2500rpm and 4500rpm. Their flexibility makes them good examples of ‘downsized’ petrol engines, though their fuel consumption can be quite old-fashioned if you use the available performance. The range, then, is as follows.

1.2-litre TSI 105PS: This four-cylinder unit displaces 1197cc, has a two-valve head and a turbocharger. The valves are operated by low-friction roller-rockers. Torque peaks at 175Nm, and nominally at 4100rpm, though there is a fair amount of torque from around 3000rpm. The seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox is standard. If our test car is anything to go by — and there does seem to be some variation from car to car with DSG transmissions — the gearbox does the engine’s capabilities no great favour.

1.4-litre TSI 160PS: This 1390cc unit has a four-valve head, and forced induction is by way of both mechanical supercharging and turbocharging to produce 160PS at 5800rpm and 240Nm at 4500rpm. It is available with a six-speed manual gearbox. On the road the 160 is flexible and quick; by virtue of its ample power as much as any other quality, it is also quite refined, as high revs are seldom called for.

2.0-litre TSI 200PS: It would be churlish to complain that this unit has ‘only’ a turbocharger and 100PS per litre. This is the range-topping engine, which arrived in Britain during July. An XDS electronic differential lock and four-link rear suspension come as standard. Maximum power arrives at 5100rpm, while the peak torque of 280Nm is available between 1700rpm and 5000rpm. Six-speed manual and six-speed (wet-clutch) DSG versions are available.

Diesel engines

Both the Beetle’s diesel engines are familiar and accomplished common rail units with piezo injectors. They meet Euro 5 emissions legislation and are fitted with a standard Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) which reduces particulate emissions to below five mg/km.

1.6-litre TDI 105PS: This 1598cc four-valve engine will be coupled with Blue Motion Technology when it arrives; which should be in the autumn of 2012. Blue Motion Technology models are a half-way house between the more focused and expensive Blue Motion vehicles (in Polo, Golf and Passat model ranges) and the cheaper standard models. We very much hope that Volkswagen doesn’t hamper it with a five-speed gearbox.

The breadth of Blue Motion Technology modifications varies from range to range. In the Beetle, it will incorporate stop-start and battery regeneration (overrun charging) systems, as well as low rolling resistance tyres. The overrun charging makes it possible to lower alternator voltage when the engine is under load, and it is even possible to switch off the alternator entirely.

2.0-litre TDI 140PS: Displacing 1968 cc, this is another four-valve, four-cylinder unit found in many cars across the Volkswagen Group. We like this unit a lot — in fact, we prefer it to its 170PS sibling by virtue of the 140PS unit’s superior refinement and flexibility. Maximum torque of 320Nm is available between 1750rpm and 2500rpm.

The Beetle’s automatic stop-start system is operated through the clutch pedal. When coming to a halt at traffic lights, for example, the driver depresses the clutch and selects neutral. When the clutch is released, the engine shuts down and a ‘Start/Stop’ symbol illuminates on the multifunction display. In order to move away, the driver simply depresses the clutch once again to select first gear and the engine restarts automatically. The system can be deactivated through a switch, if necessary.


Manual Beetle models have a standard six-speed gearbox featuring a magnesium selector housing and cable operation with short lever movements. Three-cone synchromesh is used for the lower gears.

Automatic Beetles use DSG (direct shift gearbox) twin-clutch automatic units. There are two such gearboxes: a lower-rated seven-speed unit with dry clutches known as 0AM, and a wet-clutch six-speeder called 02E for engines with torque outputs between 250Nm and 350Nm. For a detailed description of the dry-clutch 0AM unit, click here.

One clutch controls the ‘odd’ gears plus reverse, while the other operates the ‘even’ gears. Essentially they are two gearboxes in one.

The clutches are controlled by a ‘mechatronic’ (mechanical-electronic) unit; this looks after the hydraulic circuits that operate the clutches and selector forks. Gearchanging takes place with no loss of drive torque. The next-higher gear ratio is engaged in a ‘stand-by’ state until its clutch is engaged. For example, if the car is being driven in third gear, fourth is selected but not yet ‘active’. As soon as the shift point is reached, the clutch on the third-gear side opens, the other clutch closes, and fourth gear engages under electronic supervision.

Since the opening and closing actions of the two clutches overlap, the gearchange is quite seamless: we can testify that it works well in practice. The shift process is completed in less than four hundredths of a second. In addition to its fully automatic shift mode, the DSG gearboxes have a manual override using shift paddles or the selector lever.

The seven-speed DSG uses organic-bonded friction linings that do not require cooling, making the drivetrain more efficient. Also, a dry-plate arrangement demands less power for the gear selection and clutch servo system. Measuring 369mm in length and weighing 79kg including the dual-mass flywheel, the seven-speeder is compact and light.

There are two lubrication circuits: one for the gearbox, one for the mechatronic unit. Since the clutch does not require cooling, the quantity of oil has been reduced from seven litres in the six-speed DSG gearbox to only 1.7l in the 0AM.


Volkswagen offers customers a choice of servicing régime for their Beetle. They can choose fixed or flexible servicing; the choice is dependent on how the car is likely to be driven.

The fixed service is recommended for vehicles that will cover less than around 10,000 miles a year or if the car is subjected to demanding use — high engine loads and short trips, for example. In this case, the vehicle will be serviced at regular intervals, at every 10,000 miles or every 12 months.

The flexible service is recommended for vehicles with a daily mileage of more than 25 miles, where the vehicle is driven regularly and on mainly longer distance journeys. The vehicle should be mainly driven at a constant speed with minimum vehicle and engine loading, minimal towing and driven ‘in an economical manner’. In this case, the on-board computer informs the driver via a dashboard display, when the vehicle needs a service. A range of engine sensors electronically monitors the vehicle’s oil temperature, oil pressure, oil level and brake pad wear to establish when a service is needed. With the Long Life system, it can be possible to drive for up to 20,000 miles or 24 months without a major service.

Running gear

While the most powerful two-litre TSI models use a four-link arrangement for wheel location at the rear, all other models deploy the familiar set-up of struts at the front — with helical coils in this case — and a twist-beam at the rear.

All Beetles, regardless of power output, use electro-mechanical power steering. The system is able to vary the feel of the steering wheel to suit the speed and driving situation: firm and direct when driving hard, effortless at parking speeds. Other advantages of the system include its mild self-centring action, its ability to compensate for different driving hazards, like crosswinds and steep road cambers, and a beneficial effect on fuel economy.

For braking, the Beetle is equipped with ventilated discs at the front, ranging in diameter from 280mm to 312mm (for the two-litre TSI), and solid discs of 272mm at the rear. ABS, ESP (Electronic Stabilisation Programme) and Hydraulic Brake Assist are fitted as standard across the range.

ESP — Electronic Stabilisation Programme: The latest-generation ESP is a sophisticated system that automatically senses any tendency for the car to slide. Should this situation occur, ESP reacts by applying the brakes to one, two, three or all four wheels, and also adjusts the engine’s power. In this way, it is possible that a skid is corrected even before the driver is aware that one has started. This can be useful if a tendency to understeer or oversteer develops in a bend. In such circumstances, ESP can help prevent the car skidding or spinning off the road and is particularly helpful in wet or icy conditions.

HBA — Hydraulic Brake Assist: Working in conjunction with the other elements of the braking system, this latest form of HBA recognises from the speed at which the brake pedal is depressed whether it is a ‘normal’ braking situation or an emergency stop. In the event of an emergency stop, HBA automatically increases braking pressure, activating ABS and ensuring the level of braking meets the needs of the conditions. The application of brake assist makes it possible even for unskilled drivers to reduce braking distances by around 25 per cent. according to Volkswagen. It is perhaps churlish to point out that a skilled driver holding the wheels on the point of locking will stop more effectively than any ABS, but will not be able to do so with a brake assist system fitted.

XDS — Electronic Differential Lock: Models with 160PS and 200PS come with a standard electronic differential lock which is essentially an extension of the familiar EDS functionality. XDS improves handling in fast bends and calibrates the car towards more ‘neutral’ steering. It does this by using active brake intervention to prevent wheelspin of the unloaded wheel on the inside of the curve, which in turn improves traction.

Hill hold function: All Beetle models have a standard hill hold function. The parking brake now comes on automatically whenever the vehicle is brought to rest, preventing the car from rolling forwards or backwards for around two seconds.

Safety and security

The Beetle has been awarded five stars by Euro NCAP. Click here for more information.

Whiplash Optimised Head Restraint System: Injuries caused by hyperextensions of the cervical spine — whiplash — are extremely common following car accidents. Volkswagen has developed WOKS — its Whiplash Optimised Head Restraint System — to counteract whiplash injuries by co-ordinating the movements of the head and upper body as synchronously as possible using the seat-backs and head restraints. The latest generation of WOKS is now implemented as standard on the front seats of the Beetle.

To reduce the risk of injury, protection is afforded by achieving defined deceleration of the upper body using the seat-back, co-ordinated deceleration of the head using the head-restraint, and balanced motions of head and upper body. Key to this are the special contour of the head restraints and seat-backs as well as the hardness of the foam material used here. WOKS has demonstrated a level of protective potential that is substantially better, Volkswagen claims, than the biomechanical values attained by many active systems.

Child safety: Two Isofix child seat preparation points are standard in the rear of all Beetle models, enabling the secure anchoring of a compatible child seat.


Keyless entry: The Beetle is offered with a keyless entry, start and exit system. When one of the door handles is touched, a signal is transmitted from an aerial integrated in the handle. The system then searches for a valid ID transmitter, from which it detects access authorisation. The antenna relays the code sent by the transmitter to the relevant control unit in the Beetle. If the code is recognised, the system then unlocks the doors, deactivates the immobiliser and the anti-theft alarm system, and allows the vehicle to be started using the start button. Other antennae check whether the ID transmitter is in the car. The Beetle cannot be started if the ID transmitter is too far away from the vehicle. It is not possible, for example, to put the transmitter on the roof, get in the car and drive off, which will be a relief to some of us.

If no door is opened within 30 seconds, the doors lock again, as with a conventional system operated by remote control. From inside the car, it is unlocked by pressing a button in the door handle. The Beetle can be unlocked and locked by remote control.

Light and sight pack: This pack includes the two useful options of an automatic dimming interior rear-view mirror and rain sensor. The self-dimming rear view mirror uses LCD technology to sense when the lights of a vehicle behind are likely to distract the driver. The mirrors react by dimming automatically. Sensors in the front and rear of the mirror monitor changes and readjust when appropriate.

Automatic windscreen wipers are also included. Here, a rain sensor positioned ahead of the interior rear-view mirror on the windscreen activates the wiper system as required. An infrared beam is reflected in different ways according to the pattern of moisture landing on a windscreen sensor. Signals from the sensor are used to control the wipers. When the wiper control is set to the normal ‘Intermittent’ position the wipers are automatically controlled from ‘off’ when the screen is dry through different delay intervals of intermittent wipe and on to two speeds of continuous operation.

Bi-xenon headlights: Gas discharge (bi-xenon) headlights are offered as an option for the first time on the Beetle. These provide a focused, blue-white light which is more intense than standard lights. This option includes a self-levelling mechanism.

Parking sensors: Standard on Sport and optional on Beetle and Design are front and rear parking sensors. The system produces an audible warning signal to guide the driver up to a safe distance to any objects behind, along with a visual indication via the audio system display.

Fender premium soundpack: The Beetle is the only vehicle in Europe available with a Fender sound system — available as an option on Design and Sport models. This pack comprises tweeters in the mirror triangle and rear side trim, and a subwoofer located in a closed bass box in the boot. At the heart of the system is a 10 channel amplifier with eight speakers delivering a 400W output.

Telephone preparation: Design and Sport models come with standard preparation for Bluetooth HFP (Hands Free Profile) enabled telephones. Here, the driver’s mobile phone is integrated into the vehicle’s systems without it being physically plugged in — it can stay in a jacket pocket, for instance. The mobile phone functions in the car are dealt with by a fixed phone installation that obtains the necessary data from the SIM card of the mobile phone. The telephone is controlled using the radio system, the optional multifunction steering wheel (which is standard on Design and Sport models) or by voice command if this is specified — it is available in conjunction with the RNS 510 DVD touchscreen satellite navigation-radio system.

RNS 315 touchscreen satellite navigation/radio system: All Beetle models can be specified with Volkswagen’s RNS 315 satellite navigation system. The installation uses a 13cm touchscreen to operate the entertainment and navigation menus and display information. Key features include a CD drive for audio discs, playback with title display for MP3 files and an integrated SD memory card reader from which files can be retrieved.

The navigation function offers a moving map in the colour display panel, integrated direction symbols as well as spoken instructions.

For the navigation to function, rear ABS wheel sensors are used to determine the distance the car has covered and to provide information when the car is turning. Further system components include a solid state magnetic compass concealed under the roof and a three-way roof aerial for radio and GPS (Global Positioning System). The aerial receives signals from the satellites in orbit from which the system is able to calculate the position of the car on the surface of the earth.

RNS 510 DVD touchscreen satellite navigation/radio system: Available on Design and Sport models for a premium over the RNS 315. This features a 16cm colour screen plus integrated voice control system which responds to spoken voice commands for navigation, CD and radio functions. As well as playing CDs in the usual way, favourite tracks can also be stored onto the internal, 30GB hard-drive using an SD card slot in the front of the unit. The hard-drive is also used to store navigation mapping. In addition, routes can be recorded while driving and then re-traced by following guidance provided by the stored waypoints.

The Beetle 1934-2003

1934: On 22 June, the ‘Reichsverband der Deutschen Automobilindustrie’ (RDA) (National Association the German Automobile Industry) commissions Ferdinand Porsche with the design of a ‘people’s car’ or ‘Volkswagen’.

1935: The first prototype, with air-cooled boxer engine, 22.5PS and 700cc is developed. Two additional vehicles are built. It bears a striking resemblance to a number of Tatra models, both technically and aesthetically.

The Tatra V570 prototype had an air-cooled flat-twin in the rear.

1936: The prototype, with three copies built, is designated the V3. On 24 February, RDA members are presented with one saloon and one convertible version in Berlin. From 22 October until 22 December, each vehicle covers around 50,000km.

Volkswagen prototype, 1935/6.

1937: For continuous load tests, the RDA has 30 vehicles built, which cover a total of 2.4 million test kilometers.

1938: After further reworking, the series model 38 emerges, the first to have the characteristic ‘pretzel’ window, running boards and bumpers. The car with the air-cooled, four-cylinder Boxer engine, with an engine capacity of 986cc and 24PS, weighs 750kg. With a saloon, convertible and saloon with cloth sunroof, three model variations were presented.

1945: In August, the British military authority commissions the existing Volkswagen factory, managed by the British Major Ivan Hirst, with the delivery of 20,000 cars. In December 1945, VW Beetle series production begins; 55 vehicles are assembled.

1946: The 10,000th Volkswagen is produced on 14 October.

1947: Of the 8,987 saloons manufactured in this year, the first vehicles are exported to the Netherlands.

1948: The 25,000th Volkswagen leaves the line in May. Monthly vehicle production climbs from 1,185 cars in May to 2,306 in December.

1974: At 11:19 a.m. on 1 July, the last Beetle rolls off the line at the original Wolfsburg plant. In August, production of the VW 1303 A is suspended.

1978: The last Beetle built in Germany rolls off the line in the Emden plant on 19 January. All told, 16,255,500 Beetles were built in Germany. Overseas, more than 1,000 Beetles are produced each day. The Mexico Beetle is a VW 1200 L with 34PS engine.

1980: On 10 January, the last Beetle convertible rolls off the line at Karmann in Osnabrück. A total of 330,281 convertibles were produced.

1981: On 15 May, the 20,000,000th Beetle is produced at Volkswagen de México in Puebla. The ‘Silver Bug’ anniversary model is offered.

1985: On 12 August, the last shipment of Beetles arrives in Emden.

1992: The Mexico Beetle is equipped with a catalytic converter and Lambda probe. The 21,000,000th Beetle is produced in Mexico on 23 May.

2002: On 25 June, Golf production figures pass the Beetle, with 21,517,415 units.

2003: The last Beetle manufactured by Volkswagen rolls off the line at Volkswagen de México in Puebla in July.

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