Top Gear's guilty pleasures: the new new VW Beetle

By topgearsingapore, 29 December 2021

The only film to make me cry so far this century was Toy Story 4, the back catalogue of British pop group The Saturdays is criminally underrated for catchiness, and I like the most recent VW Beetle. Ahh, that’s better. It’s good to talk. 

Maybe let’s open the floor, and use the internet’s evil superpower (commenting on articles under an anonymous pseudonym) for the greater good. Since your musical taste is almost certainly more refined than mine, we’ll stick to cars.

‘Liking cars’ gets awfully tiring at times. It’s so serious. So tribal. M vs RS vs AMG. Porsche uber Ferrari. Is it okay to think Teslas are actually quite incredible in some ways and also quite crap in others? Ah, thought not.

Then there’s the vanishingly inconsequential minutiae. Turbos or nat-asp? What if you secretly prefer a paddleshift when all your mates have matching #savethemanuals tattoos? Only the bravest among us will freely admit to – dare I say it – liking convertibles…

So, here’s mine. Y’know the Volkswagen Beetle? No, not the original, multi-million-selling, dubiously Third Reich-y, Herbie-Fully-Loaded, love bug hippie-chariot one. And not the vase-on-the-dashboard New Beetle from 1997 either.

I’m talking about the last version. The third-gen Beetle that quietly slipped out of the factory back door in 2019, and nobody noticed. Except me. I liked the last Beetle.

Oh, it was complete rubbish. I drove several and marvelled at how VW took its usual parts-bin box of bits – the same engineering offal and tripe it successfully force-feeds to Seat and Skoda – and forged it into such curvaceous garbage.

Even the hard-top felt like it boasted the structural rigidity of an anti-vax manifesto. It was noisy, it didn’t ride properly, and somehow felt heavier than it actually was, as if it was driving on a planet with stronger gravity than Earth’s.

Then there was the GSR: the Gelb Schwarz Rennen, or ‘yellow-black racer’. Obviously, Volkswagen wanted to make a Beetle with chilli-peppers up its exhaust pipe, but it wasn’t allowed to be as good as a Golf GTI. Or a Polo GTI. Or a Scirocco. The result was 207bhp in a chassis that couldn’t tame a tensioned rubber band. It torque-steered and wheelspun like a top-fuel dragster stuck in reverse.

And yet… I dunno. It inexplicably did it for me. I loved how bespoke and silly the Beetle’s podgy bodywork was, the splashes of colour in the cynically cheapened cabin, and how in the faster Turbo ones a pod of boost pressure and temperature gauges atop the dash blocked the view out of the windscreen. Those chrome hubcaps on the deliriously clunky ‘Fender’ edition…. Cor. Yum.

I think most of all, for all its impracticality, its watered-down talent vacuum and sheer pointlessness, I liked that one of the world’s most serious car companies had taken off its cufflinks, undone its tie-knot and not taken life too seriously – long before a shiny-suited individual with a ‘promising future’ came up with ‘Voltswagen’. 

So there we are. I inexplicably harbour a latent desire for an utterly shoddy novelty tribute act when I should in fact prefer a leaner, meaner Scirocco. I’m sorry. My head turns every time one bumbles past, with its headlight eyelashes fluttering in the breeze and ‘Powered by Fairy Dust’ sticker glinting in the afternoon sunshine. 

Anyone else care to venture a secret, unpopular car lust? Let’s have them below. This is a safe space. We’re all friends here. I’ll be bump-steering wildly along my local lanes in a Beetle sobbing about Woody, Buzz and Bo-Peep if you need me.

Text Ollie Kew

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