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  • Great audio system and strong headlights; cool detailing, including chrome alloy wheels; charming engine, dynamics
  • Doesn\'t ride nicely on 18-inch wheels compared with regular Beetle grade; inconsistent steering weighting; cabin prioritises style over finish

OUR RATING
8 / 10



Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition

It may produce 118 kilowatts of power as with the rest of the Volkswagen Beetle line-up, but more specifically this Fender limited edition grade produces a powerful 400 watts from its special audio system.

It also gets big, powerful bi-xenon headlights in addition to the big stereo, making this little three-door hatchback a bit like the small bloke who thumps out a really large tackle (in rugby, of course).

Those are the two main features that make this $34,490 Beetle Fender limited edition worth the extra $2000 compared with the regular automatic DSG-equipped model. Paying tribute to a classic American guitar brand also means going back in black, the traditional colour of rock being the only hue available, while chrome-finished mirror covers and 18-inch alloy wheels cement the 1960s throwback (power windows are standard, so it’s easy to let the smoke out…).

A ‘Beetle’ badge adorns the rear hatch, ‘Fender’ badges flank each front guard, there’s a ducktail spoiler – probably this tester’s favourite styling feature – and, inside, a cool ‘sunburst’ colour is splayed across the dashboard. ‘Sioux’ brown highlights are used on the floor mats and both the leather steering wheel stitching and trim for the leather/cloth sports bucket seats, which now also get lumbar support.

Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition

Interior lighting can switch between three colours, as can the outer rings of the front door speakers, which would be a cool idea if it hadn’t first been offered in the Kia Soul.

Larger wheels – with 245/40 R18 Continental SportContact 2 tyres – are the only change that may affect the way this Volkswagen Beetle drives compared with the standard models launched in February this year, so let’s focus first on the way it sounds.

The Volkswagen Beetle Fender edition gets eight speakers plus a boot-mounted subwoofer – complete with a requisite Fender logo – and a 10-channel amplifier pumping 400 watts into the small cabin.

Just as a favourite country road can sort the bad handling cars from the good and great, a particular song can quickly pick flaws and highlight virtues in a stereo system.

With the deluge of instruments used in the final minute of the Smashing Pumpkins’ track Tonight Tonight as a test bed – as an uncompressed audio file, not a rubbish MP3 – the system reached full volume without distortion. This heavily layered track, which belts the skins as violins fill the background and strings thrum, can become muddied in many systems.

The Beetle Fender doesn’t quite provide the clarity and definition of some of the best relatively affordable audio systems – such as the Audi A4’s optional Bang and Olufsen unit, the Jaguar XF’s optional Bowers and Wilkins system, or the Range Rover Evoque’s optional Meridian stereo – but this Beetle offers probably the best-sounding system available for under $40K.

Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition

Tick the Bose audio option box on an Audi A1, or the Harman Kardon stereo in a Mini, and both will come close to the Beetle Fender, however.

Although the Beetle Fender may look old school, it also has daggy twentieth century connectivity, including an in-dash six-CD changer and humble auxilary socket. There is a USB plug, but it refuses to accept an iPod or iPhone using the standard Apple cable, despite everything from a Mazda 6 to a Holden Commodore Evoke allowing the regular cable.

The Bluetooth audio connectivity is difficult to use, and the colour screen resolution is far lower than that in the aforementioned Evoke and even a middle-grade Hyundai i30 hatchback, although the touchscreen itself is intuitive. Still, for a music-based limited edition the Beetle Fender is not technologically state-of-the-art, which is disappointing.

The Volkswagen Beetle is also dated in other areas. Although the latest generation design has toughened the looks, while remaining classically Beetle and completely unique, the chassis platform is based on the previous generation Volkswagen Golf. Even then, it gets the cheaper torsion beam rear suspension from the US-spec Jetta sedan, while the 1.4-litre twincharged petrol engine has already been replaced in newer Volkswagen models.

Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition

Compare the way the Beetle drives to a Golf Mark VII and it does appear rough around the edges. It lacks the Golf’s superb ride and interior quality, its hushed refinement, and, obviously, the roomy five-seat interior. The Beetle’s heavier iron-block 1.4-litre turbo- and supercharged four-cylinder engine produces 10Nm less torque (240Nm) than the Golf’s lighter, more frugal 1.4-litre turbo-only petrol engine, although the Beetle does get 8kW extra power (118kW).

Yet, as a testament to how good the previous generation Golf was, all the bits the Beetle uses are, when compared with non-Volkswagen models, still decidedly excellent.

The twincharged engine claims 6.4L/100km, which is 0.7L/100km more than the turbo-only Golf, but we saw a respectable 8L/100km in a mix of urban, freeway and brisk country road driving. With a standard seven-speed dual-clutch ‘DSG’ automatic the 1306kg Beetle claims an 8.3 second 0-100km/h which if anything feels pessimistic.

The DSG has suffered some recall foibles, but this latest iteration is in a driveability sense, fabled. Where once the dual-clutch gearbox shifted only based on engine revs, meaning in ‘D’ it skipped to the tallest possible gear and in ‘S’ it held gears too long, the software can now recognise hard driving and intuitively alter its shift pattern.

Combined with a sweet and always-punchy engine, the combination in the Beetle is anything but dated. It’s the same with the chassis.

Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition

Yes, the torsion beam rear suspension skips and hops over some mid corner bumps. (Essentially it connects the back wheels via a single rod, meaning a bump that hits one wheel affects the other, which is eliminated by the independent multi links in the Golf.)

On the low profile 18-inch tyres the ride quality is also mildly restless on the freeway and occasionally lumpy on urban arterials. Again, however, compared with almost every small hatchback in the class except the Golf, the Beetle provides very good suspension compliance and composure.

The wide, grippy tyres are seemingly incongruous with the soft-ish spring and damper rates, yet on twisty roads they combine to deliver a level of driving enjoyment that closely challenges the Golf (and Mazda 3, and Focus) for best-in-class honours.

The Beetle isn’t as darty as a Mini or Audi A1, both of which are equally compromised by style-centric packaging. The Volkswagen prefers to roll onto its outside tyres in corners, cling to grip, then allow the driver to adjust its attitude via the throttle.

Inconsistent steering somewhat affects the Beetle’s fluency, but it isn’t fatal. There’s too much freeplay on centre, where the weighting is also too light, but start to wind on lock and the power assistance backs off to provide chunkier weighting. It’s almost needlessly heavy in some instances, yet the terrific directness of the steering goes a good way to aiding feedback.

Practicality is a moot point in the Volkswagen Beetle.

The cabin is more characterful and unique compared with a Golf’s, yet the materials and finish aren’t as good; the rear seats provide enough headroom and legroom for this 175cm-tall tester; and the 310-litre boot is decent considering the swoopt lines, yet it is obviously more cramped compared with that sibling that begins with a ‘G’.

What the Volkswagen Beetle Fender edition offers is an alternative to a pragmatic, practicality focused five-door hatchback. For those who rarely use a back seat, and for whom a cranking stereo and design character mean more than obsessive finish and refinement, this new-age Beetle is a valid option more than just a rekindling of past glories.


Volkswagen Beetle Review: Fender Edition
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  • René S

    Those wheels look like something out of Pimp my ride

    • Golfschwein

      I saw the wheels up close on the weekend. They’re brilliant and beautiful and make sense on this beetle, but I’d like to see how they look on a black Golf.

      • Zaccy16

        i agree, there’s a fender edition beetle at vw geelong at its looks fantastic inside and out, this is what the beetle should have been when it was released in early 2000′s, its not as good as the golf but what is?

  • Daniel

    Have to say, despite the ride comfort sacrifice, I don’t even see the point in getting the new Beetle if you don’t get those wheels. I think they’re pretty cool.

  • Tone

    The worse engine/gearbox combo in the whole VW stable and those dopey looking wheels don’t do this version of the Beetle any favours. That said, the fake wood on the glovebox looks kinda cool.

  • Captain Nemo®™

    Ugly outside ugly inside throw in VeeDud’s legendary hand grenade TSi /clunk-o-rama combo. Shoddy Mexican build quality, Why on earth would you want one? I wonder if you can order just the speakers and delete the Mexican made junk attached?

    • Neil_Way

      Just don’t buy a VW then perhaps?

    • $29896495

      Funny comment

    • Robbo

      Wow if you don’t like it why don’t you just say so instead of being so complimentary!! I doubt you have registered ‘Nemo’ and your trade mark, unless you really are a smelly fish? ;-)

  • barry

    I suppose with shed loads of twincharged engines.Put them in the Beetle then blame it on bad Mexican build quality.

    • $29896495

      More to the point, put them in Australian Beetles. As we know VW engineering is rubbish at best. It’s just a matter of time before they’ve used them all up replacing them under warranty. A rubbish design they don’t dare give the USA.

      • barry

        Like the Dsg .Don’t think the twincharger up to Australian conditions.

        • al

          why adjust a car to a desert island of 20 million people and your goat tracks that you call “roads”?…Build proper roads first or build your own tractors…even tractors you import, you big mouthed Aussies. You never invented anything. You import every bloody machine that is in use in your country! Think about it!

          • barry

            Your right Al we don’t build anything but we invent plenty.
            Lets start by saying Korean and Japanese test there protype vechles in Australia for hundreds of hours.They don’t have these humourious reliability problems.
            Our population in 24 million,about 10% live on or below the poverty line.
            Without doing any research,huwtm gave you a few invention.Add WiFi,Cochlear earphone,the jibaree under the horizon radar that picked up your 3 trillion dollar Stealth Fighter,,ha,ha,ha,.Sun resistant front windscreen,non carbon fibre brake pads,Handglider,tank,dry as a bone workwear,i don’t have all day al.

  • Phil

    should have got the 2L turbo as sold in the US. What’s the use of a Fender edition if it doesn’t crank up to 11?

    • Robbo

      Agreed! Make it ‘hot’.

  • F1orce

    Perhaps iron is the solution for the better reliability of these motors..

    • Karl Sass

      I don’t believe the strength of the engine block is an issue. I would start by giving it a slightly lower compression ratio, completely redeveloping the DSG (or dropping them) and overhauling the vehicles electrical architecture. I think that would go a very long way to addressing much of the issues they’ve been having.

      • F1orce

        Yeah usually the block is the last problem. But the 1.4L twincharged which is used here is known for blowing up.

        The materials the Germans use for their engines and vehicles in general are fragile and cheap.

        Look under the hood of most Germans & VW in particular and you see far too many plastic parts and illogical designs in general.

        • Karl Sass

          I know what you’re saying. Not so much cheap parts, but they slim everything down to be as light as possible to get the best fuel economy. However that contributes to poor reliability and durability. Probably not such an issue in Europe where they don’t keep their cars for as long as we do and they do less kilometres (on average). That’s why I generally would prefer to own a Japanese or Australian car, even if it’s slightly less refined. In the long run, durability is far more important.

          • F1orce

            Yeah what good is it if you buy a brand new car and its plagued with issues, mainly the result of poor design and too much corner cutting.

            And the base German cars don’t really have good refinement, have you driven the Mercedes C200? It sounds very awful and it’s also not very fuel efficient. Considering it has stop/start, 7-gears and how it decides to kick into 7th gear at 40km/h.

            And the worst part is that the Germans are the most expensive brands.

          • barry

            Isnt the problem with the Twincharger fuel compatability.The Coles and Woolworths fuel from Indonesia is rubbish.The 98 fuel from those stations is not suitable for the twincharger..
            Isnt the motor just over engineered and over complex to repair.Not suitable outside Europe.

          • Karl Sass

            It wouldn’t be so bad if they were easy to repair and the parts were reasonably priced, but they aren’t. The exact opposite. Although they generally drive well, just an unacceptable ownership risk outside the warranty period IMO.

        • Golfschwein

          The illogical design gets me every time.

          • $29896495

            Bad design poor quality materials, insufficient testing, sub standard programing, dodgy electrics (been going on since year dot) expensive repairs and parts, warranties half the length of the rest of the world. You’d need to be seriously stupid to even think about owning a Vdud let alone hand over money for one. If it drives well going round the block, so what, if a drive on the freeway is going to shorten your life.

          • F1orce

            But your elementary grade of knowledge regarding the matter is what gets me everytime.

  • Karl Sass

    I might not be a big fan of modern Beetles, but this thing has serious character!

  • $29896495

    I quite like these things in the photos. US gets a better range of engines. 5 cylinder non turbo, 2 lt turbo. In real life I was surprised it didn’t seem to look as good.

  • Jober As A Sudge

    Save your money…buy a Fender combo and stick it on a go-kart!

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