Review: 2018 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

Review: 2018 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line
 

Now wait just a darned minute, Falkiner, why are you reviewing a Volkswagen Beetle? I thought these things had been discontinued in South Africa?

Ah, that’s just crazy talk, son. Though the Beetle might not feature on the local website anymore — or in showrooms for that matter — Volkswagen will import one for you should you really want to stick one in your garage. However, going on the Bug’s past sales performances, I cannot see many people doing this.

This one looks different. Is it a special edition or something?

Or something. The Beetle you’re looking at here is the R-Line model. This means it wears a unique body kit (racy new front/rear aprons and lots of glossy black trim) that lends it quite a masculine appearance. Indeed, I piloted this thing for a week and not once did I feel like I was driving through the frames of a Wham! music video en route to the Club Tropicana — if you know what I mean.

Inside you will find a piano-black dashboard, supportive R-Line seats plus a leather-wrapped, flat-bottomed steering wheel. The cherry on top is a Fender (none of that silly Beats nonsense here) sound system that makes long trips something to look forward to. Fifty have been allocated to South Africa, so act swiftly should you want one.

R-Line, huh? My cousin has a Golf R and it’s fast. Is this Beetle fast too?

Okay, so let’s get something straight here — the Golf R and the Beetle R-Line sit on polar opposite sides of the performance galaxy. While the Golf packs a special 213kW 2.0-litre TSI engine the Beetle makes do with a 1.4-litre TSI engine churning out a fairly pedestrian 110kW and 250Nm.

It’s not dog slow by any stretch of the imagination but it ain’t no hot hatch either. Equipped with a reasonably flat torque curve and buttery-smooth DSG gearbox, the R-Line makes a comfortable everyday cruiser that prefers taking it easy to life in the fast lane.

Oh. Damn. It’s starting to sound like a bit of a damp squib. Does it handle?

It handles fine. Although not as focused as, say, a Golf GTI, the Beetle R-Line is still pretty capable through your favourite twisties. Well at least up to a point that is. Push it too hard and it’ll quickly become a hot, understeery mess.

Treat it with a bit more discretion, however, and you’ll actually be surprised at how much of a willing dance partner it is. With a slightly softer suspension setup it also does a sterling job at shrugging off the terribly pitted road surfaces that plague this city. The trade-off is more body roll at the limit but I can live with this.

I’m looking at the price now. Seems like a lot to pay for what’s basically a slinkier, albeit less practical Golf?

Sure. For roughly R45 000 less you can pick up the enormously capable Golf Comfortline TSI. Or for just R10 000 less you could garage yourself a Mini Cooper S that packs both more power and torque. So why would you want a Beetle R-Line then? Well quite simply for the fact that it’s leftfield cool.

It’s not the obvious Volkswagen choice and nor is it — as is the case with the Mini — the kind of car you will spot on every other street corner. And I like that. So if you’re looking for a boutique hatchback with niche appeal then it’s definitely worth the premium. – Thomas Falkiner