At first glance, a second-generation New Beetle doesn’t make a lot of sense. After all, Volkswagen’s German masters never wanted to build the current one. (The original air-cooled Bug isn’t remembered as fondly over there as it is here.) The animosity was such that VW’s U.S. designers worked on it in secret, and it was only after their Concept 1 was slipped quietly onto the Detroit auto show floor in 1994 and met with an explosive public response that management agreed to build the car. Even so, Germans look down on it as a girl’s car, a Golf with inferior packaging. So why do a follow-up? Because the New Beetle finds about 50,000 North American buyers per year, and VW isn’t prepared to walk away from those sales. The Ragster concept from the 2005 Detroit show provides a window into the thinking for the convertible version. Both the coupe and the convertible again will be based on the front-engine/front-wheel-drive chassis of the Golf (Rabbit).
Not only is Volkswagen readying a replacement for the New Beetle (left), the company is also developing a second Beetle model (above) that will hew even more closely to the iconic original. It is part of the proposed rear-engine small-car family previewed by last fall’s Up! show cars. The baby Beetle will be between the two-door and four-door Up! in size, and it likely will use a 750-cc two-cylinder gasoline engine and a 1.0-liter three-cylinder in both gasoline and diesel form, the top performer being a 125-hp unit mated to a dual-clutch transmission. The chassis will feature inexpensive independent suspension systems front and rear. Disc brakes will be offered only in select markets, and power steering will be an option at best. Sounds like a real Beetle, all right.
TAKE A REAR-ENGINE SONG AND MAKE IT BETTER: Today’s New Beetle seems like an idea whose time has passed, but the minimalist, rear-engine baby Beetle strikes us not only as an intriguing take on the tiny-car phenomenon, but also as an indication that someone at Volkswagen has a handle on what the brand should mean.