"What's there to dislike about the New Beetle?" It's a car that makes people smile wherever it goes. It stands out like an orange life raft in a grey sea of auto-anonymity. Even if they don't immediately recognise the Beetle connection - and not everyone does - expressions of affectionate interest are instant and heartfelt. What's there to dislike about the New Beetle? Almost everything. Its cartoonish design perhaps, which compromises its practicality in a way that the original's designer would surely never have countenanced. Or maybe the fact that it's a profoundly ordinary car to drive.
But let's begin at the beginning... When Ferdinand Porsche sketched the outline of the Beetle in the 1930 s he ignored existing conventions of small car engineering in an attempt to create something better than anyone had hitherto managed. He proceeded logically, step by step. So successful was the car that it became the foundation of a company that is now one of the world's five largest car-makers. Now comes the New Beetle, a retro design draped over parts that belong to the fourth generation Golf. This isn't design Ferdinand Porsche-style.
The Golf, as ever, has an in-line four cylinder engine at the front, driving the front wheels. It's not an easy fit with the shape of the original Beetle, a car with a flat-four engine at the rear, driving the rear wheels. The exterior style of the New Beetle makes its interior an odd environment. The base of the windscreen is so distant and the dash so deep that it feels like driving a people mover. Except, of course, that there's a distinct absence of roomy accommodation aft. Many adults will find the New Beetle's two-place rear seat unbearable.
Head room is tight for those of average height, impossible for anyone taller. The front seats, unlike those in the rear, are very comfortable. Firmly supportive and generously proportioned, both are equipped with lever-operated height adjustment. The quality of the materials used in the New Beetle's cabin is very impressive. So, too, is the way they fit together. Like the Golf on which it's based, the interior furnishings are one of the most impressive things about the car.
Visibility from the driver's position isn't brilliant - the A-pillars are very thick. Because they sweep so far forward they create - with the aid of the external mirrors - a sizeable blind spot. Luggage space in the New Beetle is meagre. The tiny 209 litre boot actually offers less space than the combined front and rear compartments of the original Beetle.
The kindest thing it's possible to say about Volkswagen's 2. 0 litre engine is that it's mediocre. Although the in-line four cylinder is a model of old-fashioned simplicity and produces only moderate power, it requires more expensive premium unleaded fuel. No-one will buy a New Beetle because it's a brilliant car to drive. Nor will it be bought by anyone who places a high value on practicality. No, it is a car that will - must - sell solely on the basis of its appearance.
But for how long will its style sustain interest? A year? Two years? The New Beetle will be a fashionable car for a time, but fashions inevitably change.