Beetle heaven

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For those of us of a certain age, there are two cars that surely stand out among all others as iconic: the British Leyland Mini and the Volkswagen Beetle.

My mum, who didn’t learn to drive until her 40s, had a 1970 Beetle finished in bright orange as her first car.

Needless to say, I exploited the fact that she was a novice driver, borrowed it as often as possible and probably did more miles in it than she did. I loved our Beetle, despite the unpredictable air-cooled, rear-mounted engine, the almost impenetrable fogging up of the windows and the dodgy gearbox. I was heartbroken when the bottom fell out of it and we had to let it go.

The Beetle has been in almost constant production since 1934. The last German-produced car came off the line in 1978 before production was moved to Mexico and UK sales were suspended.

In 1991, moves were afoot to design and launch the New Beetle but it wasn’t until 2000 that the first right-hand models arrived in the UK.

I didn’t have the same affection for New Beetle as I did for the old one, despite the fact it was a far superior car in every respect. It seemed VW were trying too hard to make it cute with far too much girl-appeal – remember the plastic flower in the bud vase?

But, with the launch of the latest generation car, called simply The Beetle, the designers have gone back to the roots of the old car and come up with a far more masculine bodystyle and an interior that will suit both sexes and all ages.

I particularly like the glovebox and the block colour panels which look like they have been lifted directly from the 1970s.

This new generation Beetle is front-engined, front-wheel drive and will seat four with a decent-sized boot. The bonnet is longer than New Beetle and the steeper inclined windscreen has been moved back to give a better weight distribution and centre of gravity.

Our old Beetle didn’t even have seat belts but, with this new model, safety is a real priority. It has twin front and side airbags, ABS, stability control and high torsional rigidity.

For the UK there are three trim levels and five engine versions: three petrol and two diesel, one of which, the 1.6 litre diesel fitted with fuel saving technology, is expected to return 65.7mpg.

A dazzling array of accessories are available to enhance your Beetle driving experience including sat nav systems, keyless entry and start, parking sensors and bi-xenon headlights. Prices range from £16,490 to £21,220, on the road.

At a recent press event I drove a couple of the petrol-engined models, the 1.2 litre and 1.4 litre and, though the higher-rated engine obviously produced more power, it was the 103bhp 1.2 litre I enjoyed the most.

But the most fun I had of all was in one of the last Beetles to come of the German production line. Built in December 1977, it produced 34bhp from a 1.2 litre engine with an 0-62mph time of 35 seconds and a top speed of 79mph.

It was a joy to drive and I was instantly transported back to a time 30 years ago when petrol was cheap and it didn’t matter that a car only managed 34 miles to the gallon.