RENUKA KIRPALANI

Volkswagen Beetle is not a people's car anymore. It is for the passionate few who do not mind designer price tags, writes Renuka Kirpalani

T he Beetle is so much more than a car. It's an icon — a cute, lovable, head-turning icon.

It has played many roles over the years. Originally conceived by Ferdinand Porsche under orders from Hitler, it was meant to be a people's car, one that was cheap to buy and to run. But the car had other ideas. It became the symbol of love and peace for the Woodstock generation, filmstars drove it, collectors bought it, a gazillion owners' clubs were formed and the love-bug even became a movie star!

The car we drive in today is its grandson. At Rs. 25 lakh, it's nothing like its ancestor. But, like its predecessor, it's special.

And, it rarely gets more special than the way the Beetle looks. There's a certain charisma to this little bug-shaped car. The design has evolved over the years from the original to become a little more modern with the times, but it still retains its original character, and that's the charm. The rounded curves, the bulging wheel arches and the bubble roof all make it irresistible. The happy smile of the bonnet line and headlamps that look like startled, wide-open eyes give the Beetle an endearing quality that makes you want one. This car makes you smile, and you really can't have a bad day if you are driving it.

The inside of the Beetle is a stark contrast to the outside — it's all black, which is not really feminine. The quality of all the materials inside feels generally good. There's a sporty three-spoke steering with metal touches and a single instrument dial behind it. The dashboard is deep enough to play table-tennis on. This might get women and newbie drivers a little worried, because it's impossible to see the front end of the car.

There are these little touches that make it a perfect women's car, such as the vase behind the steering wheel or the fact that there are two huge sunglass holders for those oversized Pradas. There's a nice large dead pedal too, so you don't have to rest your foot on your heel! The six-CD changer is good too, and the player has an ‘aux' function, but finding the slot for the jack can be a bit difficult.

The front feels airy, thanks to the generous glass area and high roof. The seats are comfortable, but a little on the firmer side. The back is a different story. It gets a bit cramped, especially when the sloping roof meets your head. And, though the front seats slide out of the way neatly, getting in and out of the back is always a less-than-graceful exercise. There's a decent boot though, with enough space for two small trolley bags or plenty of shopping bags!

Out on the road, the Beetle turns heads everywhere. Cars line up alongside, college kids point and stare, and bikers almost have accidents turning around to look at it. Driving it around makes you feel like a movie star. But, when you tire of the attention and want to get away, you'll find there's not much grunt. The engine, a two-litre, 115bhp unit, is not very enthusiastic. Compounding this is a lazy gearbox that further dulls the performance. Kicking down gears takes time, so if you put your foot flat on the pedal for more power, you won't find any instantly.

Initial responses are a bit flat, and it's only once you are past about 2,000rpm that you get to feel like you are finally moving. Zero to 100kph comes up in 13.63sec, a time that will allow a lot of paparrazi cars to keep up easily. The auto gearbox, makes the car really easy to drive and you won't need to worry about clutch control, starting up on a slope.

The light steering adds to the easy nature of this car, and driving around the city and parking in a tight spot is quite a breeze, although the turning circle is not too great for a car this size. Also, since the suspension is set up to offer a comfortable ride, the handling of the Beetle is really not a strength. Try and turn in too fast and the Beetle will feel like it's waltzing off in a different direction. There's a lot of body roll too, but somehow, we can't see too many owners tearing down a highway or dashing up a ghat in this car. But for that luncheon date or the trip to the spa, the Beetle does the job just fine.

While the soft suspension gives it a nice low-speed ride, go a little quicker, and the Beetle tends to bounce around on the moonscape we call roads. So, your carefully styled hair might get tossed around a bit. But then, it's a small price to pay for all the attention this car will be drawing to you.

It still has its charisma, but import duties have played the spoilsport, making the Beetle's price tag a ridiculous Rs 25.84 lakh. It's not a people's car anymore, it's for those who can afford designer-price tags and for the madly passionate.

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