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Volkswagen Beetle Hatchback engines, drive and performance

1999 - 2010 (change model)
Performance rating: 3.5 out of 53.5

Written by David Ross Published: 6 June 2019 Updated: 6 June 2019

The Beetle isn’t designed as a performance car and most of the engines offers reasonable rather than scintillating performance. The entry-level choice is the 1.4-litre petrol with 75bhp – introduced in June 2003 – which is fine for pottering around town, but struggles on open roads and is noisy on the motorway. It’s economical though, averaging 40mpg.

The 1.6-litre (which came along in 2000) boasts a more promising 102bhp and manages 0-62mph in 11.6 seconds, plus it feels more sprightly when revved. The 2.0-litre engine has 115bhp but while smooth, doesn’t pull particularly well in-gear and economy is only 33mpg. However, it is available with an automatic gearbox in the shape of the six-speed tiptronic.

The performance models are the 1.8T and V5 versions which were launched in April 2001. The 1.8T is the same engine used in the 1997 Golf GTI and thanks to 150bhp offers good pace with a 0-62mph time of 9.0 seconds while economy is still a useful 34mpg. The top of the range V5 is 2.3-litre engine that has 170bhp and as a result is slightly quicker from 0-62mph with a time of 8.7 seconds.

Economy is 32mpg. The sole diesel is the well-used 1.9 TDI – and engine that’s found across the Volkswagen range as well as in SEAT, Skoda and Audi models. It’s fairly noisy and quite clattery when revved, but it’s also pretty frugal with 53mpg achievable on average.

As it’s based on the 1997 Golf hatchback, the Beetle is easy to drive, albeit not particularly exciting. The ride is good and the suspension soaks up bumps and potholes with few problems while on more demanding roads the Beetle feels composed and safe. The steering is quite light and there’s not very much feel, but on the plus side it feels stable at higher speeds and makes a competent motorway cruiser.