IN 40 YEARS OF experience with the Volkswagen Beetle, I have heard them called 'small', 'little', 'tiny', 'cute', 'sweet', 'fun', 'exciting', 'comical' and 'ridiculous'. But 'big' and 'luxury' are two words I have never connected with the 'People's Car', a motoring icon whose 21 million global production run over 70 years is expected to end in Puebla, Mexico, this month. The New Beetle is a lot more butch than the Love Bug and the New Beetle 1.8 Turbo Sports Edition, our test car, Son of Herbie, ripples with testosterone. You can see the family resemblance, but the Disney delight's body has been in the gym; the 1.8 Turbo Sports Edition is larger, longer and wider, and configured to carry adults in full-scale comfort. The Sports Edition offers extra signal lamps and a low-slung front grille (a Beetle with a grille?) and sparkling alloy wheels. Look out, too, for the CD-changer in the central console, inside, where there is a surprise. As you settle into the ultra-recaro seat, with its high-grade leather upholstery in two shades, you are immediately struck by the spaciousness of the cabin. The fascia is massive: small children could play on it if the car was parked. Suddenly, the word 'big' applies. Headroom is excellent, and I can crank myself even lower with a handy lever. I set my backrest and then tweak the lumbar support to make it perfect, then lift the headrest to nestle at the back of my cranium. I add 'comfort' and 'luxury' to my Beetle dictionary. The recaro-like (but much fancier) seat back has lateral hold cushions that hug my ribs lovingly. Even the seat squabs have lateral-hold cushions on the sides. With my seat belt fastened, left foot on the large, bare-metal dead-pedal, and in the secure embrace of all those cushions, I am ready for an exciting ride. Getting underway I sense a sudden burst of power, sending us into highway traffic, the turbo already in effect at about 1,800rpm - but you cannot feel it cut in, even if you are looking for it. The suspension is firm enough to cause a slight sports car jiggle, but nothing hard or rough. The ultra-wide tyres absorb the small ripples, and the major pothole wallops are reduced to distant 'blimps' somewhere outside the car. Steering was positive, not so much as in the Old Beetle, but sufficiently serious to whip through the tightest bends of that twisty trail up Ma On Shan. I am not concerned about horsepower, with a four-cylinder, 20-valve unit promising 150 horses - I just want an exciting dash up the mountain. But as a test, I leave the New Beetle in Drive range. Soon we are scalding up the twists and turns of this ancient goat path. My right foot goes from brake to accelerator every few seconds, going from power-blast to nearly-stopped and back to power - with the turbo ever-ready to send us rocketing up the trail. Power is abundant at varying speeds. Back at sea level, I find a wet brake-test strip in a road construction site, a strip of new bitumen, coated with wet sand. Beyond that lies unpaved roadbed, with sand, large pebbles and muddy puddles, an extreme Anti-Lock Braking (ABS) test. The New Beetle goes exactly where I tell it. The car's ABS is excellent. There are a few centimetres of body roll in centrifugal turns but it shoots through test curves like a rollerskate. I follow three slow vehicles for several kilometres, but at the base of a long uphill stretch, the opposite lane was clear. Pedal-to-metal, Son of Herbie rockets up the slope with the three back-markers dwindling to dots in his mirror. Rear visibility is excellent and if the rear-seat headroom is tight for me, it suffices for most. But I will never get used to a VW Beetle with the engine in the front, however. In 1950s America we had service centre attendants lifting the bonnet and pouring oil on the suitcases - now it is the other way around. The New Beetle's boot is small, but its rear seats fold away to double its cargo capacity. A full-sized spare wheel hides under the floor. The protruding, Porsche-like rear fin and a small plastic spoiler at the top of the rear window automatically rises at 140km/h. VW distributor Harmony Motors (tel: 2882 8938) sales executive Eddie Li says there has been strong interest in the beefy New Beetle ($238,000) in post-Sars Hong Kong. You can see why Minis are worried. Herbie would be proud.