For followers of ancient history, it might be of some interest to note that back in 1949 the first two Volkswagen Beetles were officially imported into the United States.

That's about as humble a beginning as a car company can get. Over the years, though, more than nine million Volkswagens have been sold in America. In fact, at one time VW accounted for about 60 percent of the imported car market. All of that, of course, changed with more and more countries getting into the act.

These days, this German manufacturer has more upgraded products than the loveable, slated-for-sainthood Beetle, right up to the run-with-the-best-of-' em Jetta GLI 16V performance sports sedan. And before 1989 is over, the company will introduce three all-new models: the Corroda sports car; a supercharged, four-wheel-drive Rallye GTI, and the new flagship Passat.

But getting back to the present and basics, Volkswagen does have a relatively inexpensive economy car, which, at least in spirit, is the closest thing to the Beetle. Because, although times have changed and even economy cars are more upgraded, the Volkswagen Fox, besides having a name borrowed from an old popular Audi model, does include a touch of the past.

Here is all that neat German automotive engineering wrapped up in a smaller package. The package, though, happens to be built in Brazil. But the Fox does not seem to suffer from the translocation. The test car (a two-door sedan supplied by Lehigh Valley Volkswagen, Allentown) was as Teutonic as mom's homemade wienerschnitzel.

At a glance, the Fox bears some resemblance to the Jetta, particularly in the front end. But that's about it. Styling is simple and clean; no breakthroughs, no statements. The styling, though, is clever enough to make the car look bigger than it actually is.

In reality, it has a wheelbase of 92.8 inches, length of 163.4 inches, width of 63 inches, height of 53.7 inches and curbweight of about 2,100 pounds. The EPA interior index is rated at 88 cubic feet (78 interior/10 cargo) putting it on the low end of the subcompact class (85 to 99 cubic feet).

Front-seat room is decent, though tall persons will find head room tight because of high seats, not a low roof line. As with other subcompacts, back- seat leg room will depend on how far back the front seats are positioned. The seats themselves are done up in a heavy-duty tweed and have side bolsters. The feel is snug and comfortable.

Even with a full-sized spare tire (standard) mounted to the side, the trunk measures 10 cubic feet. The trunk isn't large but it is efficiently laid-out. (For those who have a need for a large cargo carrying area, the Fox Wagen has a capacity of 33.4 cubic feet, which increases to 61.8 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.)

Instruments and controls are few and easy to figure out; no hunting around the Fox's instrument panel.

As should be no su rprise, the Fox is not a difficult car to drive. It is maneuverable, easy to judge and easy to park. Perfect for the beginner, one might say. It does not come with an automatic transmission so one does have to learn to shift for oneself. The test car had a four-speed manual transmission, which had an easy clutch and a nice spacing of gears.

A four-speed is a much easier transmission to use than a five-speed. All one has to do from second to third is just go all the way over; no problem of shifting into fifth by mistake. Also, downshifting is simplified with this traditional ''H'' pattern.

Although still basically an economy car, the Fox is not a bad-handling vehicle; sort of like the old Rabbit. The four-wheel independent suspension has MacPherson struts up front and a ''V'' profile torsion-beam axle with integral trailing arms in the rear. Nothing exotic, nothing complicated. Also, the ride is decent for a short wheelbase. There is some torque steer on har acceleration.

Performance is peppy, proving once again that an economy car doesn't have to be dull. Supplying the juice is a 1.8-liter/109-cubic-inch four-cylinder engine with overhead cam and fuel injection. It is rated at 81 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 93 foot pounds torque at 3,250 rpm. Put it in first, feed it the gas, let that clutch go and you're on your way to blending into traffic.

And since it is an economy car, the fuel mileage is what should be expected. The test car averaged 31 miles per gallon for highway driving and 22 mpg around town. Unleaded regular can be used.

Base price for the basic two-door Fox is $6,890. In addition to items mentioned, standard equipment includes tinted glass, power brakes, steel- belted radials and quartz clock. Since the test car had no options, the final price, after adding $320 for transportation and $295 dealer prep, was $7,515. Of course, one could spend more on this car.

The Fox is protected by a 2-year/24,000-mile basic car warranty and a six- year warranty against corrosion and rust perforation.