2012 Volkswagen Beetle Review
Volkswagen reinvents retro — further distancing the Bug from its flower-power past.
- Turbo is very quick
- Interior is well thought out
- Lots of leg room in front and rear
- Looks good, but not overly masculine
- Light steering
- Sunroof opens only 11 inches
Volkswagen resurrected the Beetle in 1998 here in the United States, calling it the New Beetle. Ever since, the model has muddled on without significant aesthetic or mechanical updates. That is, until late 2011, when VW rolled out a major overhaul — and the changes are quite remarkable. It now has a more low-slung, aggressive demeanor, sportier handling and plenty of power. In fact, the Beetle Turbo feels more like the baby brother of the mean GTI than the cute little Bug. Nice job, V-Dub.
Buyers will be able to purchase the vehicle in two basic configurations. Base models are equipped with a 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine, while the Beetle Turbo configuration serves up more power and a sportier suspension. Base trim can also be upgraded to the 2.5L trim to include body-color mirror caps, heated front seats and Bluetooth hands-free calling. Buyers can also choose to add a sunroof, which comes packaged with 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation and a high-power Fender audio system.
Turbo trim includes all the niceties of the 2.5L guise, with the addition of alloy pedals, front fog lights, a rear-deck spoiler and a leather-wrapped shift knob. A sunroof and sound package delivers a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel in addition to the panoramic roof, as well as keyless entry and the company's touch-screen infotainment system.
Under the Hood
The base 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine produces 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, and Volkswagen says that small improvements inside the engine have helped the company net a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy over the previous 5-cylinder. The engine can be mated to either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automatic. The latter of those helps the 2012 Beetle return EPA fuel economy estimates of 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway.
Those seeking a little additional power can turn to the optional turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. The forced-induction engine can be mated to a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which is good for 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway. Choosing the Turbo model also nets the buyer a sport suspension. While the base vehicle is left to rely on a torsion-beam rear suspension, the Beetle 2.0T enjoys a fully independent multilink setup, with a sizable 18-mm antiroll bar for superior handling. Turbo models also feature larger 12.3-inch ventilated front brake discs with red calipers, compared to the 11.3-inch discs of the base vehicle.
Despite its relatively small footprint, the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle offers ample room for both front and rear passengers. Up front, occupants have an additional 1.9 inches of legroom, while rear passengers now enjoy an extra 0.4 inch of headroom compared to the old model. The driver is met with three round gauges and a steering wheel that's unique in the Volkswagen house. The wheel has special painted accents that carry over onto the dash and door panels. We thought the trick came off a little on the gimmicky side, though some buyers will likely appreciate the extra touch of color.
Engineers kept the double-glove-box design of the old car, which continues to offer excellent storage options, and the Beetle delivers 15.4 cubic feet of rear cargo area with the rear seats up. Fold the back seats down, and there's 29.9 cubic feet of area to be had.
On the Road
We were only able to get our hands on the Beetle 2.0T, not the less sporty base model. That means we can only speak for the more advanced multilink rear suspension and more powerful engine option. Not surprisingly, the turbocharged Beetle is impressively quick. The suspension is well-engineered to comply with variations in the road surface, while still providing plenty of grip, even on all-season tires. Volkswagen is pushing hard to masculinize the Beetle for the first time since its resurrection, and we have to admit there is some serious performance capability in the model.
As you might expect with any vehicle that puts 200 horsepower to the front wheels, there is some understeer under aggressive driving. But back out of the throttle and rein in the speed and the car will comply with your demands, thanks especially to effective brakeforce distribution. The Beetle is built with an incredibly light but precise steering system. While we typically don't go rosy-cheeked at overassisted power steering, the fact that the nose of the Beetle goes where you point it earns the hatchback high marks in our book. Both the 6-speed manual transmission and the 6-speed automatic feel familiar from the Golf family, and both perform their duties without raising any red flags.
Right for You?
Volkswagen wants us all to believe that the majority of Beetle buyers will be trend-setting males in their upper 50s. The truth is that the Beetle still feels like it would be happier parked in front of the sorority house at your local university. In Beetle 2.0T trim, the car drives like slightly softer version of the Golf GTI, but it's going to take more than a single model to overcome the past 13 years of marketing and reputation associated with the Beetle name.
Then there's the price. The 2012 Beetle carries a base price of $18,995 plus an $875 destination and delivery fee. Turbo trim, meanwhile, starts at $23,395 plus the same destination fee. That's no small amount of money for a 3-door hatchback, but the pricing falls in line with competitors such as the Honda Civic Si Coupe at $22,355, the Mazda MX-5 Miata at $23,470 and the MINI Cooper S at $23,100. So if you're looking for a cute, quirky vehicle that can still paint a grin on your face, the Volkswagen Beetle is a good bet.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Volkswagen provided MSN with travel and accommodations tofacilitate this report.)
James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.