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2012 Volkswagen Beetle Review
VW targets new crowd with newer Beetle
By Lee Kasper, Photography by Volkswagen, Feb. 06, 2012

When the New Beetle appeared in 1998, the little bug’s cuteness sent strong attraction waves to buyers. But the 2012 Beetle—the third interpretation of a car that’s been on the road for decades—squishes the bubble. With its elongated egg-shape, the Beetle (‘New’ dropped) stretches the design footprint and gives the interior a makeover. Even the dashboard’s plastic flower vase is gone. E-gads. What else has changed with the Volkswagen Beetle?

FAST FACTS

1. A more powerful 2.5L 5-cylidner makes 170 hp and gets an improved 20/29 mpg

2. Starting price of the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder powered Beetle is $19,795.

3. Top-line trim for the 2.5 includes Bluetooth, keyless entry with push-button start, heated front seats, navigation and a Fender audio system.

4. The 2012 Beetle is 6-inches longer than its predecessor.

5. A 200 hp Turbo models start at $23,399.

The 2012 version is longer, lower and wider than the previous car. Instead of a domed roof offsetting the semi-circles of the front and rear fenders, the Beetle’s squattier roof profile drops into a windshield with a steeper slant. The two-door with a 99.9-inch wheelbase maintains a retro flair, but with performance unmatched by the previous Beetle.

WIND-UP AND GO

Power choices are a 2.5-liter five-cylinder, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder as well as a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder diesel. The 20-valve, 2.5-liter with six-speed automatic transmission (our tested vehicle) had the streamlined bug buzzing with 170 hp at 5700 rpm and 177 lb-ft torque at 4250 rpm. This Beetle really knows how to flex its muscles. The speedometer moves rapidly with a heavy hit to the accelerator pedal. There are no spotty gaps with the transmission, either, so take-offs are smooth.

The former 2.5-liter 5-cylinder’s output was 150 hp and 170 lb-ft torque. Both the prior and current 5-cylinder engines are gutsier than other small, retro cars—namely the 101 hp 4-cylinder that powers the Fiat 500 and the 121 hp 4-cylinder that moves the MINI Cooper. But the 500 and the Cooper nab better fuel economy. Estimated highway mpg (when equipped with automatic transmission) for the MINI Cooper is 36, the Fiat 500 is 32, while the Beetle is just 29 mpg. (Compared to the prior 2.5-liter, the Beetle’s fuel economy with the automatic transmission goes up one tick on the highway to 20/29 mpg).

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Driving

From a ride and handling perspective, the front wheel drive Volkswagen Beetle performs splendidly. The car sucks up corners like a mosquito sticks to skin. Sporting a strut-type front suspension and torsion beam rear suspension with coil springs and telescopic dampers, the car doesn’t break into a jitterbug dance during pothole encounters. Lane change maneuvers, curves and straight-lace highways are all fun-to-drive, even more so with the slight steering movements needed to channel commands through the hydraulic power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system.

GET RIDE-READY

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Interior Steering Wheel

Tachometer, analog speedometer and fuel gauges are positioned directly in front of the steering wheel. Within the speedometer is a multifunction display to showcase vehicle speed (via a digital readout), audio presets, compass, or other information. Climate controls are positioned below the dashboard audio/navigation system. All control interface points are within easy reach. What’s not so easy to reach are the cupholders. It’s tricky to twist the arm so the hand can grab a cup—and more complicated when the armrest is blocking the access route. 

With an additional four cubic feet of interior volume compared to the old Beetle, front passengers gain nearly two inches of legroom. While front and back seats are comfortable with firm support, backseat riders won’t find this Beetle easier to enter or exit than its predecessor.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Interior

With the rear seat upright, there is 15.4 cubic feet of stow space. Because it’s a 50/50 split-fold seat (a new feature), trunk space can be increased to 29.9 cubic feet. Opening the trunk lid is easy and clever—push the top portion of the VW logo inward and pull up—but closing the skyward lid is challenging for shorter people. The trunk lid’s recessed grab pockets aren’t much help because the grips are located on the backside of the rear hatch trim.

Although a Beetle with a sunroof has been possible for sometime, the 2012 version offers a view to the stars that’s a whopping 80 percent bigger than the predecessor. Two of the four trim levels for the 2.5-liter Beetle offer the power tilt and slide sunroof. Interior painted trim accents that appear on the three-spoke steering wheel, dash, and the upper door panels also put a touch of what’s outside into the interior.

THE VERDICT

Giving the Volkswagen Beetle a new skin, new features, and an extra zest of power was designed to re-ignite sales of this iconic personal transporter. While it can be risky to mess with a beloved design, the update essentially gives the Beetle a new identity while enhancing its fun-to-drive personality. There’s an audience for the 2012 Beetle, but buyers who liked the bubbly cute look may not be swayed.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Driving

LOVE IT
  • Snappy speed
  • Exterior color accents in the interior
  • Super-big sunroof
  • Great ride and handling
LEAVE IT
  • Open trunk lid hard to reach
  • Tough to access cupholders
  • Difficult backseat ingress/egress

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2011 MINI Cooper S Review
2012 MINI Coupe Review
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2012 Fiat 500 Review