Replacing the previous Volkswagen Beetle with its cute and bubbly shape, the new model introduced in 2012 is considerably more gender-neutral. Though getting over the car’s modern era stereotype will take more than a lower and wider stance.
|1. Compared to the previous generation Beetle, the new model is 3.3-inches wider, 7.4-inches longer and half an inch lower.
2. Both Turbo and TDI models get additional gauges mounted on the dash that show oil temperature gauge, a clock with stopwatch function and a boost pressure gauge.
3. Turbo models get 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque with an EPA rated 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
4. In addition to upgraded brakes and VW’s XDS electronic limited slip differential, Turbo models get a fully independent rear suspension.
5. Turbo models start at $23,395.
How much more? A turbocharger, more aggressive bodywork and some large 18-inch wheels are certainly a good start.
Forget the base models with their 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder engine that puts out a decent 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. Those are fine for comparison to other economy cars, with their EPA mileage estimates of 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, and their 8-second time to 60 mph.
The testosterone laden Turbo, with a 2.0-liter direct-injected, intercooled 4-cylinder is the only way to fly. It puts out 200 ponies and 207 lb-ft of torque at a very low 1700 rpm, and holds a flat torque curve right up the tach dial. And it loves to rev easily when you are driving in Johnny Racer mode. Zero to 60 times go down to mid 6 second range, but it feels even quicker. And you’ll still get 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
Power runs through a slick shifting 6-speed manual transmission, (a 6-speed DSG automatic is an option) with a light clutch effort, which makes it fun and easy to drive smoothly. The steering is responsive and tightens up with more turning input. The large vented front disc brakes and solid rear discs with sporty red calipers do a fine job of handling the braking chores and are a noticeable upgrade from lesser Beetles.
In addition to driving the Turbo on the street, we had a chance to do a lap on Road America’s 4.2-mile circuit, and play a little bit with it on an autocross course. Both venues showed off the Turbo Beetle’s nimble handling, especially the autocross course.
Apart from upgraded anti-roll bars front and back, a major reason for the Turbo model’s added capability is the entirely new suspension setup. While base models ride on a torsion beam setup the Turbo gains the same independent arrangement as cars like the Jetta GLI or GTI.
Body roll is kept in check and the Beetle tracks nicely through turns while handling side-to-side transitions capably. Still, it’s no GTI.
Volkswagen’s XDS electronic limited slip differential system monitors the information from the wheel sensors and detects any slippage, adding brake to slow the inside wheel in a corner. The system was most noticeable on the autocross course, less because we could feel it working and more because the Beetle Turbo always had plenty of grip coming out of a corner, despite all the heavy-handed steering and lead-footed acceleration.
VW engineers definitely wanted to butch up the interior cabin of the Beetle. As a result the cuddly flower vase is gone in favor of a dash top tray for holding cell phones, iPod or other essential items. The leather wrapped, flat bottom steering wheel, with phone, radio and info screen controls, looks racy. Carbon fiber looking trim adds to that look, as does a dash top three-dial gauge package showing oil temp, a lap timer and a boost gauge. Finishing off the theme is a set of brushed aluminum pedals with grippy rubber inserts.
The driver’s gauges are a no-nonsense three-dial affair with a large round speedo with an info screen, surrounded by a round tach and gas gauge. The center stack is clean with easy to use controls for the radio and HVAC. A nice storage cubby sits at the bottom of the stack with a 12-V outlet for charging your electronics.
The seats are a bit narrow, both at the seat bottom and back, but nicely bolstered, and the seat fabric is handsome. Two rear seat passengers still have plenty of headroom despite the redesigned roofline. Legroom is decent, too. And there is also a 12-V outlet so rear seat occupants can play with their toys as well. Getting into the rear seats is made easier because one seatback latch will push the back of the seat forward, and also moves the whole seat forward on its tracks to offer a wide opening to get through. The trunk is larger than you’d expect, and the rear seats fold forward to open up more cargo room.
All is not great with the Beetle’s interior, however. There is way too much hard plastic on door sills and dash. Door storage is just an elastic strap for a map or two, and there is no center console for storage, or to rest one’s elbow.
Our test car started at $23,395, with the only option being the larger 19-inch wheels and Bi-Xenon headlights for $1,000, so with destination charges the bottom line is $25,165. So for just over 25 large you get a great handling, fun to drive, sporty car with excellent power to make that daily commute a lot more interesting, and Sunday drives can turn into a sporting event. And you’ll get good gas mileage when you drive more responsibly.
A manly machine? Perhaps. It’s safer to say you no longer have to feel ashamed of driving your wife’s car when yours is in the shop.