February 6, 2012 - Drew Dowdell - CheersandGears.com
In 1998 Volkswagen brought back one of its two iconic vehicles after an 18 year absence from the U.S. market. The New Beetle was a modern version of Volkswagen’s long running Type 1 “Bug”. 21.5 million of the original Type 1 were built between 1938 and 2003 making it the longest-running and most-produced single car design ever, a title unlikely ever to be lost.
The New Beetle also managed a 13 year run on the same basic design and platform, respectable for a modern car. Over those years Volkswagen has consistently made minor freshenings and power train swaps, the addition of a convertible in 2003, and an exterior update in 2006.
The New Beetle sparked a neo-retro design craze that produced vehicles like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, the Ford Thunderbird, and Chevrolet HHR. In spite of being the first to market in this niche, the New Beetle out-lived all of those other neo-retro models, none of which survived into a second generation. With neo-retro design, you eventually run into the problem of how to significantly update the vehicle’s design while keeping true to the heritage look that consumers expect. For 2012, Volkswagen is schooling the competition in how such an update is done.
Deserved or not, the New Beetle gathered a reputation as a “chick car”. The inclusion of a flower bud vase in the dashboard did nothing to dispel that reputation. Volkswagen is clearly looking to change the perception with this 2012 New New Beetle. In 1971, after 33 years on the market Volkswagen updated the Type 1 with and longer hood over a list of improved mechanical bits, affectionately known as the Super Beetle. The 2012 model follows a similar formula.
While the Beetle retains its familiar bubble shape, the entire look of the car is pushed towards the rear making the hood look longer and the rear slope appear more upright. Wheelbase has increased 1.1 inches and overall length is up 7.3 inches. Width and track are both up about 3 inches. Despite gaining all of that size, Volkswagen held the line on weight with an increase of only 18 pounds. Given the diet I’ve been on since the beginning of the year, I’m already half way to making up the difference.
The overall effect makes the New Beetle substantially more muscular and masculine. During my time with the car I got lots of thumbs-up and even a trucker walked over to talk to me about the car and how he thought it looked almost Porsche like. (Ferdinand would be proud). For Volkswagen updating the look, I say “Mission Accomplished”. The design is well received and “chick car” status has been shed.
Next: The Inside
The updated exterior nets improvements that are more than skin deep. In the Old New Beetle, the interior was compromised with an extra long dashboard and poor rear head room. In this new model, the interior has been entirely repackaged. The driver sits much closer to the windshield and the very flat, upright, and more retro looking dash. I found that I was actually more comfortable sitting more upright and closer to the wheel than I would in other cars.
Rear seat entry and exit is still on the awkward side, but once back there, most standard size adults will feel quite comfortable. Headroom has been increased 1.5 inches and while on paper rear legroom has decreased 2 inches and given to the front seat occupier, the fact that the driver can be comfortable sitting more forward gives some of those inches back. Probably not enough room for very long distance travel, but you and three friends will do just fine around town. The front seats in my 2.0T were excellently supportive with very aggressive side bolstering. They made my 700+ mile road trip very comfortable.
The cup holders, frequently an issue on the smaller Veedubs, are low and deep in the center console. Still, to access the aft cup holder, one has to reach under the arm rest to get your slurp on. Back seat riders only get one cup holder.
The Fender audio system included in this upgrade model was nothing short of stunning. Volkswagen included a demo CD with a wide range of musical genres. The clarity and range makes you feel like you are live in concert. I highly recommend this upgrade. As a fun aside, the door speakers have a light surround that you can change the colors on. While a fun novelty, the colors of the other lights in the interior don’t change along with it, so to me it looks unmatched if you set to anything but white or red. Set it and forget it.
Using the navigation system proved to be a bit tricky. The small screen size and correspondingly small on screen buttons made typing accurately a chore. Once programed, the rather stern sounding woman who lives in the dash will firmly guide you on your way. She is rather insistent on you driving the directions she wants you to and is reluctant to start re-routing when you decide to disregard her. To my disappointment, there is no German language pack installed. I was looking forward to an angry navigation voice yelling at me in German to “Fahren Sie geradeaus!”
The instrument cluster is easy to read with just 3 dials dominated by a huge speedometer right in the center. Any information you want besides engine RPM and fuel level will have to be found flipping through the menus of the small dash display located lower center in the pod. Navigating through the menus happens from the steering wheel controls but I never quite got the hang of the menu layout as they just aren’t very intuitive.
This Beetle came with keyless ignition and entry, which is fairly common on a bunch of other autos these days, but the part I liked was the capacitive touch door handles. If you have the key in your possession, just press a small indent on the door handle and the doors will unlock. Press again to re-lock.
Now my quibbles with the interior. This Beetle, as optioned, stickers over $30,000. Once a car crests that number, there are certain things I expect to not find on a car, and one of those things is cable operated HVAC controls. Given the great seats, awesome sound system, and advanced transmission that came with this car, the cable operated HVAC controls stick out like a sore thumb. The feel of the controls is terrible. They are the same controls that come on the base model Jetta. However, on the Jetta, a buyer can option into automatic climate control to lose the cable operated cheepness. Looking at the Beetle configurator online, automatic climate control doesn’t appear to be an option.
Trunk space isn’t huge, but lets face it, if that is an important aspect in a car for you, you’re probably looking at the wrong car to begin with. The space you do get is more vertical than horizontal. Still, in what will end up being a series on me packing too much I.T. equipment into compact cars, I managed to get 9 new-in-box laptops plus all of the extra accessories and my luggage into the car for my trip up to the Hudson Valley.
Those of you who like to fill your own washer fluid will be happy to know that the engine bay has opened up a bit so that fewer things need a shoehorn to access.
Next: How does this Beetle Fly?
Ride and Drive
By now, you all know my feelings about the Volkswagen 2.5 liter 5-cylinder that is available in almost all of their cars and in the case of the Beetle is the base engine. Thankfully, the 2.5 is rumored to be replaced by a new 1.4T in the near future. This Beetle came with the much more satisfying 200 horsepower, 207 ft-lb of torque 2.0 liter turbo-charged engine. All 207 of those foot pounds become available at the low low price of 1700 rpm. EPA rated at 22 city / 30 highway, the 2.0 turbo is just 1 mpg less than the 2.5 the highway rating. But note that is the EPA rating and of course your mileage may vary. My mileage varied substantially above the EPA rating. Even with all of that equipment loaded into the car, the Beetle Turbo returned 35.5 mpg during my 700 plus miles on the highway. For a car with so much scoot, that is an astounding number.
For those wishing for even more fuel economy, Volkswagen is expect to announce the addition of a Turbo Diesel option during the 2012 Chicago Auto Show this week.
The 2.0 turbo alone can’t claim all of the credit for that great economy number. The DSG automatic transmission deserves it just as much. In normal city driving, the DSG takes that 207 ft-lb at 1700rpm seriously. Shifts occur consistently just above 2,000 rpm keeping the engine in its most efficient power range. Slide the shifter into sport mode and that line moves to about 3,000 rpm. Running out the Beetle under hard acceleration, the DSG is a very happy co-conspirator helping you get the most out of the engine. This DSG is the smoothest transmission this side of a CVT with one exception: stop and go traffic.
A DSG (German: Direkt-Schalt-Getriebe) isn’t an automatic in the traditional sense. Functionally it is an automatically shifting, manual transmission. Under normal acceleration, the transmission knows exactly what to do and goes about its business with no fuss. In stop and go traffic, the DSG is unable to anticipate what your next move will be and when. In an automatic, the built in slip keeps things smooth. In a standard manual transmission, the driver would be feathering the clutch. The DSG isn’t very adept at that and consequently feels a bit jerky in traffic.
I don’t want to imply that this makes the DSG a bad transmission in any way. It is just a trait that a potential buyer should know about prior to test driving the car. The advantages in fuel economy and smoothness in all other situations more than make up for skittishness in slow traffic. By the end of my week with the car, I was nearly oblivious to it.
The ride of the Beetle is excellent over our terrible Western Pennsylvania roads. My trip in the Beetle was 764 miles over two days from Pittsburgh, PA to Montebello, NY with a detour on the way back via Forty Fort, PA. As I mentioned earlier, long distance travel comfort for the drive is no problem here. Curves and corners are tackled with ease at moderately sporting speeds. However as you approach 7 or 8 tenths, the suspension gets a little squiggly. Pushing the Beetle hard, I just did not feel the confident handling hinted at during lower speed maneuvers. I feel like VW left room here for a sportier handling model because I believe this engine could easily out run the suspension.
My 764 mile trip
During the interactive review of the 2012 Beetle Turbo, I was leaning towards the opinion that the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI was the better car at a better price. After reviewing the pictures and my notes again, I have reversed that position. The Jetta, while a good and sporty near mid-size, simply lacks the personality that the Beetle exudes. If price is an issue, I would rather drop options on the Beetle and let those who absolutely need a 4-door take the GLI.
My issue with this particular Beetle is the as-tested price. At over $30,000 one’s mind starts to wander to a lot of other possibilities.
● Torquey turbo 4
● smooth shifting transmission
● better than rated gas mileage
● Awesome sound system
● Great seats
● Cheapo HVAC controls
● Cup holder/Armrest interference
● Small NAV screen
Make - Volkswagen
Model - Beetle
Model Year - 2012
Trim - Turbo with Navi and Sunroof
Engine Configuration - 2.0 liter Turbocharged 4-cylinder
Drive line Configuration - Front Wheel Drive, DSG
Rated horsepower @ RPM - 200 @ 5100
Max torque @RPM - 207 @ 1700
Curb Weight - 3089lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy - 22 city / 30 highway
Location of Manufacture - Germany