The Volkswagen Beetle is back as a new, larger car with a flatter roofline, wider track, shorter windshield, better fuel economy and no bud vase on the dashboard.
It's also offered in Turbo trim with the same 200-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder that powers VW's sporty GTI.
Make no mistake: The 2012 Beetle, with new features such as an optional premium music system from the folks who make Fender guitars, has a masculine intent and is aimed at attracting male buyers. Women have been the majority of buyers/drivers of the previous generation car.
Starting price hasn't changed from the previous model and reflects the uniqueness of this German-engineered hatchback with one of the most iconic images in auto history.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the 2012 Beetle is $19,765. This is for a base model with 170-horsepower, non-turbo four cylinder and manual transmission. The lowest starting retail price for a 2012 Beetle with automatic is $21,665. The 2012 Beetle with the uplevel turbo engine has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $24,165 with a manual five-speed transmission and $25,265 with VW's six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) automatic.
All 2012 Beetles come with VW's free scheduled maintenance for the first 36,000 miles or three years, whichever comes first.
Competitors in the small, two-door car segment include the volume-selling Honda Civic, which has a starting retail price of $16,375 for a 2012 Civic DX Coupe with 140-horsepower four cylinder and manual transmission.
There's also the 2012 Ford Focus with 160-horsepower four cylinder starting at $18,995 for a five-door hatchback and the retro-styled 2011 Mini Cooper Coupe that has been priced at $22,000 with 121-horsepower four cylinder and manual transmission and $25,300 with 181-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and manual transmission.
The Beetle debuted in the United States in 1949 as an inexpensive "people's car" and became trendy with young Baby Boomers in the 1960s. Its reappearance as the New Beetle in 1998 contributed to a renaissance for retro-styled vehicles.
Note that the word "new" has been dropped, finally, from the Beetle's name even though there's plenty that's really new about the 2012 Beetle.
The test car, a Beetle 2.0T with gasoline turbo engine, felt larger inside than its predecessor, giving passengers a greater sense of space around them. VW lengthened the car by 6 inches, made it wider by 3.3 inches and expanded the track and wheelbase to give the car a more substantial and sporty look. New taillight treatment gives the car a less cartoonish character, too.
Inside, there's a bit more room for the two seats in front and two in back. For example, front shoulder room and legroom have grown by some 2.5 inches and 2 inches, respectively. Back seat headroom is improved by nearly half an inch, and because the old, bubble-shaped roofline is gone, rear-seat passengers don't sit with their heads right under the rear window glass.
The overly large, rounded dashboard of the previous Beetle has been replaced by a shorter, more upright dashboard. The windshield is closer and not sloped in such an exaggerated fashion as in the previous model, and there's a conventional glovebox along with a covered "Beetle bin" above it.
I still had to watch carefully when making turns, though, to ensure I looked around the sizable steel pillars that frame the windshield.
The Beetle rode quite quietly, with little road and outside noise coming in, save for some wind noise by the outside mirrors. Even while in the back seat, I conversed easily with front-seat passengers.
In the driver's seat, I noticed that left to its own, the DGS transmission had a tendency to move through the gears to get to the higher and more fuel-efficient gears quickly. This helped me average 26 miles per gallon in combined city/highway/country roads travel, but it didn't make the Beetle feel spunky.
So, I used Tiptronic manual shifting — which doesn't require a clutch pedal - to manage the shifting myself and get a decidedly more sporty experience. It was easy to time the shifts for impressively smooth shifts.
Torque came on strongly and peaks at 207 foot-pounds at a low 1,700 rpm with the turbo.
I had no problem squealing tires now and then at startup from stop signs, even though the Beetle Turbo weighs 3,089 pounds and feels solid and stable, not a lightweight small car. In comparison, the 2012 Civic Coupe weighs some 2,600 to 2,700 pounds, depending on equipment included.
Still, to get the peak performance from the Beetle Turbo, VW recommends premium gasoline, and at today's prices, that's $55 to fill up the 14.5-gallon tank. Using the federal government's estimated fuel economy for this model of 22 mpg in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway, the Beetle should go some 360 miles on a tank of gas.
The base Beetle engine — a 2.5-liter, non-turbo four cylinder developing 177 foot-pounds of torque at 4,250 rpm — only needs regular gasoline. Its government mileage rating is similar to that of the turbo, though — 22/29 mpg.
VW plans to add a fuel-thrifty diesel-powered Beetle in calendar 2012.
With underpinnings borrowed from the VW Golf, the Beetle rides and handles well and managed sweeping curves and aggressive maneuvers competently.
There's more trunk space in the 2012 Beetle — 15.4 cubic feet instead of 12 cubic feet. And the split rear seatbacks fold down, though not completely flat, and help boost the trunk room to nearly 30 cubic feet.
Standard safety equipment on the 2012 Beetle includes electronic stability control, curtain air bags and antilock brakes.