What It Is
The Volkswagen Beetle is a compact car that appeals to those who remember the original while cultivating a whole new generation of fans.
The shifter is buttery smooth and easy to use.
The interior lacks soft-touch points.
The Volkswagen Beetle sports a new look, low price tag, and a fun ride. It's tough to beat all that.
It's nearly impossible, especially in Southern California, to go out into the world and not see a Volkswagen Beetle. It doesn't matter what model year, it's long been accepted that the world has a bug infestation problem. Over the course of an unprecedented 65 year production run, the Volkswagen Type 1 (as it's officially known as) has sold over 21 million units produced worldwide. Over the course of that time, both men and women drove the Beetle customizing it to their personalities. For a little while, both the old body style Beetle and the Golf-based New Beetle were built at the same time, until the elder was phased out in 2003. But ever since its introduction in 1997, the revised, front-engine, water-cooled New Beetle--and we're at our most politically correct here--appealed mostly to a female demographic.
With its recent redesign, Volkswagen hopes its Beetle now appeals to a wider audience. A combination of old meets new is something some automakers are reviving and it's been a successful tactic when done correctly. The 2012 model year Beetle does just that, it captures styling characteristics first seen in the old body style and combines that with today's modern technologies. We've seen this exact idea used by the folks over at Chrysler when they designed the current generation Dodge Challenger but would that same method work for Volkswagen and its new Beetle? We had a week with the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle to find out for ourselves.
What We DroveThe 2012 Volkswagen Beetle arrived for its week-long stay with us loaded with standard features, including a media center with an iPod jack, Bluetooth, a height adjustable and telescoping steering wheel, power and heated exterior mirrors, and daytime running lights. Other standard features included two 12-volt power outlets, a split folding rear seat, heated front washer nozzles, an eight speaker audio system, a leather wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, a remote keyless locking system, and power windows with "pinch protection" (VW's way of helping to safeguard those who inadvertently leave an appendage in the window track). VW's 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine serves as motivation under the Bug's hood and is rated at 170 horsepower. Our test car had a five-speed manual transmission; Volkswagen's six-speed dual-clutch automatic is available.
Standard safety features included a tire pressure monitoring system, anti-lock brakes, front-vented disc brakes up front and solid disc brakes in the rear, anti-slip regulation, electronic stabilization control, and engine braking assist. In the government's crash testing, the Beetle earned four stars overall. Optional features that came with our tester included the yellow rush exterior paint, titan black leatherette interior, and the five-speed manual transmission, all at no extra cost. When all is said and done, our 2012 Volkswagen Beetle tester checked in at $20,565 including a $770 destination fee.
Our 2012 Volkswagen Beetle tester didn't come with every bell and whistle offered by the German automaker but we weren't upset, since this is about as mainstream as the Beetle will get. But it's far from bare-bones; if your last encounter with a Volkswagen Beetle involved reinstalling the front passenger's floor board every time it rained, you're in for a very pleasant shock.
The CommuteThere are only a few cars on the road today with an unmistakable design, none of which are more recognizable than the Volkswagen Beetle. The recent redesign of the "People's Car" for the 2012 model year, while still unquestionably a Beetle, flattened out the roof to give it a more masculine look that was missing in the prior body style. Even though a vehicle's exterior design has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with how it drives, the new Bug just felt more fun. If the idea was to eliminate the Beetle's "chick car" image, we'd say mission accomplished.
We couldn't go far without getting looks from fellow motorists in the morning Los Angeles rush hour traffic. We had a good amount of time to sit and admire the new Beetle's interior during our commutes, and the staff all agreed: it sure is comfortable. The wide seats fit an array of shapes and sizes and unlike the new Beetle before it, the seat's positioning doesn't make you feel like you're miles away from the hood. The seat's position also made it easy to work with the clutch, which can be a hassle in heavy traffic. Even after being called upon hundreds of times in both traffic and open roads, the clutch was easy to interact with. It may come off as a little "grabby" at first, but after a few minutes we found the clutch to be one of the easiest to use available today.
If one feature about the Beetle has stayed true to form throughout, it's that you're not going to be the fastest car around. The Beetle's 2.5-liter engine is rated at 170 horsepower, respectable in its own sense, but if traffic is moving quickly, accelerating onto the freeway requires some patient yielding. However, once up to speed the Beetle is comfortable and quiet. The Fender audio system was also quite enjoyable while cruising around and provided full and crisp sound.
The Grocery RunThe Beetle's unique shape lends itself to numerous things like hauling people, cargo, and groceries. The tailgate opens up to a reveal a hole that spans from the top of the rear bumper to over six-feet in the air. The open space makes it easy to load whatever you can fit into the Beetle's cargo area. With every seat in place, the Beetle offers a dense 15.4 cubic feet of space. If you fold the rear seats down, 29.9 cubic feet of space become available, just 0.1 cubic foot of space more than what's offered in a Fiat 500. That may sound tight, but we were able to pile in a week's worth of groceries to feed a family of five without having to be crafty.
Although those measurements may sound small, the new Beetle still feels lofty even with the flattened roofline. While we wouldn't recommend hauling a fully assembled dining room set, with the seats folded down you could easily carry a few larger boxes from IKEA home. Whether you have a car full of cargo or you're backing out of your driveway and heading to the supermarket, the new Beetle is very easy to park. Steering feels a little numb at creeping speeds but it comes to life the faster you go. Navigating a parking lot is pretty simple with the Beetle's wide-stretching windshield to peak out of as well.
The Weekend FunWhile the Beetle's five-cylinder engine isn't the most powerful one Volkswagen offers, it definitely delivers a fun ride. Acceleration won't throw you back in your chair but the clutch is buttery smooth and easy to use whether you're hopping around from gear to gear in traffic, or starting up from a complete stop. One downside is the steering wheel, and we don't mean the aforementioned numbness at parking speeds, we mean the wheel itself. Not only is it plain looking compared to the rest of the interior, the stitching on the wheel was surprisingly abrasive, feeling like it was peeling the skin off the inside of our fingers.
Even with an engine that could use a little bump in power, the Beetle handled (almost) as well as its Golf sibling. Corners of varying degrees were fun to go around, and the wide windshield gives the driver a different perspective than what's seen in 99 percent of vehicles on the road today. For anyone who's driven a 60's or 70's model year Beetle, this will bring back some memories...minus the leaky seals and blown fuses when using the wiper blades, of course.
SummaryVolkswagen did itself a solid with the recent redesign of the Beetle. With the more aggressive styling, it's a throwback to when men and women could love the Beetle unconditionally. While the Beetle gives up some utility to the Golf upon which it's based, it's a definite style leader, especially compared to the Mini Cooper and Fiat 500 against which it competes. If you need more power, there's a turbocharged engine, and if you want better fuel economy, there's Volkswagen's TDI diesel; overall, we thought the 2.5-liter engine was just fine. After spending a week with the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle parking it in the city and navigating congested freeways, we would highly recommend taking a hard look at it.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $20,565
EPA City: 22 mpg
EPA Highway: 31 mpg
EPA Combined: 25 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 362.5 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Above Average
Notebook Quotes"The cargo hold is huge and it doesn't waste so much interior volume as the last one did, focusing on a slightly larger rear seat instead of the ginormous, bulbous roof." -Jacob Brown, Associate Editor
"The roof doesn't tower over your head like a cathedral anymore, and the windshield isn't so far away from you that you feel like you're sitting in the back seat as you drive. The gauges are big enough to actually read too."-Keith Buglewicz, News Director