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2012 VW New Beetle First Drive by Thom Cannell +VIDEO

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2012 Volkswagen Beetle

2012 Volkswagen Specs, Comparisons and Prices - Volkswagen Buyers Guide

By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
The Auto Channel

Author’s Note: Bullet Points: No attempt at completeness, simply comments on one day’s driving experience—balanced against decades of experience and hundreds of comparisons.

Can you identify a Volkswagen Beetle, a Bug? Of course you can. Call them what you will, Volkswagen’s Bugs—Beetles—are among the most distinctive cars ever built, and if you didn’t own one, you rode in one. So, in 1998 when the New Beetle was launched, its three semicircle design spawned by St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, it was warmly welcomed. From the beginning that Beetle was been perceived as, shall we say less than macho despite availability of a turbocharged engine and a turbo-diesel engine.

Since 1949 when Beetles first arrived on US soil they’ve been appreciated as movers of people. When the New Beetle moved the powertrain from rear engine-rear drive to front engine-front wheel drive in 1998 it delivered more people space, more room for luggage. In simultaneous April 20th debuts in Shanghai, China, Berlin, Germany, and the 2011 New York International Auto Show, the Beetle really grew up. The 2012 Beetle, new from the ground up, should change the perception that Beetles are for chicks. It’s wider and lower stance, highly muscular wheel arches and flattened roof line is athletic and lean, bolder and inspired more by Men’s Health or Muscle and Fitness than by Vogue. This Beetle delivers distinctive design appealing to a broader spectrum of buyers and it remains a “people’s car.”

Watch the VW Beetle promo video

The Auto Channel recently had a brief opportunity to drive many of VW’s current models including both the normally aspirated and turbo Beetle. We find them very different automobiles indeed, both based on the newest Jetta platform and their differences well suited to two distinct audiences. The Beetle 2.5-L, base priced at $18,995, should appeal to stylish value shoppers. It has a sturdy 170 horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder modern engine and either a five speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The turbo version starts at $23,395 and stuffs the familiar VW 2.0-TSI 200 hp engine under the sloping hood, the beginning of differences between them.

All Beetles share a common steel unibody, a Jetta-based wheelbase of 99.9: (2537 mm), identical front and rear track, instrument cluster of tachometer, speedometer, and fuel gauge, electronic stability control, even the seats for four. There similarities begin to fade.

Like the Jetta, the Beetle uses front strut suspensions with 22 mm anti-roll bars and 1 mm thicker 23 mm bars for turbos. At the rear, non-turbo models use torsion beam suspensions with coil springs and the more powerful turbo gets multilink independent rear suspension and coil springs. Turbos also gain an 18 mm rear anti-roll bar to handle anticipated performance needs. While VW doesn’t say anything about spring and damper calibration they are quite different, based on our testing, with the turbo version feeling much tighter and athletic.

Our first 2012 Beetle experience, driving away from VW’s Herndon, Virginia, headquarters in a bright red Beetle 2.5 with automatic we immediately judged the car quiet, solid, very dialed in and crisp. It offered a ride that was smooth and designed for mainstream American taste without dilution of typical Germanic character; it had good road feel and excellent road manners. In midmorning traffic the 2012 Beetle’s brakes felt solid and responsive and the six-speed automatic answered promptly to throttle input. We felt the car was thoroughly sporting—in a family-friendly way.

Interiors are the purchase decision battle ground for all manufacturers and Volkswagen offers a fresh interpretation of its Beetle history. For instance, many interior surfaces are painted to match the body—red in our car—with accents of black and silver to contrast, or an overall carbon black. The quality of the trim, often cheaply produced to save a Euro, is either real aluminum or the best substitute we’ve experienced; when tapped it “thunks” convincingly.

Overall, the Beetle’s cabin is tastefully retro-modern and the controls for heating, audio, and ventilation all fit precisely. VW has revised its HVAC controls to improve functionality and we found the manual controls simple, easily producing the temperature we desired. We also enjoyed controls for cruise and audio mounted on the steering wheel.

Half an hour later we were driving the turbocharged version, a totally different beast that combines its modest 200 hp and excellent road manners with significantly different chassis tuning to transform a family car into a sports sedan. We were unable to test the upcoming TDI turbocharged diesel version that debuts next year.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle - First impression Bullet Points:


Volkswagen’s quality is better than its current perception or reputation. According to the company, visits to the dealership for normal service outpace visits for repair, a statistic that means quality has improved greatly.


Because the US market is one of Volkswagen’s growth markets, our needs and desires are being listened to. Examples include an easier to use seat adjuster, climate controls that are more sensible and user friendly, and improved Bluetooth functionality. A split folding rear seat is standard.


Exterior styling is, in our opinion, highly evolved and emotionally engaging; new headlights, wrap around tail lamps, and the turbo’s standard rear spoiler enhance appearance, as do subtle chrome headlamps, chrome side character line, and marker exterior mirrors.


Options include an extra kaeferfach or covered Beetle bin; instrument package of oil temperature, clock with stopwatch, and boost pressure gauge; manual, six-speed automatic and six-speed DSG (direct sequential gearbox) transmissions; Bluetooth, iPod, and navigation; and a Fender Premium Audio System.


Driving a Beetle is fun, the high shoulder line makes you feel safely coddled while a modern interior delivers easily accessible creature comforts including useful cupholders.


2012 Beetles make sense to different audiences, those who enjoy driving and those who love driving. The turbo offers more power, improved handling, and similar fuel economy, but rides with horse-and-saddle firmness.


Fuel economy for all 2012 Beetles is in the mid-twenty range overall with highway estimates for the 2.5-liter automatic at 22/29 and 22/30 for turbos with DSG.