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2012 VW Beetle: A Beetle for the 21st Century, for sure

November 17, 2011
2012 VW Beetle

2012 sees the introduction of a new VW Beetle (Orin ONeill photos)

I was at the Detroit Auto Show when Volkswagen introduced the New Beetle to the world back in 1998. That new take on VW’s world-famous “people’s car” was the hit of the show, creating a media frenzy like none before or since.

The industry took note; re-imagining an iconic basic transportation device has proven popular—the MINI, Fiat 500 and even the Vespa scooter have been rebooted, and moved upmarket. For 2012, VW has come up with a new take on that new take.

Like the previous version, the Beetle (Just “Beetle”… Ray Bradbury would approve.) is built on a platform shared with the new Jetta and Golf.

Base Beetle wheel

The previous model’s funkiness has given way to a more modern, purposeful look. Well, the flower vase was a bit too precious; it should have disappeared in about 1999. And the collection of arcs that defined its profile did make it look more than a little cartoonish.

In a nutshell, the 2012 Beetle’s longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. VW’s stylists kept old-skool Beetles in their studio during the design process, and it shows—this Beetle’s profile follows the original much more closely. It also has nice touches like base-model alloy wheels that mimic the dog-dish hubcaps and steel wheels of late-1960s Beetles; OTOH, the taillights don’t recall any previous model, but are a shape that works quite well with the rear fenders’ contours.

While the roof looks rather low from the outside, headroom is generous. The driver’s seat is well-contoured and very comfortable, with all the adjustments you’d expect. The longer roof makes for a longer, more spacious cargo area, even with the back seat raised.

Beetle dashboard

The dashboard features a color-coordinated flat panel that, along with color-coordinated door and back-seat trim, makes a nod to the painted metal surfaces of old.

Beetle instruments

However, the instrument cluster will make you think “Audi.” And there’s a center-mounted LCD that displays climate and audio settings (and the navigation system, if you choose that option).

The Beetle I drove, supplied by Roger Jobs VW in Bellingham, had the 6-speed automatic with Tiptronic® manual shifter mated to the standard 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine.

On the road, shifts were seamless, the transmission’s response to throttle inputs very good, and it always knew what gear to be in. While that distinctive VW sound was absent, the 5-cylinder engine thrums pleasantly and moves the near-3000 lb Beetle smartly.

That heft makes possible a stability at freeway speed the original couldn’t match. Of course, all the electronic driver aids are present and accountted for: ABS, electronic brake force distribution (EBD), electronic stability control (ESC with HBA), traction control (ASR). Plus there’s a Hill Hold Control, so you don’t roll backwards, more of a concern for drivers of manual-transmission models.

The Bettle bucks the electric power-steering trend; its hydraulic p/s is a tiny bit lighter than I’d like, but at least the steering wheel feels like it’s connected to the front wheels! The meaty steering wheel feels good in hand.

While some long for the Beetles (and 500s and Minis and Vespas) of old, the realities of the world of the second decade of the 21st Century require cars like the 2012 Beetle. Which is fine with me… the heater in this one works SO much better. Favicon

Plus: Comfortable, quick, sorta-kinda looks like a Porsche 911.

Minus: So heavy, it needs a 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine.

The details

MSRP: $18,995 (Beetle 2.5)
Built in: Mexico
Construction: Pressed steel unit body w/front subframe
Curb weight: 2983 lbs (1353 kg) (automatic transmission)
Length: 168.4 in (4278 mm)
Width: 71.2 in (1808 mm)
Wheelbase: 99.9 in (2537 mm)
Front susp: MacPherson struts w/coil springs, telescopic dampers & 22mm anti-roll bar
Rear susp: Torsion beam axle with coil springs and telescopic dampers
Front brakes: 11.3-in (287 mm) hydraulic vented disc w/power assist
Rear brakes: 10.7-in (272 mm) hydraulic solid disc w/power assist
Front tires: 215/55 R17 H all-season
Rear tires: 215/55 R17 H all-season
Engine: 2480cc inline 20V 5-cylinder, liquid-cooled w/EFI and electronic ignition
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Power/torque: 170 hp (127 kW) @ 5,700 rpm/177 lb-ft (240 Nm) @ 4,250 rpm
One Comment
  1. November 18, 2011 8:40 am

    Ah, I love the constant struggle between design and practicality.

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