2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo
No one who has ever driven a 1960s-era Volkswagen would ever think of the Beetle as a performance car. Though sturdy and much loved, those early Beetles were chuggers, not stoplight muggers.
Even the revamped New Beetle, introduced in 1998 with a front engine and front-wheel drive in contrast to the original rear engine, rear-drive, has been regarded more as a chick car despite its menacing look coming at you down the highway.That changes for 2012 with the introduction of the second version of the modern iteration, now dubbed simply the Beetle. Though there’s a standard version, along with a diesel later on, the choice for anyone with a hankering for involved and entertaining road manners is the new Beetle Turbo.
It looks almost exactly like the other 2012 models, which have been extensively redesigned to maintain the traditional look but also deliver crisper lines as well as improved passenger and cargo space. Gone is the aircraft-carrier dashboard surface, which was dictated by the roof shape of the New Beetle.
The 2012 model is slightly lower, longer and somewhat wider, with a higher belt line. Front roof supports, called A-pillars in the industry, have been moved back and the interior reconfigured. Where before it almost felt like you were driving the New Beetle from the back seat, the 2012 Beetle has a more conventional driver location.
That also results in a back seat that can handle two adults comfortably as long as they’re not more than about 5 feet 10 inches tall. Moreover, there’s now more than 15 cubic feet of cargo space under the rear hatch.
VW folks are particularly proud of the bright new interior, which features a glove box in the dash like that of the early Beetle, although it retains the drop-down bin below.
At introduction, there were two engines, each available with a five-speed manual gearbox but different shiftless transmissions. The basic power plant is a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, offered also with a six-speed automatic transmission. The other is a 200-horsepower, 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with the stick or a six-speed automated manual gearbox.
Manual-shift models were not available for this review. The automatic and the automated manual suffered from the same infirmity: a Goldilocks syndrome in which the shifter offers both “drive” and “sport” slots. But the “drive” position is more like an economy setting, in which the transmission shifts as quickly as possible into the next gear, slightly past the point where the engine would start lugging.
Then if you push the accelerator pedal a bit, the transmission downshifts to the next lower gear and shifts up again as forward momentum resumes.
So the temptation is to use the “sport” position, where the shifts are delayed to higher revs in the interest of performance. But that’s too aggressive for normal driving; the automated manual even resolutely refuses to shift into sixth gear for highway cruising.
So like Goldilocks and the too hard and too soft beds, one transmission setting is macho and the other is wimpy. However, both transmissions can be shifted manually, so you can make your own choices about when the shifts should occur.At introduction, three versions of the 2012 Beetle were offered: Base, 2.5L and 2.0T. The base model, which starts at $19,765, comes only with the five-speed manual gearbox but has full safety equipment, antilock disc brakes, cruise control, power windows, eight-speaker audio system, cloth upholstery, 50-50 split folding rear seatbacks and a trip computer.
Steps up from there are the 2.5L with manual or automatic transmission, leatherette vinyl upholstery, Bluetooth and other media connectivity, as well as upscale options like a panoramic sunroof, upgraded audio, navigation system and 18-inch alloy wheels. The various options are packaged at different price levels to simplify ordering.
Leather upholstery is available, but only on the turbo Beetle. VW marketers expect the vast majority of 2012 Beetles, especially the base and 2.5L versions, will be ordered with the leatherette.
The non-turbo models likely will be more than satisfying for many Beetle buyers. City/highway fuel consumption is EPA rated at 22/29 miles to the gallon and the 170-horsepower engine provides adequate power for stoplight sprints, freeway on-ramps and highway cruising.
Handling is competent and the ride is decent. The 2.5 models have a torsion beam rear suspension with coil springs. Steering effort is moderate and the cars track cleanly down the highway with little road and mechanical noise but, on the test vehicles, a bit of wind noise.The 2.0T model is another matter altogether. In addition to the more powerful turbocharged engine, it has stiffer springs and shock absorbers, a thicker anti-roll bar, a sophisticated independent rear suspension system and fatter performance tires on 18-inch wheels.
It all transforms the Beetle into a serious sports car that boogies through curves on twisting roads as if it were a contender for the automotive version of “Dancing with the Stars.” The steering is precise and nicely weighted, and the 2.0T takes a confident line and holds it.
Even with all that verve, the 2.0T gets slightly better fuel economy, 22/30, than the non-turbo Beetle.