2012 Volkswagen Beetle First Drive

July 14, 2011

When you think of Volkswagen and the people behind the brand, the image of engineers wearing black turtlenecks and speaking with thick German accents springs to mind. Their design haus would be a sterile white lab filled with clipboards and fluorescent lighting that churns out concepts created with efficiency and precision at all costs. Ergonomic polyurethane furniture, chosen for its low-weight and high tensile strength, adorns the room, while people in lab coats poke and prod away at prototypes under development.

But then we have the Beetle, the car that single-handedly put Volkswagen on the map--especially here in the U.S. The likeable two-door instantly pulls at the heartstrings, oozing emotion as it rolls by and conjuring up all those old Beetle stories that almost all of us have.

With the latest 2012 Volkswagen Beetle, which we were fortunate enough to drive this week in Berlin, Germany, Volkswagen will once again be playing the emotion card, but this time things will be a little bit different.

The 21st century Beetle, as Volkswagen likes to call it, has been given a massive shot of testosterone, resulting in sharper looks, sportier engines and oversized alloy wheels. The car also benefits from some of the latest tech from the Volkswagen Group toolbox, which we’ll get to a little later.

The new Beetle--yes, the word “new” is no longer officially part of the car’s name--comes at a very important stage in Volkswagen’s life. The automaker has just opened a new assembly plant in the U.S. and is on the verge of launching its larger and more affordable Passat, which the Beetle is set to join in showrooms this fall. So while the Beetle will help draw in the crowds, it’s really the Passat and the third pillar in Volkswagen’s U.S. growth strategy, the Jetta, that will serve as the breadwinners.

Styling


Volkswagen has gone for a much more masculine look this time ‘round. The automaker has made no secret of its desire to attract more male buyers for the Beetle. While 64 percent of sales of the previous generation New Beetle were made to women, with this third-generation car Volkswagen would like to see this figure drop to just 41 percent.

While that target may seem ambitious, we’re sure more male buyers will be attracted to the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle. Importantly, another statistic the automaker is keen to change is the global sales mix. For the previous car, a staggering 72 percent were sold in North America alone but with this new car, Volkswagen will be promoting it strongly in Europe as well as Asia.

Styling of the car draws in more inspiration from the original Beetle, much more so than the previous car. The roofline has been made flatter, not only giving the 2012 Beetle a sharper look but increasing head and shoulder room, especially in the back. The car is also longer and wider than the one it replaces, and sits much lower.

There’s also a flatter hood and a steeper windscreen, this latter feature allowing designers to install a conventionally sized dashboard rather than the sea of plastic that stretched to the window on the outgoing model. On most of the models the dash will match the exterior body color, though Beetle Turbo customers can opt for a carbon fiber look. Another touch alluding to the original Beetle is a handy second glovebox which is opened neatly with your thumb and index finger.

There’s also an available keyless entry system and engine starter button, which means drivers won’t even have to take their keys out of their pocket or handbag. In addition to this, a cool ambient lighting package and panoramic sunroof that opens some 11 inches adds some stylish touches.

Beetle Turbo models get a second gauge cluster mounted in the center of the dash that displays the all-important oil pressure, boost and chronograph timer, and when selecting the six-speed dual clutch DSG owners also get paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.

On the outside, there’s a fixed rear spoiler (standard on Beetle Turbo), sporty side sills and an array of wheel sizes ranging from 17- all the way up to 19-inches. Xenon headlights are available and include the cool LED daytime running lights you see in many of the press images.

Storage space in the trunk is a decent 15.4 cubic feet and when you fold the rear seats down, which is new to the Beetle range, this increases to 29.9 cubic feet.

Pricing for the Beetle Turbo will start at $24,165, including destination, and will run close to $29,000 with most of the options boxes ticked. Standard features here will include 18-inch alloy wheels, a sporty bodykit with a rear spoiler and fog-lights, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, and alloy pedals.

Technology


One of the biggest differences between this new Beetle and the one it replaces is the level of technology. Underneath the cute sheet metal is a shortened Jetta platform complete with a strut-type suspension with a lower control arm and anti-roll bar up front and the basic torsion beam rear suspension with coil springs and telescopic dampers.

The Beetle Turbo, however, gets the more advanced multi-link independent rear suspension, with coil springs, telescopic dampers and another anti-roll bar. The Beetle Turbo also gets a slightly better brake package, with 12.3-inch vented discs and red calipers on the front axle and 10-7-inch discs at the rear.

One of the stars of the show is the XDS electronic differential that really helps with the handling of the Beetle Turbo model by maximizing traction under power. The XDS electronic transverse differential lock is an extension of the electronic limited-slip differential integrated in the stability system.

In fast cornering, as soon as the car’s electronics detects that the wheel at the inside of the curve on the front axle is starting to slip, the stability system hydraulics build up braking pressure at this wheel to restore traction. In essence, XDS acts as a type of transverse differential lock that compensates for the understeer that is typical on front-wheel drive vehicles when driving fast through corners by sending more torque to the wheel that needs it most.

Power in the Beetle Turbo comes from the responsive turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine found in the potent Golf GTI. Peak output remains at 197 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, which means this is essentially a coupe version of the Golf GTI--though suspension and steering has been tuned more for comfort in the Beetle rather than outright performance and this shows in the driving performance.

A six-speed manual comes as standard on the Beetle Turbo though we got to test the sweet six-speed dual clutch DSG.

Lucky U.S. customers get a premium Fender audio system. The setup relies on Fender’s experience with amplification while featuring a proprietary Panasonic speaker system that includes a massive subwoofer in the trunk and 400-watt output. The sound is fantastic and is well worth it. 

Driving Impressions


Sitting inside the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle, the first thing you notice is simply how roomy it feels. Head and shoulder room is generous, as is legroom. That is, if you’re sitting up front. Two bucket seats are fitted in the rear but a lack of legroom means they are best only for children.

The other thing you notice is that the cutesy look has gone, with Volkswagen now going for a more sophisticated look and feel, with much higher quality than on the previous model. The Beetle Turbo also gets an Audi-like flat bottomed steering wheel with leather trim, which felt great.

We didn’t get to drive the standard manual but the dual clutch DSG is a great shifting gearbox with manual mode that even blips the throttle when you shift gears to ensure revs are matched properly. The gearbox is so fast and smooth that shifting up and down the gears can get very addictive.

Power delivery is decent, though there is some lag until the tacho hits the 2,500 rev mark. From here performance is reasonable though it won’t match the pace of the GTI or most sports cars. Acceleration in the higher gears is strong thanks to the turbo, with high speed passing no issue on the autobahns around Berlin.

When it comes to handling, it’s obvious that the Beetle has been tuned more for comfort than performance. The steering is very light, which is good around town but on twisty roads could do with a lot more feedback.

There’s plenty of grip from the 235 mm rubber on all four tires but tall sidewalls and medium-set suspension means the car certainly leans into corners. Understeer also likes to rear its ugly head when going fast into a corner, with the steering wheel needing plenty of adjustment, but even after a few short hours with the car it’s easy to predict the handling and always remain on track.

There’s some noticeable wind noise at highway speeds, most likely due to the boxier roof design and tall side mirrors. However, with the radio on this is hardly an issue,

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Final Verdict


Volkswagen has managed to make the Beetle appeal to a wider audience without abandoning the key elements that have made the car stand out over the years and should be commended for it. Improvements over the old car are impressive and for performance fans we could certainly see the Bug show up at tuner meets.

We’ll have to wait for proper drives of the base Beetle and fuel efficient Beetle TDI until we can lay our final judgment on the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle, but we can say that the car has been made much more substantial, now with plenty of comfort, a solid feel and decent quality.

Click here for our full coverage
on the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle.

Volkswagen provided travel, lodging, and meals to enable High Gear Media to bring you this first-person drive report.

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