After 13 years as a New Beetle, the iconic VW bug goes back to being just a Beetle. It does this in a big way, with a clean-sheet redesign that makes it new again. It's the new Beetle, not a New Beetle.
The 2012 Volkswagen Beetle jumps like a bug on a skillet from its heritage. It's 7.3 inches longer, 0.5 inches lower, and 3.3 inches wider than the 2010 New Beetle, last one made. The stretch morphs it into a real car, not so much a cute little thing. It's less round. It looks good with more dynamic proportions. It's still unmistakably VW Beetle.
The coefficient of drag, 0.37, is surprisingly good, although not near the lower (by 2 inches) Honda Civic, at 0.315, or the smaller Ford Fiesta at 0.33. But even the taller New Beetle made 0.38 (the original Beetle was 0.48).
The expanded exterior makes the four-seat interior roomier. Interior volume has grown by 5 percent, from 81 to 85 cubic feet. The roof is lower, but because it's also longer, there's a bit more rear headroom. In the front, it gains 1.9 inches in legroom and 2.5 inches in shoulder room, making the 2012 Beetle feel less like a capsule.
The front legroom is 0.7 inches more than that in the all-new 2012 Toyota Yaris, but the Beetle's rear seat has just 31.4 inches of legroom, which is 1.9 inches less than the Yaris, on a wheelbase that's 1.1 inches longer.
The trunk of the 2012 Beetle is spacious at 15.4 cubic feet. With the rear seat folded it's nearly 30 cubic feet, and the high-swinging hatchback enables giant things to fit inside, making the Beetle handy for hauling.
The seats and trim are neat but not fancy. The bucket seats are clean, simple, and comfortable, with excellent bolstering.
Instrumentation is so clean it's memorable for its rarity. In the center of the big clear speedometer there's a multi-function digital display, accessed with a flick of the driver's right thumb, scrolling a small wheel on the steering wheel. All you need to know is right there, almost automatically without thinking or searching for it. It makes for safe driving!
The 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine, with an iron block and double overhead cams, is carried over from the New Beetle, but the horsepower increases by 20, to 170 hp. Torque increases by seven foot-pounds, to 177 foot-pounds at 4250 rpm. It's mated to a standard 5-speed manual gearbox, or optional 6-speed automatic transmission that didn't wow us. We've driven a VW Golf with that 5-speed manual transmission, which is satisfying and gives the car pep from 0 to 60. We recommend the manual.
Acceleration in the 2.5L is adequate, and 75 mph on the freeway is smooth and mostly effortless. The 6-speed manual automatic transmission isn't as much fun as the manual, especially with this engine. The automatic's side-to-side semi-manual shifting using the lever at the floor was better than nothing, but not very racy.
A 2.0-liter Turbo model is also available that comes with a 6-speed manual transmission and a different rear suspension. The turbocharged engine makes 207 horsepower and 217 pound-feet of torque at a low 1700 rpm, and it gets about the same fuel mileage although on high-test gas. It's hot, with acceleration not far behind a Mini Cooper S.
If you want jaw-stretching torque and fuel mileage on the far side of 40 mpg, there's the TDI, coming in summer 2012 as a 2013 model. It's a 2.0-liter turbodiesel with direct injection, making 236 pound-feet of torque. The engine has been used successfully for some time in the Golf and Jetta TDI.
The chassis is rigid and the body solid, with subframes front and rear, supporting the suspension. The rear uses a torsion beam, although the Beetle Turbo uses a more sophisticated multi-link, for the higher threshold of cornering. The freeway ride in the Beetle doesn't suffer for the torsion beam. It's comfortable and consistent. Potholes don't hurt, but rough pavement can make the rear end of the car want to dance.
There is a stripped-down Beetle ($18,995), but good luck finding one. It existed when the Beetle was introduced in the fall of 2011, mostly as an advertising draw; in 2012 you have to ask your dealer to order it. It uses the 170-horsepower 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder engine and 5-speed manual transmission. It comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, front and rear disc brakes, power windows, cruise control, leather steering wheel, cloth seats, 50/50 split folding rear seat, trip computer, and 8-speaker sound system.
The 2012 Beetle 2.5L ($19,795) adds body-colored mirrors, V-Tex leatherette seating, 6-way manual seats with lumbar, heated front seats, a second glovebox, Bluetooth and MDI (Media Device Interface). A 6-speed automatic transmission is available ($20,895). Options include heated front seats, three-color interior ambient lighting, a panoramic sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, and Fender audio system.
The Beetle is available as a Panoramic Sunroof model with added features such as keyless entry and touch-screen radio. It's available with manual ($22,295) or automatic ($23,395). There's another model with Sunroof, Sound and Navigation ($24,095 manual, $25,195 automatic) that includes 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps and LED taillamps, the premium audio system, and navigation.
The Beetle 2.0T ($23,395) uses a 200-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder turbocharged intercooled engine with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The 6-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic-manual transmission ($24,495) is available. The Beetle Turbo comes standard with Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, three-color ambient lighting, larger brakes with red calipers, second glovebox, sport seating surfaces, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, foglights, three additional gauges, and alloy pedals. There's a Beetle Turbo with Sunroof ($26,395 manual, $27,495 DSG), and Beetle Turbo with Sunroof, Sound and Navigation ($27,995 manual, $29,095 DSG).
Available in summer of 2012 as a 2013 model is the new Beetle TDI, using a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder diesel engine with turbocharging and direct injection. It makes 140 horsepower with a fat 236 pound-feet of torque, using either the 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG. It will be well equipped.
Safety features on all VW Beetles includes ABS, Electronic Stability Control, frontal airbags and airbag curtains, and Volkswagen's advanced Intelligent Crash Response System that shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard lights under some crash situations.