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2012 Volkswagen Beetle ReviewThe Good
Unique and nostalgic looks, capable agility, a decently comfortable ride, some surprisingly upscale options and the option of a turbocharged 4-cylinder powerplant all combine to make the re-introduced 2012 Volkswagen Beetle popular with those who appreciate history.The Bad
The 2012 Beetle's inefficient and under-refined base engine, cramped rear seating, some iffy real-world mileage numbers and questions about reliability might have some folks kicking tires elsewhere.
The CarGurus View
Nostalgia and uniqueness aside, the hiatus-halting 2012 Volkswagen Beetle offers a low-priced, well-equipped and pleasantly performing first car for the high school grad or a budget-beautifying second car for the empty-nest commuter. Adequately equipped for today’s consumer demands, yet looking appropriately retro, this subcompact coupe continues to propagate the legend while fitting quite nicely into the mall-hopping, cellphone inundated, internet-surfing world of the 21st Century. Sure, it still isn’t perfect in this bottom-line-oriented era, but it sure has come a long way.
At a Glance
After a year off, the Volkswagen Beetle returns for 2012. Redesigned to offer a bolder profile with a slightly flatter roof and a few inches more length and girth, this 4-seat, 2-door subcompact is called a coupe by some, including Volkswagen, and a hatchback by others. Whatever it’s called, it remains an icon of the flower-power era when it was touted as a great first car for junior or sis… or all but a requirement for those heading to Woodstock.
Well, Woodstock is largely forgotten in this age of profit, text messaging and drum machines, but the updated Beetle is still a terrific first car for Generation Y. Alas, there is no convertible version, and the potent efficiency of a turbodiesel engine is also a sad deletion in this do-over. But for those who absolutely, positively must ride with the wind and keep up on the autobahn, there’s always next year, when both are expected to be offered.
Anyhow, the 2012 Beetle returns in three basic trim levels, the Base, the upscale 2.5L and the 2.0T Turbo. All are additionally available in Partial Zero-Emissions-Vehicle (PZEV) garb, with the 2.0T Turbo trims further subdivided into White and Black. All but the Base Beetle can also be delivered in various options delineations, such as the Sunroof, the Sound and Nav, and the Sunroof, Sound and Nav trims. Of course, all trims remain front-wheel-drive (FWD) only, and all have a split-folding rear seatback that allows, in this slightly stretched re-issue, 29.9 cubic feet of cargo capacity when the seats are down and 15.4 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks upright. Oh, and granddads are cautioned that opening this bug’s rear hatch now exposes a roomy (sort of) cargo bay rather than the glorified lawn mower engine in those original, often peace-sign-adorned wagons for the people.
Folks may remember that this little coupe made its name as a maneuverable, inexpensive, accidentally fuel-efficient and visually groovy means of transportation in the days of oversize, gas-guzzling behemoths. Today, by and large, this latest Beetle iteration remains fairly inexpensive, somewhat fuel-efficient, tolerably agile and cool looking. And it’s still a tad underpowered and unrefined in its non-turbo forms, somewhat cramped despite its latest upsizing and, according to a few reviews, not as economical, fuel-wise, as VW claims it to be. Then, too, there are some questions in the minds of both reviewers and owners as to build quality and reliability.
Such downsized runabouts as Ford’s fancy Focus and VW’s own Golf are decidedly more upscale and practical than the retro-oriented Beetle, while the modern era now sports such ultra-cool, super-fashionable (and even less roomy) subcompacts as the MINI Cooper and FIAT’s uniquely styled 500.
Doubtless, time and modern sensibilities have dulled the VW Beetle’s appeal a little, but that doesn’t mean it can’t compete in this commune-depleted, free-love-faded, groovy-less world.
The base powertrain in the redesigned 2012 Beetle Base and 2.5L trims, including PZEV editions, is a 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder (I5) engine mated with a standard 5-speed manual transmission. Some 170 hp at 5,700 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 can be coaxed from this normally aspirated five-banger, and prospective buyers have the option of a 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission should the thrill of clutching and shifting wear thin. With variable valve timing (VVT) thrown into this little coupe’s mechanics, look for 22 mpg city/31 highway with the stick-shift transmission and 22/29 with the automatic.
Beetles bearing the 2.0T Turbo moniker, meanwhile, get a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder (I4) powerplant, along with the choice of a standard 6-speed manual transmission or an available 6-speed auto-manual (DSG) transmission. With either shifter, the blown four-banger puts out 200 hp at 5,100 rpm and 207 lb-ft of torque at 1,700 rpm. Gas mileage in the turbocharged I4 is pleasantly consistent with its less-potent I5 compatriots at 21/30 in stick-shift versions and 22/30 in auto-manual editions.
All Beetle trims, finally, can be delivered in PZEV form with some added tweaks to emissions equipment to meet California's stringent standards.
Tests of the normally aspirated I5-equipped Beetle found it scooting from 0-60 in 9 seconds, pretty much in the midrange for subcompacts. The turbocharged I4, on the other hand, drove its self-named 2.0T version from 0-60 in an impressively quick 6.6 seconds.
Most reviewers consider the I5 just a little underpowered for confident highway merging and passing, but fine for running errands in town and then taking a leisurely drive in the country. Both the 5-speed stick-shift and the 6-speed automatic available to this normally aspirated engine are models of efficiency and responsiveness, according to most reviewers, but virtually all note that the engine note is decidedly unrefined on hard acceleration.
The turbocharged I4 powerplant, on the other hand, is praised by reviewers for its power and refinement, but is noted by more than a few to suffer from a noticeable case of turbo lag when the pedal is floored from a stop. Additionally, reviewers find the standard stick-shift to offer a sporty, glitch-free drive, but many claim the Turbo version’s auto-manual (DSG) transmission to be a bit temperamental in overall performance compared with the I5’s shiftable automatic, with less smoothness and some slight hesitancy in downshifts.
Ride & Handling
All of Volkswagen’s 2012 Beetle variations ride on a Golf-inspired 4-wheel independent suspension that’s bolstered by MacPherson front struts, a torsion bar rear end and a stabilizer bar at both front and rear. The Base and 2.5L trims sport 17-inch alloy wheels, while all 2.0T Turbo editions boast 18-inch alloy wheels, and every Beetle mounts all-season tires.
Ride comfort in this iconic Bug is described by most reviewers as competent but far from posh. Small and medium-size bumps are well-handled, but larger bumps will be felt, especially in the Turbo variants with their somewhat stiffer suspension, according to most reviews. Turbocharged Beetles are also eligible for an available sport-tuned suspension that dishes out even more harshness in the ride but is touted as taking on twisty back roads with admirable aplomb.
There is a slight difference of opinion among reviewers as to this little coupe’s blend of ride comfort and agility, but the majority mention that drivers will be as confident breezing along a winding country road as they will cruising roughed-up city streets. All reviews agree, however, that steering is responsive and true, while body lean in all but the tightest of turns is noted to be well-damped.
Brake tests have the non-turbo Beetle stopping in a respectable 122 feet from 60 mph, while the 2.0T Turbo disappoints a bit with a 129-foot stopping distance from the same speed.
Cabin & Comfort
Standard features in the latest Beetle iteration are a far cry from the bare-bones, cuteness-oozing bugs of yore. The Base trim level (and its PZEV variation), for instance, flaunt cloth upholstery and sport front seats, split-folding rear seats, remote power door locks, power windows and heated power-adjustable outside mirrors. A telescoping and tilting leather-wrapped steering wheel helps drivers get comfortable, while everyone aboard is kept cool with the manual air conditioning. Entertainment, meantime, is offered via the standard single-CD player with 8 speakers and an auxiliary MP3 input.
The 2.5L adds to the above heated and height-adjustable front seats, leatherette upholstery, cruise control, front and rear floor mats, auxiliary iPod integration and Bluetooth hands-free calling, with the 2.0T Turbo editions throwing in a standard rear spoiler, premium cloth upholstery and a leather-trimmed shift knob.
Among the more desirable options available to this latest Bug is the Sunroof Package, which boasts a power sunroof as well as remote keyless ignition, a multifunction steering wheel, and an upgraded audio system with 6-CD changer, satellite radio and a touchscreen interface.
Then there’s the Sunroof, Sound and Navigation Package, which is available to all except the Base Beetles and boasts all items found in the Sunroof Package as well as upgraded 18-inch (2.5L) or 19-inch (2.0T Turbo) retro-styled wheels, a navigation suite and premium 400-watt Fender audio with 9 speakers, not to mention Fender logos on interior surfaces. All packages, meantime, can be selected separately, if desired. Unique badges, customizable exterior graphics and splash guards are all individually available, as well.
Virtually all reviews of the re-introduced 2012 Beetle lament the loss of the precious flower pot that once dominated this little coupe’s dashboard. Otherwise, most reviewers find the cabin comfortable, if not classy, with many praising the added roominess of the upsized interior. Reviewers are quick to note, however, that some controls are awkwardly located, hard plastics abound and that the few padded surfaces are hardly worth the description. This subcompact is decidedly not plush.
Front-seat head- and legroom is described in most reviews as adequate to good, but rear-seat room, despite the marginally stretched frame, is still tight for the average pair of adult knees, though headroom is improved, at least on those trims without the available sunroof. Cabin storage, meantime is lauded by reviewers as better than average for the class, and entry and exit are facilitated by larger doors. Finally, visibility is noted by most reviewers as fair, with all grousing that sightlines to each rear corner are compromised by the oversize roof pillars.
Notable standard safety equipment aboard each 2012 Beetle variation includes 4-wheel antilock brakes (ABS), traction and stability control, front and rear head airbags, dual front side-mounted airbags and front head restraint whiplash protection. All trims additionally sport daytime running lights and a post-collision safety system, with Turbo editions boasting standard cornering lights and front foglights. Those Bugs flaunting the available Sunroof, Sound and Navigation Package also tack on bi-xenon headlights.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2012 Beetle its second-best 4 stars for overall safety, with 4 stars awarded in front crash and rollover safety and its highest 5-star rating awarded for side-impact protection.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also gives this updated VW coupe its highest score of Good all around, though a score for side-impact protection is curiously lacking.
What Owners Think
Nearly all owners continue to be concerned about an ongoing problem with the 2012 Bug's standard power windows. The majority find the windows to work improperly, with more than a few finding that VW has no clue how to fix the problem. A few owners go on to mention that the side windows have a discomforting tendency to shatter for no apparent reason, while all owners are concerned that VW seems unwilling to confront either issue at either the dealer or the corporate level. Further glitches reported by owners include some often inconvenient turbo lag and some over-optimistic mileage figures that are touted by Volkswagen, but seldom realized on the road.
Owners are, however, motivated toward purchasing this pint-size icon by the comfy seats and available turbocharged power displayed in these latest versions. The sport-tuned suspension available to the 2.0T Turbo trims is lauded by less touring-conscious owners, while the upsized passenger and cargo room also come in for a share of praise from owners. And then, of course, there are those who are not ashamed to admit that a bit of nostalgia also influenced their decision to sign on the dotted line.
Have Laptop, Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
What's your take on the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle?
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