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2012 Volkswagen Beetle Road Test Review by Martha Hindes - 2012 Compact Car Buyer's Guide

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

2012 Compact Car Buyer's Guide - Top 10 Picks

Chevy Sonic


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Take a look at the revised 2012 Volkswagen Beetle. It has a smile as wide as Texas. I guess you'd have to consider that a natural for an auto that helped revive the oh-so-cute attitude in the world of very small cars. The only difference is that in re-designed stance, this revised, third generation Beetle must have been to the gym. It's a bit more bulked up than its predecessor was for the past 14 or so years. VW calls it "sporty."

That change says a lot about the Beetle and where it is going in the future. Seems that this German-engineered heir to VW's seven-decade-old bug line has been subjected to claims it was too appealing to the distaff side and not enough to car guys. So it needed a fix, right? (That, of course, is discounting that women make the majority of all car buying decisions.)

With that, enter the next generation Beetle. The "New Beetle" designation that got too long in the tooth to mean anything is now gone. Instead, here's a "more masculine," "modern interpretation," "new original" bug, says VW. That comes from its longer, lower and wider body, head turning interior, 21st Century high tech amenities, and versions aimed at purists in four trim levels and at power-demanding turbo jocks.

That doesn't mean the Beetle has lost its bugginess. That undoubtedly will remain as long as it bears that name and styling is reminiscent of something that could crawl across your garden searching for lunch. It's just that VW has found a way to squish it down, expand its size, and give it a brawnier look while upping the basic guts underneath and material pleasures inside.

Style-wise, the Beetle has a more stretched appearance, with a longer hood, more inclined windshield slant and a more tapered rear replacing some of the roundness of before. That size change is evident inside, where snugly cuteness is replaced with more roominess and a long driver's seat track ideally suited to a 6-footer targeted male driver, despite the disappearance of the previous model's "cathedral ceiling."

A sunroof on our 2-door coupe test model was intriguing. You can crank the dial inside to open it in increments as a wind screen barrier rises in front and the clear top pops up and back over the roof. From the size of its glass slab, we had expected a panoramic opening over front and rear seats alike. It doesn't come close. The interior ceiling is a retractable sun-blocking mesh screen that still lets in daylight.

Inside, a former, funkier audio pod thankfully is gone and replaced with a sensible, usable and somewhat more intuitive control cluster that does a lot in a small space. (We say "somewhat" since the navigation system defied resetting the clock to daylight time or from a.m. to the correct p.m. We finally gave in to reading the manual and found its simple setup was behind the steering wheel.) The system could have used a backup camera to compensate for blind spots from the wide rear "C" pillars.

The 400-watt Fender entertainment system in our test model was acutely sensitive to dynamics, tone and other audio nuances. Even the proverbial whisper was clear as a bell. VW wisely left a demo disk in the CD changer to give the impact the moment we started up. Tweedy textured leatherette seating was comfortable and good looking. A smaller, second glove box above the expected one could hold as much as a pair of gloves, perhaps. The main one has USB access inside.

Where Beetles once sported hand crank windows, a rear air-cooled engine and frigid feet in winter from the lack of a sufficient heating system, such memories should sound exaggerated to the contemporary VW shopper. Keyless, key-sensitive entry and push button start are there. The hatch lid's locking mechanism is hidden under a chrome VW badge. It offers more storage room than expected, especially with rear seats folded down. It also could provide overhead rain protection to someone well-over six feet tall. (Another male thing.)

On the grunt factor side, what's under the hood always gets attention. While we won't call it brawny, our test model has more punch than its predecessor with a 2.5-liter, inline five-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic that exudes 170-horsepower. Fuel economy numbers are 22/29, or 22/30 for the 2.0-liter, 200-HP turbocharged inline four (both automatics) Manual transmissions are available on all models.

During driving we found the "D" mode responsive but not overwhelming. Changing to "S" for sport gave it more guts and a lot more fun. Driving it doesn't feel at all undersized or compromising.

Before options pricing for the third gen basic 2.5-liter Beetle starts at $18,905 with four trim levels (Beetle, 2.5 Beetle, 2.5 Beetle with sunroof and 2.5 Beetle with sunroof, sound and Navigation (our test model) raising the price appropriately. The sport-minded Turbo kicks off at $23,395.

Of course, the bud vase by the steering wheel in this next generation Beetle is now history. Such touches would be anathema to the beefier side. But we noted the "smile" (front grille) feature at the beginning of this piece that extends well into the front fender areas for a rather sneaky effect. Even when you try to take the cute out of a car, someone always seems to find a way to leave some of it in. We think of that every time we smile back at it.

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