Christopher Little

All Grown Up, Still a Bit Short: 2012 VW Beetle

I’ll admit, I was worried.  A few weeks before the 2012 VW Beetle was scheduled to arrive, I got the first look at the Monroney and there wasn’t a whole lot to see: Denim Blue Exterior – N/C, Titan Black Leatherette Interior – N/C, 5-Speed Manual Transmission – N/C.  Without a single box checked, the car came in at $20,565.  This could be a long week.

When the car was delivered, I was in for another surprise.  As it turns out, Denim Blue isn’t a deep “blue jeans” blue but more of a light stonewashed blue.  Unfortunately, there’s no escaping the exterior color either.  The majority of the dashboard and interior windowsills are body color as well.  It’s a color that took me quite some time to live down amongst my male friends.  I was told, however, that the car really brought the color out in my eyes.  Great, I suppose.  This could be a very long week.

VW Beetle 1

But all was not lost.  The new Beetle, not to be confused with the previous generation’s “New Beetle”, appears to have grown up a bit.  The “cherubic ladybug” has matured with a longer hood and less rounded greenhouse.  The classic design cues still remain: round headlights and accentuated wheel arches.  The car appears longer and wider, despite minimal growth in most dimensions.  It’s unmistakably a Beetle.  Our car also came with black and chrome retro alloys, which I thought were one of its best features.  Ignoring the color, I’d be willing to say that the car has become decidedly less feminine.  For instance, you won’t find a flower vase inside.  Instead, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and firmly bolstered seats lend a more sporty tone.  Encouraging trends.

From the driver’s seat, the VW offers the best visibility of any car I’ve ever driven.  The pedals are slightly offset from the steering wheel towards the center of the car.  Unfortunately the Beetle also  follows  the recent small-car trend and doesn’t include a center console.  It was, quite literally, sorely missed.  By far the biggest fault was how high the doorsill was.  It made entry and exit difficult despite the long door.  The rest of the layout is a model of German efficiency.  Radio and climate controls are aimed towards the driver, making everything easily accessible.  Further, the gauge  cluster was simple and effective with just three white-on-black dials.  Without any options, our test car didn’t have some features that most consumers would take for granted.  The steering wheel was devoid of any radio controls and there was just headliner where one would expect a sunroof.  Don’t let these omission fool you; as far as standard features go the Beetle was far from lacking.  Heated seats kept the cold November mornings from creeping into the cabin.  iPod connectivity  and Bluetooth phone connectivity with voice commands also kept the commute from going stale.  It all looks good inside, if you can get over the blue.

VW Beetle 4

For 2012, the VW Beetle gets a new 2.5L inline 5 cylinder engine making 170hp and 177 lbs-ft torque.  It sounds coarse, but it gets the job done in gears 1-4.  5th gear is essentially overdrive, removing any hope of acceleration and best left for highway cruising.  Body roll is kept to a minimum, but the car nose dives under hard braking.  Traction was never an issue for the front tires.  I rarely saw the traction control light flash, and it wasn’t for lack of trying.  The system doesn’t have an “off” switch, however, so there’s no telling how the Beetle would handle without the electronic nanny in place.  It’s a pleasant driving experience, but it won’t excite you.  You’ll have to step up to the Beetle Turbo for that.

It’s difficult to give the car a hard time.  The car’s build quality was top notch, going a week without a squeak, rattle, or groan.  It took me nearly 600 miles in comfort and returned just shy of 28MPGs.  There’s enough space to actually put four adults inside with some level of comfort.  When people aren’t the designated payload, the cargo cover can be removed and the back seats fold flat to open up a cavernous amount of space.  But it isn’t without its minor faults.  When trying to close the windows, the glass would roll halfway up, stop, and roll back down again.  It was a curious problem that I couldn’t recreate with any consistency.

VW Beetle 2

At the end of the week, the car had lived up to its heritage, albeit with one omission.  The Volkswagen Beetle is truly a car for the people.  It’s a solidly built car that does well over long highway distances.  But it lacks a personality.  There’s no soul in the new Beetle.  It doesn’t excite or enthrall.  There’s no doubt that the 2012 VW Beetle has grown up quite a bit.  Unfortunately, it still comes up a little bit short.

-Christopher Little

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