By Jim MacPherson
The original Volkswagen Beetle became an icon even before its production ceased in 2003. When the end finally came, over 21 million cars had been sold using variations of the original platform. Beetle sedan sales ended in the United States in 1977, though the convertible was sold here until 1980.
In 1998, Volkswagen introduced the New Beetle. The look was clearly intended to evoke memories of the original Beetle, but its technology was entirely different. The much more powerful engine moved from the rear to the front, water replaced air for engine cooling and the front wheels now propelled the car. It was an immediate hit.
For 2012, Volkswagen has introduced the next generation Beetle, dropping the “New” moniker and giving the car “bolder, more dynamic and more masculine” styling, according to the official press release. This point clearly references the idea that the 1998-2010 New Beatle attracted an inordinate number of female buyers.
George Goggi, a sales representative at Mitchell Volkswagen in Canton, notes this third generation Beetle, “was designed in the United States. Its inspiration was not the New Beetle, but a ’64 sedan used in a TV commercial several years ago.” Goggi is one of the few people who have sold the first generation Beetle, the New Beetle and the newly introduced third generation vehicle.
Two versions of the 2012 Beetle are now offered. The base model comes with a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine and the buyer’s choice of either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. A 2.0T version with a more powerful, but smaller, four-cylinder turbocharged motor is also offered. Here, the transmission choices are either a manual or a dual-shaft automated manual, both with six speeds. The automated manual works just like an automatic. Its shifts, however, are incredibly quick and efficient, unlike other Volkswagens using this gearbox, which occasionally experienced harsh gear engagements.
“Production of manual transmission cars is now underway,” Goggi says. “We expect to receive the first of them in mid-to-late January.”
Our review car had the 2.5-liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission. It also had the panoramic power sunroof package and the Fender audio system upgrade with navigation. That brought the price to $25,195.
Performance was quite lively around town, though once speeds climbed, the car’s eagerness to accelerate waned. Nonetheless, a 2.5L Beetle driver will miss few rational opportunities to pass on a two-lane road, nor will they find merging difficult.
The five-cylinder engine does sound a little raspy on full-throttle runs. The engine, however, recedes into the sonic background once up to cruising speeds.
The ride is firm. The Sunroof, Sound and Navi package, as Volkswagen describes these options, also includes 18-inch wheels (17-inch rims are standard). This might have made the Beetle a little busy over broken pavement, but they didn’t make the ride harsh.
Handling is pleasant, but the 2.5-liter Beetle is not overly sporty. The 2.0T version comes with a more sophisticated independent rear suspension that sharpens the handling.
The front seats are comfortable but the back seat isn’t. The cargo area is easily reached, thanks to a large hatchback opening at the rear. Cargo space is limited in width (in part, the result of the optional Fender audio system’s subwoofer that is shoehorned into a cubbyhole at the right rear of the vehicle). The rear seats split and fold.
As with the New Beetle, this Beetle will be a fashion statement for its buyers. Goggi reports that the new styling has widened the car’s appeal. ”It’s no longer mostly females who are interested in the car,” he says. The 2.0T with its turbo engine seems to have the widest appeal, though the less costly 2.5L is the top-seller for now.
Volkswagen Beetle: $18,995
Engines: 2.5-liter 5 2.0-turbocharged 4
HP 170 200
Torque (lb-ft) 177 207
EPA Manual 20/28 20/28
Automatic 20/29 22/30