Full 2012 Volkswagen Beetle Review
What's New for 2012
The Volkswagen Beetle has been completely redesigned for 2012, and ditches the "New" from its name despite actually being new for the first time in a decade. For now, it is available in a coupe body style only.
The last "new" Volkswagen Beetle pioneered the automotive retro trend when it debuted way back for 1998. Thanks to distinctive styling and little touches like a flower vase on the dash, the New Beetle was an immediate hit with younger buyers and Baby Boomers alike. But that homage to the 1960s lasted so long without any changes that it eventually became an homage to the 1990s. In a way, the New Beetle has been a retro version of itself in its waning years. So it's with welcome relief that Volkswagen has introduced the redesigned 2012 Volkswagen Beetle.
An entirely new model based on the most recent mechanical underpinnings from the redesigned VW Golf, the 2012 Beetle is a car that's a little less cute but a lot more functional. At first glance, it resembles a New Beetle that's been squashed from above. (And, yes, the word "New" has been exorcised, so you won't be reading about the new New Beetle). Indeed, the redesigned car is longer, wider, lower and has more upright A-pillars. This not only gives the Beetle more classic proportions, but also provides more legroom, a bigger trunk and a more natural driving position that dispenses with the previous car's massive dash top and awkward sight lines around the windshield pillars.
The interior design has been redone as well to be modern without losing the Beetle heritage. The upright dashboard has an available drop-down glovebox (dubbed kaeferfach, or "Beetle bin," in homage to the original), and it is color-keyed to the exterior to add a welcome splash of personality. The design might not be as retro as the Mini Cooper, but then neither are its interior controls, and this is definitely a good thing. In fact, the Beetle gets the same sensible electronics features and control interface that you see elsewhere in the VW lineup, including Bluetooth, iPod and a navigation system.
Mechanically, the 2012 VW Beetle is mostly comprised of bits and pieces from the Golf. The unrefined and inefficient five-cylinder base engine is an unfortunate hand-me-down, while the Beetle Turbo's spirited and efficient four-cylinder is a genetic blessing from the Golf GTI. The Turbo also features a suspension setup similar to the GTI, a calibration that gives it a good balance between slick handling and a refined ride (although it's not as capable nor fun to drive as the GTI). The base Beetle's suspension is borrowed from the VW Jetta and is less sophisticated, but it gets the job done.
In total, the redesigned 2012 Volkswagen Beetle feels like the welcome return of an old friend. It has the traditional look that will appeal to the Beetle faithful, but sports a visual modernity that should attract new buyers into the Beetle fold (or at least recapture those who lost interest during the New Beetle's lengthy reign). It still isn't as functional as otherwise upscale small cars like the Ford Focus or the Volkswagen Golf, but compared to other high-fashion compacts like the Mini Cooper and Fiat 500, the Beetle boasts an actually usable backseat and trunk. So the Beetle is back, and yes, it's better than ever.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Volkswagen Beetle is a two-door, four-passenger hatchback available in Beetle, 2.5L Beetle and Beetle Turbo trim levels.
The base Beetle comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cloth upholstery, a trip computer and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The 2.5L Beetle adds heated windshield washer nozzles, heated and height-adjustable front seats (with lumbar adjustment), leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, a second glovebox, floor mats, Bluetooth and an iPod interface.
The Sunroof package adds a panoramic sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, a multifunction steering wheel, a front center armrest, an upgraded trip computer, satellite radio, a touchscreen audio interface and a six-CD changer. The Sunroof, Sound & Navigation package adds the above package plus 18-inch wheels, a navigation system integrated into the touchscreen interface and a premium Fender audio system with a subwoofer.
The Beetle Turbo additions to the 2.5L Beetle's equipment include 18-inch wheels, foglights, a rear spoiler, sport seats, Turbo-specific cloth upholstery and alloy pedals. The Sunroof and Sound package adds the same items as the 2.5L's Sunroof package along with the Fender audio system and shift paddles (when equipped with the DSG transmission). The Turbo's Sunroof, Sound and Navigation System adds a navigation system to the above package along with leather upholstery. Bi-xenon headlamps and 19-inch wheels can be added to this package. A sport-tuned suspension is optional on all Turbo models. VW will also be offering an array of customizing dealer-sourced accessories, such as exterior graphics, themed badges and special retro wheels.
Powertrains and Performance
Standard on the base and 2.5L Beetle models is a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. Every Beetle is front-wheel drive. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic transmission is optional on all but the base model. In Edmunds testing, this engine with the automatic went from zero to 60 mph in 9 seconds, which is about average for a compact with an automatic. Estimated EPA fuel economy is 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined with the automatic (22/31/25 with the manual), which is mediocre for a car this size.
The 2012 VW Beetle Turbo gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard and a six-speed automated manual (known as DSG) is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, the Beetle Turbo with DSG went from zero to 60 mph in a quick 6.6 seconds. Fuel economy is actually better than the base five-cylinder at 22/30/25 with the automatic and 22/30/24 with the manual. That's quite good considering the added performance, though a Mini Cooper S is still about 5 mpg better. Both Beetle models can be partial-zero-emissions vehicles (PZEV) certified in states with California emissions standards.
Every 2012 Volkswagen Beetle comes standard with traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, a Beetle Turbo with 18-inch wheels came to a stop in 129 feet -- disappointing for a sporty small car. Surprisingly, a regular 2.5 model stopped in 122 feet, which is a bit better than average.
In government crash tests, the Beetle received four out of five stars for overall crash protection, with four stars awarded for overall frontal protection and five stars for overall side-impact protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2012 VW Beetle has a cabin that draws design inspiration from the original flower-power model, yet includes the same features, controls and construction of modern Volkswagens. The cutesy flower vase, expansive dash and cramped backseat of the '90s-era New Beetle are things of the past, yet this next-generation Beetle still has plenty of character. The trim that runs across the dash and doors can be painted the same color as the exterior, while the Turbo gets secondary dash-top gauges and available two-tone seats.
It's a pretty cool passenger environment, and unlike a Mini Cooper, it doesn't suffer for its coolness with head-scratching and/or frustrating ergonomics. The optional navigation system is easy to use, though its small screen limits usefulness. The premium Fender sound system, on the other hand, is well worth the extra price and provides impressive sound quality.
Despite its lower roof line, the 2012 Beetle still provides plenty of room for both the heads and legs of even tall drivers. The backseat is also significantly more spacious, though it's certainly not as roomy as the related Volkswagen Golf. The 15.4-cubic-foot trunk is actually bigger than the Golf's with the 50/50 split-folding seats raised, though if you lower them, the Beetle only provides 29.9 cubes of maximum space versus the Golf's 46 cubes.
How the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle drives largely depends on the engine you choose. The base five-cylinder is respectably powerful, but it sounds unrefined and gets disappointing fuel economy. Despite its less sophisticated underpinnings, handling of the non-Turbo Beetle is quite good, with crisp turn-in and minimal body roll in quick transitions. As a result, enthusiasts will likely be happy about that but wish for stronger performance.
The Beetle Turbo, on the other hand, has plenty of punch, sounds great and gets better mileage than the disappointing base engine. The six-speed manual is quite possibly the most easily shifted do-it-yourself transmission around, while the sophisticated DSG gearbox is a nice compromise for those who want the simplicity of an automatic with the performance and control of a manual. Handling surprisingly isn't really better than the regular Beetle, with its overall abilities and steering response that are well short of what you'll get from a GTI or a Mini Cooper S.