The 2012 Volkswagen Beetle has a message for you: "Welcome to your Beetle." That's the first sound I heard as I started AutoTrader.com's test Beetle. It's oddly appropriate, since the last version of the U.S.-market vehicle, sold from 1998 through 2010, was considered more of a "statement" vehicle than a serious driver's car. After spending 12 hours in one on a road trip back then, I will admit that the statement I wanted to make was, "I'm not a fan."
Volkswagen intends to change all that with the new model, and the change starts with the first impression it makes. Beyond the assertive voice greeting, the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle is lower, sharper and more aggressive in appearance. The familiar Beetle shape remains, but the bubble-like roof and fenders have been updated to appeal to a broader audience without abandoning devotees.
Our test model was a highly optioned Beetle Turbo with Volkswagen's excellent DSG automatic transmission. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine makes 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. The standard Beetle engine is a 2.5-liter in-line 5-cylinder making 170 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque - and there's a TDI Clean Diesel model coming this summer as a 2013 model. Extras on our test model included Sunroof, Sound and Navigation packages, 18-inch wheels and tires, foglamps, black leather interior, a large rear spoiler and red brake calipers. The Turbo model comes with an independent front MacPherson-strut suspension with stabilizer bar, adding to the sportiness. The total price for the Reflex Silver Metallic Beetle was $29,095 before destination.
Paired with the turbo engine, the DSG transmission has paddles on the flat-bottomed steering wheel to reinforce the sporty theme. Left in fully automatic mode, the transmission focuses on fuel economy, quickly upshifting through the six available gears to save fuel. On the highways this is not an issue, but around town we chose to use the paddles to stay in the sweet spot of the power band. Unlike turbocharged engines of the past, there is minimal turbo lag, and we always felt in control.
Inside, the Beetle is familiar Volkswagen, with a few special touches. Our Turbo model replaced the standard body-color dash and trim with a carbon-fiber-look dashboard and piano black trim. The optional leather sport seats are comfortable and grip in all the right places. Beetle loyalists will remember and enjoy the Käeferfach secondary glove box. Once you get past the unfortunately flimsy latch of the primary glove box, an auxiliary jack awaits your portable audio player. Pumped through the optional Fender premium audio system, the sound is crisp, clear and eliminates any road noise coming from the larger wheels and the sporty suspension.
The 2012 Volkswagen Beetle is much improved over the previous model. Many of the last car's foibles have been addressed, and its engine choices and styling make it more competitive with the Hyundai Veloster, the Honda Civic and the Mini Cooper. That and its interior updates have taken the Beetle from cute and cuddly to a serious contender in the compact-car segment. The available options and technological advancements might just be enough to sway unsure shoppers to their nearest Volkswagen dealership. Welcome to your Beetle indeed.