The new 2012 VW Beetle

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Back in the day – back in the early-mid ’70s – some people didn’t like the Super Beetle (as opposed to the original Beetle) because the Super had a strut front end and some other changes that made it more complicated and expensive to buy and own.

Now comes the new New Beetle – only it’s just called Beetle once again – and some people may not like it for similar reasons.

It is fairly expensive, for one – almost $19,000 for the base model. (About $300 more than the old New Beetle.) It weighs more than the old New Beetle did – and has less cargo space. It’s not very fuel efficient, either (22 city sucks; 31 highway is mediocre for a compact FWD four-cylinder coupe with just 170 hp) and there’s no TDI diesel engine option – at least, not yet.

It’s also no longer cute. VW has retooled the Beetle to look “sportier”(read: less feminine) and so  appeal more to guys, who tended not to buy the old New Beetle. But will the guys be interested given there’s only 200 hp available (not all that much compared to what’s available in other sporty cars) and besides, you can get the same package in the Golf GTI for about the same money… ?

All of which has me wondering whether this is a belly-flop in the making.

WHAT IT IS

The Beetle is a compact-size, two-door hardtop (convertible version on deck for later in 2012) sort-of economy car. Prices start at $18,995 for a base trim with 2.5 liter engine and five-speed manual transmission. A Turbo Black equipped with the 2.0 liter turbocharged engine six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), an automated manual, goes for $24,950.

The Beetle’s target competition includes the Mini Cooper ($19,400 to start) and Fiat 500 ($15,500 to start) among others.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2012

VW has given the Beetle a complete exterior and interior makeover, though the standard and optional engines are the same as last year’s old New Beetle.

WHAT’S GOOD

Still recognizably a Beetle.

Wider, roomier inside – with better-fitting back seats.

Costs less than the Mini Cooper.

Slightly quicker than a Fiat 500.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Costs a lot more than a Fiat 500.

Gets nowhere near as good gas mileage (22 city, 31 highway) as the Mini Cooper (29 city, 37 highway).

Really just a Golf with a custom body, higher price tag and (so far) no diesel engine option.

UNDER THE HOOD

The Beetle’s new again, but its engines aren’t.

The base model comes with the same 2.5 liter, 170 hp five cylinder as the old New Beetle with the step-up option being the same 2.0 liter, 200 hp turbo four also used previously. It’s also identical to the Golf GTI’s powerplant.

The 2.5 liter engine comes paired with either a five-speed stick or a six-speed automatic. The turbo two can be teamed up with either a conventional six-speed manual or a six-speed automated manual called DSG, or Direct Shift Gearbox.

The 2.5 liter engine stacks up ok, power-wise (and even performance-wise) relative to the standard engines in other cute economy compacts like the Fiat 500 (1.4 liters, 101 hp) and Mini Cooper (1.6 liters, 121 hp) but its gas mileage is below par. Both the Fiat 500 and the Mini Cooper deliver city mileage (30 MPG and 29 MPG, respectively) that’s about as good as the Beetle’s highway mileage (31 MPG).

That’s embarrassing.

And the Beetle’s 22 MPG city is just sorry for a current-year compact packing just 2.5 liters and only 170 hp. (A new Mustang with a V-6 and 300-plus hp gets 19 city, just 3 MPG less than the 2.5 liter, 170 hp Beetle.) Weirdly, this identical engine (and transmission) returns 23 city, 33 highway in the Golf. I have no idea why you lose an MPG or three in the Beetle, which is about the same size and weighs about the same, too.

There is an upside, though.

If you order the optional turbo 2.0 engine, you’ll actually get slightly better mileage than the 2.5 liter engine delivers, despite the additional 30 hp you get as part of the deal.

For whatever reason, VW has decided not to offer the 2.0 liter turbo-diesel (TDI) you can order in the current Golf. That’s a shame, because it would give the Beetle 40-plus MPG capability on the highway – clearly better than its target competition – and 30-plus MPGs around town, which beats hell out of 22 MPG.

ON THE ROAD

There ain’t nothin’ wrong with it – it’s just nothing special. If you’ve driven the old New Beetle (or the current Golf/Jetta/GTI) then you’ve already driven the new Beetle. Or at least, you know how it drives.

What you’re getting is a custom wrapper, not a new driving experience.

The base version with the 2.5 liter engine makes for a good commuter/everyday car – except for its not-so-great gas mileage. One wonders (well, I wonder) why VW didn’t at least put a six-speed manual (with tighter gear spacing for better economy and performance) behind this engine. It is 2012, after all – and five speed manuals are so … 2005. The Mini Cooper comes standard with a six speed manual – which helps explain why it’s quicker 0-60 and about 5 MPG more economical, too.

The Fiat 500 comes with a five-speed – but it can get away with not having the additional gear (and tighter spacing between gears) because it’s such a flyweight. It tips the scales at just 2,300 pounds – or about 600 pounds less than the beefy Beetle.

This is also why both cars – the base Beetle with the 2.5 liter engine and the Fiat with the 1.4 liter engine – deliver roughly similar 0-60 acceleration, even though the VW has 70 more hp than the Fiat. The 2.5 liter Beetle gets to 60 in about 8.8-9 seconds while the 500 is about 1 second behind it. Both cars are borderline slow for 2012 – but the Fiat makes up for this with excellent fuel economy.

The Mini smokes ’em both, acceleration-wise and still delivers good fuel economy, too.

Choose the optional turbo and you get much better acceleration out of the Beetle (0-60 in about 7.5 seconds) along with suspension tuning and handling feel that’s very GTI-ish. The package includes 18 inch wheels (19s are optional) as well as paddle shifters if you buy the DSG auto-manual transmission.

There’s a wildly optimistic (180 MPH) speedo (top speed is electronically limited to 130) and available carbon-fiber appliques. On top of the dash, you can order a set of accessory pod gauges to further manly things up.

It’s sportier, yeah – but in my opinion, the charm of the original layout has been sacrificed without replacing it with anything particularly distinctive. Virtually every new car on the road is styled to look “sporty” and has “sporty” gauges and offers the carbon fiber inserts, which used to be unusual race-car type stuff 15 or 20 years ago but now… yawn.

AT THE CURB

The original Beetle (the old old one) managed to appeal to men and women equally but the old New Beetle was most definitely a chick car – which was a problem for VW. More than 60 percent of buyers were female. The new Beetle has been butched up to try to appeal to guys – the other half of the potential buyer pool. It’s flatter and sleeker than before, with a haunchier squat. Turbo-equipped versions can be ordered with a very Porsche-like rocker panel TURBO decal – and feature red powder-coated brake calipers and a ducktail spoiler out back.

Inside, you’ll find no vase – but you will find more real estate. The ’12 Beetle rides on a longer wheelbase (99.8 inches vs. 97.1 previously) and – the really noticeable item – it is 4.9 inches wider than it used to be (71.2 inches for the 2012 vs. 66.3 for the old New Beetle). The additional shoulder room and repositioned back seats that make the back seats usable are two big improvements. You’ll also find more room for stuff. With the rear seats in place, the new Beetle has 10.9 cubic feet of cargo capacity; almost twice what you’ve got to work with in the Mini Cooper (5.7 cubic feet) and more than in the Fiat 500 (9.5 cubic feet).

Like the Fiat 500 and the Mini Cooper, the Beetle can be extensively personalized with custom paint/decals and a panoply of dealer-installed a la carte equipment.

THE REST

When the old New Beetle came out way back in 1998, it was a novelty item that tugged at buyers’ memories of the original. But today, there are so many “retro” themed cars that the novelty value has probably worn off. The new Beetle doesn’t stand out like the old New Beetle did back in ’98, when it was the only car of its type on the market. The redesigned 2012 model faces not just direct competition, but tough competition – especially from the appealing little Fiat 500, which starts out almost $3,500 less, more than matches the Beetle on cuteness – and cleans its clock at the pump.

I think VW has made a major mistake positioning this car. The new Beetle costs about $1,000 more to start than the functionally similar Golf (which also offers a high-economy diesel engine that the Beetle doesn’t) and other than the still-iconic Beetle cosmetics, you’re not getting $1,000 more car.

You’re getting less car, actually (remember: the new Beetle gets worse gas mileage than the lower-priced Golf, adding insult to injury).

But the more serious problem – not just for the 2012  Beetle but for VW generally – is the tighter times we live in. People expect more than 22 MPG – and they want more than a rebopped body on top of mostly the same-same we’ve been served for years now.

They also want affordability – and simplicity (to the extent that it’s possible in a modern car). Note, for instance , that the Fiat comes with 15 inch wheels, which means lower-cost 15 inch tires instead of the VW’s trendy but pricey 18 and 19 inch wheels … and tires.

Etc.

Whatever happened to the Volks in Volkswagen?

THE BOTTOM LINE

Had VW gone really retro and brought back an affordable Beetle – say $15,000 or so – that also got 40 MPG with a gas engine and maybe 50 with a diesel – I think they’d sell them faster than they could build them.

But this redo strikes me as not enough of the right stuff – and maybe too much of the wrong stuff.

I guess we’ll see… .

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26 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with many here, The 2012 Beetle gas engine only gets up to 31MPG hwy, USA EPA. Pretty crappy in my opinion for a small car. I know their diesel engines are great by why is VW so behind with gas engine efficiency? The Automatic transmissioned Cruze Eco can get 39MPG USA EPA and it’s about the same size as the Beetle.

    • Hi Dan,

      Part of the problem is weight. The new New Beetle is a beefy car – for what it is. It’s also been deliberately restyled to be more “sporty” – which thus entails more power/performance – and poorer economy.

      I think VW did the wrong thing with the car. I would have reincarnated the old Beetle – in concept, as far as feasible. No more than 2,000 pounds at the curb. No more than 1.5 liters under the hood. No less than 50 MPG. It could be done.

      Too bad they didn’t.

  2. I just sold my 1974 Super Beetle convertible which I owned for 27 years and considered a New Beetle along with a Jetta and Golf. But the mpg and prices just didn’t make it and we bought a Ford Fusion 2.5 L which get 30 MPG overall and is much roomer.

  3. I couldn’t agree more of what a complete BLUNDER the new Beetle is. I drove one and lusted after the new look, mostly because it reminded me of an old Porsche 356 to some degree. I know, I have a wild imagination. The only option I could handle is the Turbo and I saw a wickedly cool black one in their limited Launch edition with 19 wheels. It was beautiful and the one I drove. So far so good.

    Then the bummers began. Crap mileage of just 22 mpg city and 29 hwy and you MUST use premium to boot. WTF? Who in their right mind at VW, in this day and age would approve bringing something with these anemic numbers to market? This is not ten years ago. If I was in charge I would have MANDATED less weight, better mileage, better pricing, regular fuel and the same performance – no matter what it took. BAD MOVE. Speaking of the price – $25,720 without a sunroof or navi? The Germans are morons when you consider I can get a new Hyundai Veloster with navi, sunroof and every possible option plus a 5 year 60k bumper to bumper warranty, plus 29 mpg city and 38 hwy for $23k. If I wanted all this on a Beetle it would be ten grand more, if I could get it at all and of course the VW would be less dependable. Even the also pricey Mini Countryman is a better deal because no matter what you get better mileage. And yet, people at VW sit around wondering why their market share is so small. The answer is simple – you guys are clueless.

    • Amen!

      My take: VW should have dropped 400-500 pounds off the curb weight, kept the same basic look as the previous model and installed an ultra-efficiency version of its TDI diesel capable (in a 2,400 lb. Beetle) of delivering 50 MPG. Make AC the major option (offer the car without it, for those who don’t need it) and ditto power windows and locks. No GPS (aftermarket units are cheaper and better) and just pre-wire the car for an aftermarket stereo, to be fitted by the customer.

      Sell it for $17k.

      That would have sold me – and I suspect, tens of thousands of others, too.

  4. As the driver of a 2000 New Beetle, which I bought new, I’ve been waiting eagerly for these 2012’s to appear. What a disappointment. The higher price tag hurts, but I would accept it if the gas mileage were decent. The emotional pull draws me into the dealership. I should be buying one of these cars today, but when faced with writing that huge check for my next decade’s transportation, the Beetle is not a smart choice.

    VW, are you listening? My checkbook and I are going to visit Fiat. I can afford the Beetle, even with crappy gas mileage, and I love Beetles, but I would feel like a fool driving one, knowing what a smarter value can be had elsewhere *without* sacrificing style.

    • Hi Susan,

      The whole thing pains me a little, too. I’ve owned several VWs and would like to like this new one. It’s not a bad car, but it has lost its “Beetleness,” if that makes any sense. It is trying too hard to be sporty – and VW is trying too hard to move upscale (in price) and be the next Audi or BMW.

      The latest Beetle is too big, too heavy, too expensive and too inefficient. Yes, it’s quicker and handles better than the old one. So what? Those aren’t (my opinion) the reasons why most people bought Beetles in the past.

      I agree, I’d rather have the Fiat.

      • VW has officially lost my business for the next decade. I bought a Fiat 500 Sport yesterday with plenty of bells & whistles and paid less than the starting price for a 2012 Beetle. I’m looking forward to the 30/39 mpg and to driving a fun little “Vespa green” car while having money left in my pocket. It was sad saying goodbye to my beloved Beetle, but I feel good about the decision.

        Here’s hoping for a turnover in VW’s management.

  5. This New New Beatle is obviously for the American Market. The more interesting VW is the recently introduced UP! Volkswagen has already shown some variations of this car so it should appeal to a wide base of budget-minded people when more options are offered. Unfortunately, VW is not sending the UP! to the States and if you import one yourself, the Government will take it away with no compensation.

  6. Haven’t seen the new model “in person,” but in the photos, it looks really nice to me. Still wouldn’t buy one though. If I were in the market for that class of car, I’d buy the Turbo Nissan Juke.

    • I don’t object to its looks, or to how it drives – or anything like that. I just think it’s nothing special – and too expensive. Other than nostalgia for the idea of owning a Beetle, why would anyone buy this car over, say, the Mini Cooper or the Fiat 500 or the Nissan Juke/Cube or the Kia Soul (just to name the majors)?

      I’d personally much rather have either the Fiat 500 or the Mini.

      Now, if VW has put the TDI in the Beetle and offered it for around $17k or so…. that would be a winner!

    • You don’t mince words. In the late 60s I drove a pre-owned Carmann Ghia for a couple of years. It was reliable and fun to drive being more streamlined and less top heavy than conventional Beetles of the day. The sport car look turned more than a few heads. A monophonic radio was the only frill. Heat was supplied by a gasoline burning micro-furnace located under the front hood. Hindsight is always 20/20. It is one of those cars that falls into my “I miss it a lot” category.

        • I don’t remember much about the unit except that it is cylindrical in shape and mounted near the passenger side “firewall”. It uses an ignition plug that needs to be kept clean for reliable service. I never gave it much thought at the time but the heater is probably unusual if not unique. I would be interested to learn what you dig up on it.

      • Thanks!

        As most anyone who follows the car press knows, there’s so much press kit BS and/or reviews written without context, from the perspective of a rich enthusiast driver (a car journalist who gets paid to play with new cars every week) that I do my best to not be That Guy. Yeah, I get the cars, but I try to write about them in context and from the point-of-view of real-world ownership. It won’t endear me to the car companies, but my hope is that readers will see I;m trying to pass along some useful insight.

        I do what I can!

  7. I agree that the public wants cheap, reliable, fun cars. This body style even looks a little old. A cross between a PT and a Caliber and probably short on the mileage to boot. And given the recent body styles of, say, the Cube, Element, and XB, this car is seriously lacking in hipster vibe which I think the Beetle needs to be competitive. If it were simple and striking, I’d give it a second look. But it doesn’t look very special to me.

    • Amen.

      They just dropped off a new Fiat 500 for me to try out. It has the distinctive flair the Beetle had back in ’98 but doesn’t anymore. It’s also much better on gas – and costs about $4,000 less, too.

  8. The fuel economy could less due to aerodynamics. IIRC the 2001 Beetle had a cd=0.38 compared to the 2001 Golf cd=0.31. I have no knowledge of current cd figures.

    I agree regarding fuel economy. Any car I get needs to get at least 30mpg combined. for a heavy duty truck 22mpg is great. For a daily driver 22mpg is a non-starter.

    • And for a compact, FWD car with a four-cylinder engine that’s ostensibly an economy-type car, 22 MPG (city) is inexcusable. I suspect that is going to be a real problem for VW as word gets out….

  9. “Had VW gone really retro and brought back an affordable Beetle – say $15,000 or so – that also got 40 MPG with a gas engine and maybe 50 with a diesel – I think they’d sell them faster than they could build them.”

    Yep yep yep yep yep yep yep.

    • I know VW’s not going to like what I wrote, but I just don’t see this car doing very well. The trend is toward low-cost fun little cars – like the Fiat 500 and also cars like the $9k (to start) Nissan Versa.

      VW has been over-pricing its cars for years. Examples include the Phaeton (disaster) and Eos (slow-seller) and the lesson doesn’t appear to have gotten through that what made VW great was to a great extent that VWs were affordable.

      VW should quit trying to be an entry-luxury brand (let alone a luxury brand) and return to its roots.

      • Agree. Here’s my take as someone who’s owned VW’s for a good part of my life.
        1. You.re right. The prime reason to own a Beetle was it was affordable and simple, which meant cheaper to own and maintain. The Super Beetle really was the beginning of the end.
        2. VW’s quality went off a cliff. Remember the Brazilian Fox? Even the German built have been so badly engineered that owning them becomes its own special financial burden.
        3. They went from simple to simpleton. My Passat is a dumb car, engineered like a house that’s been added on to three times. The only thing worth owning in that car is the transmission which makes the car a relative pleasure to drive. But the car is wretched to own.
        I’m with eric: back to your roots. And leave the Brazilian/Mexican/Pakistani/Uzbekistanian build-outs on paper. Make is solid. Make it reliable. Make it affordable and great on gas.
        A bud vase????

        • I hope VW management comes to its senses before it’s too late.

          The market does not need another”sporty” coupe that gets 22 MPG and costs $20k.

          The market could really use a well-engineered, reliable and fun car that costs $17k and gets 50 MPG.

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