It's never easy to reinterpret a design icon on the order of the Volkswagen Beetle, one of the most recognizable vehicles ever. But with the New Beetle getting old, the time has for the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle. One of the most anticipated new VWs in recent memory, the 2012 Beetle is getting the VIP treatment with a simultaneous world premiere in Shanghai, Berlin, and at this week's 2011 New York show.
So while the new Beetle is in fact new, it is still very much a Beetle. While the trademark round fenders are present and accounted for, the bubble roof that became a calling card of the New Beetle has been flattened out into a roofline more reminiscent of the original Beetle. The result is a new C-pillar that's more faithful to the original, and a more vertical rear hatch. Much like the distantly related Porsche Panamera, not to mention the original Beetle, this means more usable headroom for rear seat passengers, something the New Beetle was lacking.
There are other substantial aesthetic changes. The new nose is longer and flatter, again like the original, and drops down onto a lower fascia that incorporates just enough of the new Volkswagen corporate grille to be recognizable. The headlights are, for the first time, bi-xenon HIDs with crescents of LED running lights framing their outboard edges. New running boards hint at the original Beetle, while a wider rear hatch rectifies another New Beetle shortcoming. An integrated spoiler is standard with the top-shelf engine.
If the 2012 VW Beetle looks wider and lower, that's because it is. To make the car look more masculine and muscular, Volkswagen widened the new Beetle by 3.3 inches and lowered the overall height by half an inch. In another bonus for the rear seat passengers, the car has also been stretched 6 inches longer overall and the wheelbase is longer, though Volkswagen hasn't said by how much. Optional 19-inch wheels, dual exhaust, and a performance and handling package will further its sporty aspirations.
Providing the actual sportiness will be Volkswagen's well-worn, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with its 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque fed to either a six-speed manual or a DSG six-speed dual-clutch automatic and Volkswagen's XDS electronic differential. The combination is good for 30 mpg highway, Volkswagen says. For the fuel economy-inclined, the 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder found in multiple VW offerings with 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque returns 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. The 2.5-liter inline-five hangs on as the entry-level engine but now produces 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual should return 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, while a six-speed auto should give 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
The newness continues inside with an interior Volkswagen says will have "a quality of materials that goes beyond all class limits," but, given the new Jetta, we'll withhold judgment until we've seen them in person. The dashboard features a painted or "carbon-look" finish and can be topped off with optional auxiliary gauges above the radio including oil temperature, boost pressure gauge, and clock with built-in stopwatch. The radio below them will be a single-CD eight-speaker unit to start, with an upgraded module available featuring a touch screen, SD card reader, and CD changer. That touch screen can be upgraded with a navigation system for the first time in a Beetle. Also available is the Fender Premium audio system recently added to the Jetta, with a 400-watt subwoofer and high-end speakers.
Also on the docket is a glass panoramic tilt-and-slide sunroof that's 80-percent larger than before, and keyless entry and starting, another Beetle first. That new rear end discussed earlier means a larger 10.9 cubic-foot cargo area, which can be further expanded by the split-folding rear seats. As you might expect, safety is taken seriously with standard stability control, dual front airbags, and front and rear side curtain airbags. Even your wallet will be safe with free maintenance for the first three years or 36,000 miles. Whether your sanity will be safe from trim levels named "Design" and "Sport" is another matter.
All in all, the new Beetle is a refreshing reinterpretation of the unmistakable car. At first glance, it's less Sweet 16 and more just-graduated-from-college, a more faithful interpretation of the original and a car for 2012, not 1998. More important[, it appears to address its predecessor's most glaring faults and with any luck, the larger footprint will mean better handling on top of better interior space. The last Beetle was a certified hit, still selling strong more than 10 years after its debut. If this one's as improved as Volkswagen says, we wouldn't bet against a repeat.