by Matthew Wilson
The second generation of the "peoples' car" could easily have been called the "lady's car." Or just simply a "chick ride." When the New Beetle was first launched back in 1998, it was apparent from the get-go that VW designed it to be cute. With its flower vase and bubbly-like appearance, it was something many guys wouldn't be caught dead or alive in. VW wants all of that to be different now. Besides the fact that VW designers looked to the original Beetle for styling inspiration, the overall goal was to make the new car appealing to both sexes.
That's certainly easier said than done as the task of erasing 13 years of Beetle femininity could have turned out to be impossible. We had our doubts and to our delight, it appears that VW has managed to surprise just about everyone. The 2012 Beetle is - wait for it - an entertaining, well-built car that captures the spirit of the original in terms of practicality and yet has nearly eliminated its former alliance with the Lifetime Channel for women. Even at first glance, the third generation Beetle looks, dare I say it...good. It's clearly a Beetle but it has a more premium look.
Unlike the second generation bubble clown car, the new model is more grown-up. With its pronounced front and back wheel arches, flattened roof, and an overall lower and wider stance, the car immediately gives the impression that it's fun to drive. So is it cool enough to join the MINI Cooper/Fiat 500 club of retro goodness? The US-spec version comes standard with VW's 2.5-liter I5 with 177hp. It's not the most exciting engine, but it's acceptable and is also the base offering for the new 2012 Passat. A five-speed manual is standard and a six-speed Tiptronic is optional.
But the real fun lies with the 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 which produces 200hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Yes, this is the same engine found in the GTI and is mated to a standard six-speed manual or the optional DSG six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. VW has also confirmed that the 138hp 2.0 turbo diesel will become available sometime in 2012. So far we've established the Beetle now has a manlier appearance and with the optional engines and transmission (note: avoid the dull I5), VW is serious about making this a driver's car. So where's that infamous flower vase that was so graciously attached to the center stack?
One word: gone. The new interior has nothing in common with the previous model's awkward-looking, so-called modern-ish retro plastic-covered monstrosity of a design. It was that bad and even a used refrigerator was less offending. In another complete 180 from the old car, the new interior design could even be a blueprint for the next generation Golf. It's straightforward, sporty, and not at all gaudy. In fact, the material feel of the dash is superior to that of the new Jetta and even the Passat, though it's not at the level of previous generations of those models.
Buyers also have a choice between cloth and synthetic leather seats. With a base price of $18,995, the 2012 Beetle is a huge improvement over its predecessor in every way. It's not the ideal "peoples' car' the original supposedly was, but it's lost the high school cheerleader fan base of the second generation. Opting for the 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 with the six-speed raises the price up to $23,395 and $24,495 with DSG, but this trim also brings standard 18-inch wheels, rear spoiler, and a firmer suspension. To sum up, I think the 2012 Beetle can be compared to a female bodybuilder.
It's still feminine, but it's gotten into shape and added significant muscle throughout. Men may still not love it, but they'll definitely have respect. Just don't call it cute.