2012 Volkswagen Beetle Sportline
2012 Volkswagen Beetle Sportline. Click image to enlarge

First Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Beetle

Manufacturer’s web site
Volkswagen Canada

Review and photos by Mike Schlee

Photo Gallery:
2013 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo

When Volkswagen released the New Beetle in 1997, the rear-engine air-cooled crowd had a conniption fit. They demanded answers: how could Volkswagen decimate their legendary punch buggy with this front-wheel drive cutesy abomination? Well, vehicle sales of course. If you have an iconic vehicle name and shape that anyone from a toddler to a senior can instantly recognize, why not try to bank on it?

Needless to say, the New Beetle was a success the world over and now, nearly 15 years later, Volkswagen is making a new New Beetle; one that looks more like the old Beetle than the old ‘New Beetle’ but without the word ‘new’ in front of this newest Beetle. Confused yet?

The restyled 2012 Beetle is now assembled at Volkswagen’s plant in Puebla, Mexico alongside the current Jetta. As you may know, the Volkswagen Jetta grew significantly during its latest redesign and with the Beetle sharing the same basic platform, it too has grown. This pays off in spades when it comes to rear seat and trunk space. The previous ‘New Beetle’s’ afterthought of a rear seat has been replaced by a tight, but now livable seating area even for someone of my height. The trunk is equally usable now and boasts 440 L of space under the rear hatch which expands to 850 L when the rear seats are folded down-ish; they do not go completely flat.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Sportline
2012 Volkswagen Beetle Sportline
2012 Volkswagen Beetle Sportline
2012 Volkswagen Beetle Sportline. Click image to enlarge

The downside of being based on the new Jetta platform is an interior that has taken a step backward from previous Volkswagens. Close the driver’s door and an echoing hollow rattle emits the likes of which I haven’t heard since a 1994 Cavalier. The actual interior design ranks up there with some of the most boring in recent memory and the overuse of faux carbon fiber is doing the Beetle no favours. Although hard plastics dominate the interior, the parts that are touched regularly, like the thin-rimmed steering wheel, do feel of great quality.

Once seated in the great, comfortable front seat though, things begin to look up. The driving position is perfectly situated and sightlines all around are impressive minus a bit of blockage from the rear C pillar. There are cubby holes and storage spaces everywhere, but they’re on the small side. Being that the Beetle is formed in the airy, curvy shape of the original, the windshield took a while to get used to as it felt so far in front of me.

My tester was the top-of-the-line 2012 Beetle Sportline. This means items like 18-inch alloy wheels, alloy sport pedals, dual exhaust, fog lights, running boards in black, keyless access w/start & stop button, leather sport seats, sport suspension and of course, the 2.0 L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, were included. Added to this trim were the Connectivity Package (Bluetooth) and Technology Package (Fender audio system and GPS navigation).

Unfortunately, my test car did not include the slick 6-speed manual transmission and came equipped with the optional automatic unit. But, if it must have an automatic transmission, at least it is a good one. The transmission I am referring to is Volkswagen’s 6-Speed dual-clutch direct-shift gearbox. Featuring two clutches and multiple shafts, this transmission is essentially a manual transmission missing a clutch pedal. Applied for years in several Volkswagen products, nothing surprised me about its operation. The transmission can still be confused in stop-and-go traffic where it hesitates in gear selection or gets caught out in the wrong gear, and it is still a blast to drive in ‘sport’ mode or ‘manual’ mode. The slow reactions and minor turbo lag found in the transmission’s regular ‘Drive’ mode meant I spent most of the time driving it in ‘Sport’ or ‘Manual’ which hurt fuel consumption, racking up an average of 10 L/100 km. Still, that is not too far off Natural Resources Canada official ratings of 9.9 L/100 km city and 6.5 L/100 km highway.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Sportline
2012 Volkswagen Beetle Sportline
2012 Volkswagen Beetle Sportline
2012 Volkswagen Beetle Sportline. Click image to enlarge

Sending power to this transmission is Volkswagen’s 2.0 L turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Saddled in a vehicle weighing just 1,401 kg, the Beetle features some serious forward thrust. Well, that is once the turbos spool up, as the motor does exhibit some initial turbo lag as mentioned earlier. Like the GLI with which it shares many components, the Beetle Turbo has a sound tube that pipes engine noise from the intake to the cabin. Clever tuning has produced an engine note that falls somewhere in between the rumble of a Subaru boxer-four and the growl of an Audi five-cylinder motor. But rest assured, those not interested in engine noise will be pleased to hear that the engine is nearly quiet, spinning 2,300 rpm as it motors down the road at 120 km/h.

The Beetle handles very well for a compact front-wheel-drive vehicle, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is great. It is not possible to disable the traction control from the driver’s seat, which hampers spirited driving. Fast corner exits are slowed down when the generous torque from the 2.0L turbo slips the front tires and activates the traction control. As well, the chassis is so sorted out that I felt almost isolated from how well the car can actually handle corners. During our Funky Front-Wheel Drive Turbo Comparison Test, the Beetle wouldn’t even break a sweat through corners where the 500 Abarth and Veloster Turbo were a bit of a handful for their drivers. And, as can be expected, the Volkswagen’s strong point of great steering feel is present and accounted for.

So basically, Volkswagen has kept the driving experience of the previous New Beetle and greatly improved interior function and comfort. But those are both secondary reasons someone will buy a Beetle. If practicality is number one on your list, then the GTI is a no brainer. The Beetle on the other hand is for those who want a bit of style. And here, Volkswagen has done a fabulous job. This Beetle not only looks great, but looks far more like the legendary rear engine Beetle; just in a double-the-size kind of way. The fender flares, rear taillights and headlights all look modern but subtly retro at the same time. Add in the spoiler, dual exhausts and 18-inch rims on my Sportline and it also looks purposeful. The only question that remains is whether this new shape will better attract a new demographic of buyer, or alienate the previous New Beetle buyer who preferred its more cutesy looks.

Pricing: 2012 VW Beetle Sportline
Base price: $30,425
Options: $1,290 (Technology Package), $675 (Connectivity Package)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,365
Price as tested: $33,855

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