Volkswagen Beetle turbo — No flower but plenty of power
By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
For those owners who thought the bud vase was just the cutest thing in the last-generation Volkswagen Beetle (1998-2011), you may be saddened to learn that the vase has been eliminated with the remake of the iconic car for the 2012 model year. The problem with the vase, auto wags say, is that it branded the Beetle as a “chick” car, and once a car gets associated with a specific demography, it can be difficult to change perception.
The elimination of the vase is no small decision. The vase and the Bug have become synonymous. VW offered a porcelain “blumenvasen” from the very beginning, and the vase became a U.S. dealer option in the early 1950s, when the Beetle became popular with American drivers who wanted an alternative to Detroit’s big cars.
It was flower power and it became the car of beatniks and hippies, although not a substitute for the Hudson or the buses that had Jack Kerouac crisscrossing the country to find the meaning of life. We wonder what Alan Ginsburg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti drove.
The vase was brought back when the Beetle was resurrected for the 1998 model year, and it apparently won a load of new fans. The VW Owners Club has a 42-page thread of photos — from just one owner — showing various flower arrangements
Volkswagen officials admit they wanted the new car to be more masculine. Making the car more manly however will not chase away the distaff side as VW seems to have achieved a well balanced look inside and out that should appeal to all.
Inside, the dashboard includes the same features and controls of all modern Volkswagens. Gone is the single-pod theme of the last generation Beetle where all the relevant gauges were housed in one oval, as is the aforementioned iconic bud vase, which was attached to the left side of the center stack.
The gauges in the new edition are housed in three interconnecting ovals with the speedometer front and center, the tachometer to the left and the gas gauge to the right. A multi-function display is integrated in the speedometer and among its contents is one of our favorite things — a digital speed readout. Optional gauges are available for temperatures and pressures. The center stack includes the navigation/audio readout screen with climate controls below.
But the Beetle has not lost all of its renowned character. The trim that runs across the dash and doors is painted the same color as the exterior. It’s very colorful in bright red. We drove a red car in Virginia and we liked the red interior trim. Our more upscale silver turbocharged week-long test version came with polished silver trim, more sophisticated, but perhaps lacking the Beetle flare.
Along with the standard glove box there’s a kaeferfach, or “Beetle bin,” with a lid that opens upward. It has a textured surface that’s ideal for holding coins for tolls or other things that might slide around in a tray.
Our biggest challenge getting the car “ready to drive” was setting up our radio presets in the navigation screen. Once you figure it out, six presets are arranged in a semi-circle on the screen.
The newest Beetle — we can no longer call it the New Beetle, that was the official name of the last-generation car — will not disappoint fans who love the iconic look even though its lines are smoothed out. It’s still a four-passenger subcompact hatchback using underpinnings of the redesigned 2012 VW Golf.
The car is longer, lower and wider than the one it replaces. The exterior design flows more gracefully, with a more streamlined appearance. Gone is the dome-like high roofline. Even though it’s only a half-inch lower, it emphasizes six inches of added length and 3.3 inches of added width over its predecessor.
The 2012 Beetle seats four and we can attest to being among three largish adults who rode in it at the same time. Granted, the front seat passenger had to move the seat a “bit” forward to accommodate the legs of the person sitting directly behind, also a “full-sized adult,” but it’s entirely possible and feasible.
Admittedly, riding in this configuration on a long trip would probably result in a fairly lengthy rehab to learn to walk again for the front and rear-seat passengers, but in a pinch the whole gang could arrive together. We also discovered that the added weight of three full-sized adults had no negative effect on handling or even speed.
Even though the roof has been slightly squashed, head room is still plentiful. Passenger space has grown slightly, but one of our usual riders who is very familiar with the previous-generation Beetle, said she felt rear-seat legroom was “about the same.” Overall there is a greater feeling of spaciousness.
Cargo space has measurably grown from 12 cubic feet to 15.4 cubic feet behind the seats. Cargo space with the rear seats folded has increased from 27.1 cubic feet to 29.9 cubic feet.
For the time being there are two engine options, a standard 2.5-liter five-cylinder that makes 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. The optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic makes 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque.
Later in the model cycle, the Beetle will get a turbocharged TDI (diesel) option.
We have logged a lot of miles on the base-engine-equipped Beetle, and for driving enthusiasts or just plain commuters the engine/transmission combination — a six-speed automatic or a five-speed manual — proved adequate for most any kind of terrain one calls home.
Of course we prefer the muscle offered by the turbocharged engine, which according to published times, can slingshot the Beetle from 0 to 60 in about 6.5 seconds.
Here's a good thing — the turbocharged engine actually offers slightly better fuel economy than the standard 5-cylinder, rated at 22 mpg city and 30 highway with the automatic. The base engine is rated by EPA at 22/29. On the downside, VW says premium fuel is recommended for the turbocharged engine.
While the Beetle is not a handling champ on the twist and turns it’s not a dog (apologies to our favorite family members), it should please most people and perhaps more importantly, the ride in both turbo and standard formats is passenger-friendly. The suspension has a pleasing way of soaking up road imperfections.
The base Beetle starts at $19,765 including destination charge. Only a manual transmission is offered on the base model, however. To get the automatic, you need to move to the 2.5L starting at $21,665.
The turbocharged Beetle starts at $24,165 with a 6-speed manual and at $25,265 with the automatic. Our turbocharged test car with numerous options including navigation, sunroof and a premium Fender sound system came in at $29,865.
It’s difficult to remake an icon, but we think Volkswagen has come up with the right blend of styling and modernization to make the newest Beetle another big hit; even if the bud vase has vanished.
Base price: $19,765; as driven, $29,865
Engine: 2.0 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 200 @ 5,100 rpm
Torque: 207 foot-pounds @ 1,700 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed dual clutch automatic
Wheelbase: 99.9 inches
Length: 168.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,042 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 15.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 29.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.4 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 30 mpg highway, 22 mpg city
0-60: 6.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Mini Cooper, Fiat 500, Kia Soul
• Unique Beetle styling
• Classy, well-done interior
• Comfortable ride
• Well-outfitted turbo can hit 30 grand
• The bud vase has vanished