2012 Volkswagen Beetle

HERNDON, Va. — Many people would think the most successful single car design in history was the Ford Model T. Ergo, many people would be wrong. The Volkswagen Beetle overtook the Model T for that honor on Feb. 17, 1972.  Volkswagen is ready to market its third-generation Beetle in the United States this fall.

It will initially come with two models — the Beetle and the sporty Turbo. Sometime in 2012 it will again produce a TDI Clean Diesel version, which will likely become the most fuel-efficient Beetle ever made.

Unlike the previous generation with its dome-like high roofline, the 2012 version is more streamlined. Even though it’s only half inch lower it emphasizes the six inches of added length over its predecessor. It’s also 3.3 inches wider.

To simply say the 2012 Beetle is a hoot to drive is like saying the Concorde was fast. The seating is comfortable with leatherette surfaces. A leather steering wheel frames an instrument panel decidedly different from the last generation's single pod look, now with three round gauges (tachometer, speedometer and fuel) that tells you everything thing you need to know. A multi-function display is integrated in the speedometer and among its contents is one of our favorite things — a digital speed readout.

Our vehicle was a brilliant red and the color also ran across the dash panel from door-to-door. A really nice touch! 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.

Audiophiles won’t feel left out. Standard equipment is an eight-speaker audio system and available is a Fender Premium Audio System. Switching stations took some getting used to because there wasn’t any intuitive buttons.

The new 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 that 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.

The standard powertrain is the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that’s mated to a six-speed automatic. It puts out 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. We put a lot of miles on this particularly-equipped Beetle and for driving enthusiasts or just plain commuters this engine/transmission combination proved itself extremely adequate for any kind of terrain one calls home.

The other powerplant is the 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine bolted to the DSG six-speed dual-clutch automatic. (Five- and six-speed manual transmissions will be offered at a later date on both models). It produces 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. This lets the 3,000-pound vehicle scoot along very nicely. EPA fuel economy estimates aren’t bad, either. The 2.5 gets a modest 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway; the Turbo fairs better at 22/30.

MSRP for the most base of the base 2.5-liter w/manual transmission is $18,995. However, let’s face it, few, if any will order it this way. A nicely-equipped five-banger with automatic transmission will begin at $20,895. The top-of-the-line 2.5 with sunroof and navigation lists at $25,195. The 2.0-liter Turbo starts at $23,395 and the loaded one begins at $29,095. Destination is $770 additional.

From our perspective it appears that there’s going to be another “bug” infestation on driveways and highways across the land.

— Al Vinikour and Jim Meachen