2012 Volkswagen Beetle Highline Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on November 01, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

Published on November 01, 2012

I loved the New Beetle when it came out in 1997, but I would never have considered buying one. It was simply too cute. I wasn't alone. I only knew of one guy who owned one, and he was particularly secure in his masculinity. The new 2012 Beetle is another story. New styling is stronger, sportier and dare I say almost sexy, eschewing daisy vase vapidity for some real genuine virility.

It didn't hurt that my tester was painted a particularly racy lipstick red, the kind of colour women put on to make men weak in the knees. Volkswagen calls it Tornado Red, and it sets the Beetle's new design off well both outside and in. From the outside it conjures memories of a particularly fun '73 Super Beetle I once borrowed from a very pretty girl I knew at the time. She was heading to Europe to discover herself and I stayed home to discover how having such a cool car could attract more pretty girls. I'm guessing this 2012 model might have the same effect if my priorities were still focused on Friday night's adventures, but now the pretty girls in my life consist of eight- and nineteen-year old daughters who incidentally loved the new take on this iconic car's shape, as did my 11-year old car crazy son.

We were mostly wowed by the Beetle's sensational interior. It's eye-candy for the automotively starved. Let's face it, there's a lot of very good albeit ultimately boring sameness in the auto industry these days. I end up talking about soft-touch surfaces, quality switchgear, piano black highlights, and attractive chrome or brushed metal accents most of the time, and while the Beetle has these details covered fairly well, with a bit more hard plastic than a Golf but less than the base Jetta it pulls platform underpinnings from, the overall design comes together to happily celebrate the gift of life rather than merely trudge it's way through the daily grind. It's the body-colour trim that does it. The tops of the doors seem to radiate energy as they sweep from the rear compartment forward into the body-colour dash. Glossy red wraps up and over the primary instrument cluster and then around the secondary controls at dash central before a classic body-colour Beetle glovebox sits directly ahead of the front passenger. Even the steering wheel gets the red treatment, along with that high-quality switchgear I mentioned earlier.

Speaking of that, my tester included the $675 Connectivity package that gives the centre stack a nice touchscreen display along with an iPod connector and Bluetooth hands-free, while VW also added a $1,290 Technology package that includes navigation and 400-watt Fender audio with eight speakers and a sub. The sound quality is certainly better than that old Super Beetle, although not as loud as my brother's '69 that had its doors, rear sidewalls and back bin stuffed full of 6x9s (I used to ride back there in my dad's '66 Beetle… yes, before seatbelt laws existed). I still remember John Bonham's kick drum preceding the familiar rat-a-tat-tat of a flat-four and tiny twin pipes while my brother powered up the steep West Vancouver road that led to our cul-de-sac, followed by the rest of Zeppelin's Dancing Days rhythmically bulging the little car's doors in and out as he careened down the driveway. Yup, Greg was home. I've still got the entire Led Zeppelin collection on my iPhone, of course, as any 49-year old with an ounce of cool would, but instead I was chilling to the likes Portishead and Radiohead, not to mention brushing up on some Keane lyrics ahead of their September concert. No matter the tunes, the Fender system made them sound good, although if this was my car I'd be into the dealer fast to get that old 30-pin iPhone connector upgraded to the new eight-pin Lightning plug for my iPhone 5. And yah, you guessed it. VW dealers don't have the upgrade yet.

My Beetle tester was dressed in Highline trim, by the way, nicely fitted despite its value-driven $25,590 price tag, including destination charges. Volkswagen swapped out the six-speed manual gearbox for a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual mode for an extra $1,400, and added the aforementioned packages for a total as-tested price of $28,955. For that you get a pretty nice little ride with proximity sensing remote access and pushbutton ignition, multifunction steering wheel controls, eight-way driver and six-way passenger manually adjustable sport seats in an attractive fabric design, chrome interior accents, ambient lighting, fog lights, 17-inch alloys on 215/55R17 all-season tires, and more, plus all of the stuff you get with base Comfortline trim, such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, powered windows, powered locks, powered and heated side mirrors, air conditioning, heated seats, cruise control, CD audio with aux input, heated washer nozzles, and of course all the usual safety features like side-impact and side-curtain airbags, ABS-enhanced brakes with EBD and BA, hill hold assist, plus traction and stability control. That base car goes for a mere $23,340 destination in, which is pretty good considering that the old 2010 New Beetle (no 2011 model was produced) went for $25,540 in base guise, and it was nowhere near as nice to look at or as fun to drive.

Part of the 2012 makeover was a revised 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine, now putting out 170-horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque compared to the outgoing model's 150 and 170 respectively. While the old car already had the optional six-speed auto, its standard transmission only had five forward gears, so as you can see the 2012 Beetle delivers some measurable mechanical upgrades. Off the line the difference is noticeable, with all of its newfound thrust willing and able from 4,250 rpm, but real change happens when speed ramps up and its 20 extra horses kick in. The engine feels strong, and I for one don't need the extra 30 horsepower and lb-ft provided by the Turbo.

The Beetle just isn't that kind of car, or at least I didn't feel like racing it around as I would in a GTI. Maybe it's the semi-independent rear torsion beam suspension sourced from its Jetta donor platform? It's not as rooted to the road as the GTI's fully independent setup. Then again, you can get that four-link system if you opt for the Beetle Turbo, otherwise dubbed Sportline. As I learned after a quick drive, it reacts as nicely as it does in the Jetta GLI, although I still like the feel of the GTI more. The regular Beetle, on the other hand, is a well-sorted car that handles nicely and delivers a comfortable ride when driven more modestly. I certainly didn't find it unsettled when pushing it through the curves for testing purposes, but it's no Sportline, GLI, GTI, or even base Golf.

On a more practical note I was amazed at how much gear you can stuff under the Beetle's rear hatch, with a sizeable 436 litres behind the 50/50 split-folding rear seatbacks and 846 litres available when they're folded down, but there's a hump in the floor when those seats are laid "flat" and the general shape of the cargo area isn't as suitable to taller items as a regular two-box hatchback. In comparison a Golf can haul more than 1,300 litres when its rear seatbacks are lowered, although the Beetle has more storage space when those seats are upright.

In my test notes I only jotted down a couple of negative comments, which is pretty impressive compared to some cars that fill up an entire page after the first hour's drive. First, the driver's window would more often than not power halfway up and then reverse back down again, resulting in repeated attempts to get it closed. I would have discounted this as a problem specific to my test car, but the Beetle Sportline we tested later had the exact same issue so it seems inherent to the design. My colleague thought it might be caused by new seals that hadn't loosened up enough yet, forcing the pinch protection system to send the window back down for safety's sake. Either way it was a frustration. Fuel economy isn't a highlight either, with a claimed 9.9 city and 6.4 highway for the manual or 9.5 and 7.1 for the automatic. At least it uses cheaper regular fuel.

The Beetle's warranty is a strong point, however, with an impressive four years or 80,000 kilometres of overall coverage, one year more than average, plus five years or 100,000 kilometres on the powertrain.

I'm guessing that I could come up with enough reasons to buy this newly redesigned Beetle if I was in the market for a small car. It offers up more style than the majority of compact hatchbacks, yet delivers most of the functionality buyers in this class want. Mix in decent enough driving dynamics with audio entertainment par excellence, and then throw its more competitive pricing into the mix, and the 2012 Beetle is one enticing offer. That I'm no longer embarrassed to be seen behind the wheel is just a bonus.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Volkswagen, VW, 2012, Beetle, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

Organizations: Volkswagen

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