2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo Launch EditionPosted on July 18th, 2012
Newest model amps up style and performance
By Nina Russin
When Ferdinand Porsche penned the original Volkswagen Beetle concept in 1934, his intent was to produce a “people’s car” for German citizens. Interestingly enough, the car’s success was largely determined by the car’s popularity in other countries, including the United States.
The Beetle emerged as an icon for the sixties counterculture in America, similar to British invasion bands. Just as four musicians from Liverpool changed the tide for American rock music, the Beetle struck a chord among college kids turned off by American industry.
The compact Beetle, with its six-volt electrical system and air-cooled four-cylinder engine was the antithesis of American muscle cars. One could argue that it was the first “green” car, for the original generation of environmentally-conscious Americans. The Beetle undoubtedly paved the way for the Rabbit and Scirocco, produced in response to the fuel crises of the 1970s.
The New Beetle unveiled in 1998 played off the rounded design of the original model, but with even more emphasis on the car’s circular fender flares and hemispherical roof. In this writer’s opinion, the New Beetle was too much design study and not enough substance. The bloom on the rose faded relatively quickly, leaving product planners wondering what the next step should be.
They decided to go back to the Beetle’s roots, with a new body style which was more muscular and powertrain options that could draw driving enthusiasts who had been turned off by the New Beetle back into the dealership.
Turbo model packs a punch under the hood
A turbocharged model is the heart of the product strategy for the all-new 2012 Beetle. Although the turbocharged Beetle costs about $4000 more than the base model with a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, it produces 30 more horsepower and 30 more foot-pounds of torque, with equivalent gas mileage. Buyers wanting even better fuel economy can opt for a turbo-diesel model which averages 39 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA.
Both the 2.5-liter and two-liter turbocharged engines have chain drives. While chains are slightly noisier than timing belts, they don’t wear out over time, saving the owner an expensive maintenance procedure at about 60,000 miles.
Base price for the Beetle Turbo is $24,950, excluding the $770 delivery charge. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or dual-clutch automatic transmission. Friction couplings give the automatic transmission crisper shifting. The automatic transmission includes a sport mode which enables the driver to select gears manually.
Standard comfort and convenience features include keyless entry, air conditioning, Bluetooth interface, MP3 compatibility, a six-speaker audio system, rear spoiler and split-folding rear seats to extend the cargo floor. The factory warranty includes complimentary scheduled maintenance for up to three years or 36,000 miles.
Extended test drive in Arizona
I briefly drove the Beetle Turbo last summer at a media event in Virginia. This week I had the opportunity to put about 100 miles on a similar model on the streets and highways around Phoenix, Arizona. My second experience behind the wheel confirmed my original opinion, that the newest-generation Beetle is light years ahead of the model it replaces.
The body is longer and lower, making it more aerodynamic. The car’s extended roofline and large wheel arches give the car a planted, confident stance. The interior has also been improved, with attractive cloth upholstery, easy-to-use manual seat adjustments and a flat-bottom steering wheel.
Designers deep-sixed the bud vase mounted next to the steering wheel on the 1998 model, which had turned off a lot of male customers. A second glovebox painted to match the dashboard trim is a nod to the original car.
Because the engine develops peak torque at 1700 rpm, acceleration off the line is excellent. I noticed some turbo lag when I pushed the car hard, but never felt compromised by it. Throttle response makes it easy to weave through traffic or pass slower vehicles on the highway.
The Beetle Turbo has an electric power assist steering system, as opposed to the traditional hydraulic unit on the base car. In addition to saving space under the hood, it keeps weight off the chassis. Despite having larger wheels and tires than the base model, curb weight is within 100 pounds.
The turning circle for the turbocharged car with 18-inch wheels and base model with 17-inch rims is identical: 35.4 feet. The Beetle is an excellent choice for urbanites needing to park on the street and perform U-turns on narrower roads.
The suspension on the turbocharged car is also upgraded from the base model, with a multi-link design replacing the torsion beam rear axle. The Beetle Turbo has stabilizer bars on both axles to keep the chassis flat in the corners. Four-wheel disc brakes with three-channel antilock braking provide linear stopping on wet and snow-covered roads.
With a curb weight of 3089 pounds, the Beetle Turbo is a light car, and feels well balanced front-to-rear. The rear spoiler enhances aerodynamic efficiency as compared to the base model: cD is 0.367. The car’s five-inch ground clearance somewhat limits its maneuverability through snow, but it keeps the center of gravity low to the ground for better performance.
Visibility around the perimeter is good. I had no problem monitoring traffic in front and in adjacent lanes on the freeway. The rear view has some blind spots, but offers adequate visibility.
The Beetle’s stylish interior is a big improvement over the model it replaces. I found the front seats to have adequate lower lumbar support for test drives of several hours. A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view and a safe distance from the front airbag.
The rear seats are small: access and egress is not especially good. They will hold children or small adults on short trips around town. Folded flat, they extend the cargo floor for longer items such as golf bags, skis and snowboards.
A digital display on the gauge cluster gives the driver instant fuel economy and driving range. The center stack screen displays audio settings. Designers should have added a hood over the screen: it tends to disappear in bright sunlight.
The front doors have small map pockets made with elastic. They will stretch open wide enough for a water bottle. There is an open center stack bin large enough for small electronic devices and compact discs. The gloveboxes provide concealed storage for front seat passengers.
The Volkswagen Beetle Turbo comes with front and side airbags, daytime running lamps, active front head restraints, antilock brakes, traction and stability control.
Volkswagen builds the Beetle at its Puebla, Mexico assembly plant.
Like: The newest Beetle captures the spirit of the original model with a stylish, muscular exterior and performance to back it up. The turbocharged two-liter engine combines excellent power off the line with better-than-average gas mileage.
Dislike: Side curtain airbags are not available, leaving rear seat passengers unprotected in side impacts.
Model: Beetle Turbo Launch Edition
Base price: $24,950
As tested: $25,720
Horsepower: 200 Hp @ 5100 rpm
Torque: 207 lbs.-ft. @ 1700 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy*: 22/30 mpg city/highway
Comment: The manufacturer recommends the use of premium unleaded gasoline.
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