August 27, 2014

2012 Volkswagen Beetle: Space and sweet handling

The 2012 Beetle.

The 2012 Beetle.The 2012 Beetle.The 1998-2011 Volkswagen New Beetle was an amusing diversion at best, utterly lacking in functionality at worst. Unlike the iconic Volkswagen sedan to which it owed its shape and popularity, it was passenger-unfriendly and seriously lacking in cargo room. What VW got right in the New Beetle in the late 1990s remains right in the redesigned 2012 model, and most of what was wrong has been made right.

The 2012 Beetle retains the classic sweeping lines, though they’re muted somewhat, accentuating the car’s longer, lower, wider shape. (It no longer mimics the arch of the Roman aqueduct shown in the early New Beetle ads.) The most serious deficiency in the New Beetle was the 5-cubic-foot trunk; the new model is a two-door hatchback coupe capable of swallowing 15.4 cubic feet of cargo with the back seat upright.

The other major problem with the New Beetle was its wasted space. With its high, domed roof, cramped rear seat and shoebox of a trunk, it sent a message of ample room, poorly distributed. Where versatility is concerned, the 2012 Beetle is no Honda Fit, but it restores much of the pint-sized utility the original Beetle exemplified half a century ago.

Our denim blue Beetle had no options. The sticker price, with $770 destination charge, was $20,565. A partial-zero-emissions vehicle, it was equipped with the base 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower 5-cylinder engine and 5-speed stick shift. Fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway — numbers easily bested by many of VW’s competitors in the compact segment.

In the past, base Volkswagen models have tended to be underequipped, compelling buyers to spend serious money on option packages. That is not the case with the Beetle, which boasts V-Tex leatherette upholstery, air conditioning, heated front seats, Media Device Interface with iPod cable, Bluetooth phone connectivity, cruise control, height-adjustable telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry and split folding rear seat as standard equipment.

Critics, including www.edmunds.com and Consumer Reports magazine, speak disdainfully of the base engine compared with the available 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower turbocharged Four and automatic transmission. (Beetles, so equipped, cost $3,600 more than base models. A 40-plus-mpg turbodiesel version, priced about the same as the turbo model, is available for 2013.) Perhaps because our Beetle had a smooth-shifting manual transmission, we didn’t feel the car was underpowered or in any way unresponsive. But we’ve driven other VW models with the turbo, and they do deliver more invigorating performance than our Beetle did.

Still, the front-wheel-drive Beetle is a sweet-handling coupe that rides comfortably and quietly. We didn’t travel long distances in our Beetle, using it mainly for commuting and grocery trips. It was during the latter excursions that we came to appreciate the hatchback’s large cargo compartment, triple the size of the previous model’s enclosed trunk.

The redesigned, Mexican-built Beetle is playing a role in VW’s sales boom in the U.S. market, as 3,451 units rolled off dealer lots in August alone.

Steven Macoy (smacoy3070@cs.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $20,565

Engine: 2.5-liter inline Four, 170 horsepower, 177 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Weight: 2,939 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear

Wheels: 17 x 7-inch alloy

Tires: 215/55R H all-season

Seating capacity: 4

Luggage capacity: 15.4 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 29.9 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons

Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 31mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular