The VW Beetle has wrapped itself so much in my memories that no matter how many other cars I drive, it's always lurking in the background. The first VW Beetle I travelled in extensively belonged to my uncle M.N. Kabugi. He bought it brand new in 1968, a great source of family pride as most of the cars my uncles owned had been bought used.
It was a cream colored with woven plastic seats, had a trunk in the front and large bulging eyes. I can still hear that distinctive rasp from its rear-mounted engine which had quite feeble acceleration compared to many cars I remember. While my dad's old Ford could effortlessly climb the hill near our house in what seemed like an eye's blink, uncle M.N.'s new VW struggled – after all its engine could only muster a little more than 50hp.
It seems like another life, but the latest Beetle VW has just introduced is so reminiscent of the original that my first day's test drive was spent accelerating straight down memory lane. As I turned on the ignition for my test drive, some recessed memory from childhood alerted me to expect rattling windows and that familiar old clatter that the 68 Beetle emitted on occasion. It did not happen.
VW's long history hews close to folklore. Originally conceived as the "people's car" during the World War II era by the Nazi regime, 21.5 million VW cars were sold, making it the most popular car manufactured off a single platform of all time. More than 60 years later, in 1998, the "New Beetle" rekindled another round of "Beetle Mania" that paid homage to the car's heydays in the 60s and 70s – times long past where free love, flower power, and an overwhelming affinity toward hippie culture reigned supreme.
The 2012 VW Beetle ignores the immediate past and pivots back to the original – appealing to drivers' current sensibilities rather than their nostalgia. Here, the designers have given us a car that respects the past but looks toward the future. It's a modern interpretation of the Beetle, with all the benefits of today's technologies and safety features, along with the driving characteristics that define the Volkswagen brand.
Gone are noticeable features such as the pudgy bulbous dome body and the quirky bud vase on the upper dash tray adorning previous iterations. The new model's tweaks include a better ride and more precise handling. A lowered roofline makes for a much sportier and sleeker appearance and the flattened hood, which dips above and between those iconic Beetle headlamps makes for a more mainstream posture.
The car is slightly larger than its predecessor [roughly 7.3-inches longer and 3.3-inches wider]. Overall, the interior volume has increased from 81 to 85 cubic feet.
A larger trunk offers 3.4 more cubic feet of space and Volkswagen's keyless access and push-button start system, which allows the driver to operate without a door or ignition key, appears for the first time in the Beetle.
The test car came with a dual-overhead-cam, 20-valve, 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. When outfitted with the six-speed automatic transmission, the EPA estimated fuel economy rating is 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
The Beetle's safety armory includes Electronic Stability Control [ESC] as standard equipment, as are driver and front passenger airbags and Side Curtain Protection airbags in front and rear. The Beetle includes Volkswagen's advanced Intelligent Crash Response System that shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard lights if the car is involved in certain types of collision.
Amid all these refinements, I have a few nits to pick with this VW. The Beetle still seats only four. Passengers in the two rear seats are at the mercy of the driver or front passenger when it comes to getting out of the vehicle and the backseat is still very tight for adults, despite the increased passenger space. Storage spaces inside the cabin are still minimal – designers passed up door pockets in favor of a large elastic band that can sort of hold a water bottle.
The backseat passengers have access to tiny storage bins in the side panels, but they are barely large enough to fit anything your passenger may need on a longer trip. For the driver, the Beetle's two cup holders are barely adequate, making it impossible to get a drink in or out without first tipping the cup far enough sideways to spill the contents.
The Beetle has a starting MSRP of $19,795 and comes standard with 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and Bluetooth connectivity. A six-speed automatic transmission is an $1100 option.