Like the fat kid from Math Club who came to the high school reunion with something to prove, the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo wants everyone to do a double take and notice that it’s no longer the archetypal chick car. The new VW wants it to be OK for a guy to purchase it and visit the Starbucks drive thru. It wants it known the latest version of the Beetle has a turbo in it, and it means business.
Doesn’t the now-flattened roofline says "I drink more beers than wine coolers" to you? After almost a decade of the New Beetle, VW has decided enough is enough. Cuteness overload has worn thin. The latest Beetle has visual cues that distinguish it from its predecessor. And it has the driving dynamics to make it feel more masculine. So, is the 2.0-liter turbo four mated to a double clutch automatic six-speed enough to propel this bug to a new dawn?
The new Beetle Turbo features the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine as the Eos I drove previously. The 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1,800-5,000 RPM make driving this Beetle quite fun. Passing cars on the freeway was a breeze in S mode. It’s a full second quicker to 60 mph than the VW Eos Lux (6.3 seconds vs. 7.3) thanks to lower curb weigh. And it’s also half-second quicker than the new Jetta GLI, which also has the same engine but is heavier.
The six-speed DSG (double clutch auto) transmission optimizes for MPG, and constantly upshifts in short bursts. The best way to get the most out of the engine is to simply floor the accelerator from a complete stop and drop the transmission in S mode. Keep your foot planted. The new Beetle has a multilink rear suspension tuned for more comfort than driving dynamics. The car feels light in the back, which sudden turns and driving in loose gravel will communicate.
Even though the latest Beetle tries hard to look more serious and less feminine, I bet at first glance 80 percent of observers will have a hard time telling it apart from the previous generation New Beetle.
The front end largely carries over unchanged, with big round headlights similar to those on the last car. The signature fenders and rear quarter panels look similar, although in profile the roofline arch has been flattened. It's similar to how hot rodders chop off the head of the original Beetle and the 2005 Ragster Beetle concept.
Taillights are much bigger now and the shape less cutesy, and the 18s on the Turbo look like they mean business. The overall stance of the car is still what plagues FWD cars from VW, a bit too “cabin forward” and it lacks the well-heeled stance of the original Beetle. The stance on the redesigned 2012 model is improved over the previous generation New Beetle.
The Turbo model also sports a bigger and fixed rear spoiler instead of the flip-up glass one on the previous Turbo. I wish VW had made the headlights angrier looking by flattening out the top of the units as well, and by adding more grooves into the flat hood.
The 2012 Beetle is stuck somewhere between the cute New Beetle and what could have been a more original rethink of the Beetle design language. It is simply “less cute” instead of just “better looking.”
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The interior of the 2012 Beetle Turbo is refined and the quality of the materials is what one can expect from a more expensive car. The materials feel rich to the touch and the buttons and levers all have a quality feel and give to them. The seats are quite comfortable and supportive in spirited driving.
The steering-wheel mounted controls are not too overwhelming and allow the driver to mess with a decent amount of phone, voice-control, cruise control, menu options, and the nav/audio touch screen unit on the center console is intuitive and easy to reach.
The Fender audio system sounds good and I love the Fender labels on the tweeters -pretty kickass. The rear head room is a bit cramped thanks to the sloping rear window, but much improved over the previous generation New Beetle, which resulted in massive neck cramps among Beetle owners’ friends who are slow to call shotgun.
So has the former fat kid from Math Club proven his new coolness to former high school classmates? Well, it feels like he’s trying a little too hard. It doesn’t matter that now he’s lost his baby fat and sports a new hairdo. He's still that kid from Math Club. He may be more successful now than many of his classmates, but he's still the ame kid who is just a little insecure.
Truthfully, the new Beetle Turbo is on solid footing, with a powerful little gem of an engine and a sophisticated suspension set-up. It is still a Beetle with round headlights and curvy fenders, and it’s still a cute car. That is why people would buy this car. Not because of performance, not because of driving dynamics, and certainly not because you want to pick up chicks.
The reason people buy the Beetle is because its styling is distinctive and sets it apart from all other compact cars on the road. Buyers who just want a solid performance compact VW can opt for the GTI, and those who need a little more room can get the Jetta GLI. The Math Club kid should stop worrying about how his former classmates think of him now and concentrate on how to be comfortable in his own skin.
- Surprisingly fast acceleration
- Revised styling is more masculine
- Refined interior & build quality
- Revised styling is less cute
- Tight rear space
- Feels front-end heavy
Meow Gallery: The gallery is empty.
Article Last Updated: August 27, 2021.
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.