The new 2012 Beetle represents another step back to the future for an iconic brand that is simply too good to let slip away.
The world held its collective baited breath when Volkswagen launched the New Beetle back in the late 1990s, before surging forward to scoop up as many of the reconstituted Bugs as the German automaker could produce.
Not many years later, the New Beetle had become not so new and its popularity waned. Although the convertible version maintained a respectable degree of popularity, the hatchback model seemed to drift unchecked year after model year.
Following a one-year absence, the Beetle is back this fall with sharper styling, a roomier and up-to-date interior and more available power. Yes, and the name has been shortened to just plain Beetle, if you please.
That the car is returning at all is a gutsy move. After all, nobody begrudged Chrysler for cashiering the PT Cruiser econo-hot rod following its lengthy run and well after its "best-before" date had come and gone. But VW's designers fought for and were obviously successful at convincing management that the Beetle brand was worth continuing.
What has emerged is a well-balanced and sportier shape that also projects the necessary degree of charm that pays homage to that original look. Gone is the New Beetle's oval, almost cartoonish appearance, replaced by a longer hood and flatter roofline that ends in a rounded hatchway flanked by a set of prominent taillights. Overall it's a look that Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, who sculpted the original Beetle nearly three-quarters of a century ago, would likely approve of.
Also getting the thumbs-up would likely be the Beetle's revised and more people friendly dimensions. The car has been widened by more than 3 inches and lengthened by half a foot. Additionally, the distance between the front and rear wheels has been increased to create some much-needed rear-seat legroom, as well as a more generous stowage area with either the 50:50 split rear seat occupied or folded flat.
On the inside, the term "adult contemporary" comes to mind. A sense of purpose and sportiness prevails with easy-to-read dials and massive air vents at either end of the dashboard. On up-level models there's a trio of gauges (oil temp, turbo boost pressure and clock/stopwatch) that seem inspired by the Porsche 911 cockpit. Gone is the cutsey dash-mounted flower vase.
Getting the Beetle up to speed is handled by three distinct powerplants. Base models come with a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that pretty much carries over from the New Beetle. Optional is VW's popular 140-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo diesel that offers a very real alternative to most gas-electric hybrids when overall fuel economy and initial purchase cost is factored in. The turbo diesel won't arrive until part way through the model year.
The top-rung and most performance-focused Beetle features a 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 that also returns slightly better fuel economy than the base I5 engine. It's also the only model to arrive with a standard rear spoiler.
A five-speed manual transmission, or optional six-speed automatic, are offered in five-cylinder Beetles, while a six-speed manual and available six-speed automated-cluch manual can be had in either the TDI or gasoline-fed 2.0-liter models.
Entry-level Beetles come with numerous power-operated accessories, plus air conditioning as well as cloth-covered seats and an eight-speaker audio system. Opting for the automatic transmission with this engine adds leatherette upholstery, heated front seats and Bluetooth short-range wireless networking.
Among the variety of options is a panoramic sunroof, 400-watt Fender-brand audio package with ambient lighting, keyless entry with pushbutton start, extra-bright bi-xenon (high and low beam) headlights and a navigation system with 5-inch touch screen.
With an out-the-door starting price that falls just short of $20,000, the redesigned Beetle should be well received by the masses -- including a larger percentage of male buyers -- for its reasonable cost, more purposeful sheetmetal and have-it-your-way power choices. And despite the shortened name, this Beetle really earns its "new" title.