Volkswagen has an extended portfolio now that features sedans, hatchbacks, wagons, minivans, SUVs, and even a hardtop convertible.
But there was a time and not so long ago that if you mentioned the German automaker's name or referred to a VW, you were talking about one vehicle.
And for good reason.
From the time the first production Beetle rolled off the assembly line in 1938 and just past the turn over the century, more than 21.5 million Beetles were sold around the world, making it the most popular car manufactured off a single platform of all-time, according to company publicists.
No doubt, the Beetle hit is zenith in popularity in the 1960s, when it identified readily as the “people’s car” with the emerging hippie generation.
But its success and appeal began to wane in the ’70s with the emergence of many more attractive compacts and subcompacts on the market, many coming from, ironically, Germany’s old World War II ally Japan.
The Beetle virtually disappeared from the American market in the 1979, when production in Germany was halted. But it continued to be made in Mexico and other plants around the world on a stop-and-go basis through the 1990s. Finally, in 2003, the last of the air-cooled, rear-engine Beetles rolled off the assembly line in Mexico.
By then, however, VW already had introduced to wider audiences its New Beetle, which had its water-cooled engine in the front but took on many of the readily identified signatures of the original Beetle in shape and appearance.
The 1998 New Beetle even paid homage to its past with the placement of a small, tubular bud vase attached to the dash. Ah, where have all the flowers gone?
Now, for 2012, the Beetle moves into its next generation, with very much the same traits and personality of its predecessors but in a bolder and more dynamic package. (And no bud vase.)
It’s a bit wider (3.3 inches), longer (6.0 inches), and lower (0.5 inch) than the New Beetle -- for the record, the 2012 Beetle may be new, but it is no longer the New Beetle when it comes to nomenclature, just plain old new Beetle -- and that results in slight more interior volume for the passengers (85.1 cubic feet to the old 84.3).
It comes with a choice of two power train packages, a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger with VW’s DSG six-speed, dual-clutch automatic tranny. The former puts out 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet or torque, the latter 200 hp and 207 lb.-ft. of torque. (Models with five- and six-speed manual transmissions are in production now.)
A turbocharged diesel version is coming out later this year that will help the torque figure to a whopping 234 lb.-ft. and increase fuel economy figure from the 22 city/29 highway neighborhood for gasoline power to 29/40/33, making it the most fuel-efficient Beetle ever.
I drove the 2.5L model with an automatic transmission with a panoramic sun roof and navigation system, the first nav system to be offered on the Beetle. It’s one of four trim levels offered in the Beetle, which run in price from $18,995 to $24.195.
It’s a fun car to drive, though I would prefer a manual transmission over that automatic even though it does have manual shift capability. Not neck-snapping getaways, but quick enough if you work it right. If you’re interested in more performance, you might want to try out the turbo version or wait for the diesel and its advantage in torque.
The interior is nicely designed and functional. The flat-bottom steering wheel has redundant, easy-to-use audio controls, and the climate control works off large buttons placed underneath the audio display in the center of the dash.
Hmm, speaking of the dash, I liked its red wrap-around, contoured appearance with the upper and lower glove boxes on the far right. Nice and clear, it gives the interior a kind of space-age look.
The radio was easy to operate as well, always a big plus in my book.
As for the navigation system, I’m not too sure about it. For one thing the screen is small, very small in my book. It looks kind of like many of the screens on some Garmin systems, but it’s not a Garmin. It is is supplied by a firm called Technisat, a German manufacturer.
It’s not that difficult to see the road details because of the large scale, but at the same time that large scale cuts down on the size of the area that can be displayed.
Still, if you are driving in a strange or unfamiliar area, it’s better than nothing.
It was easy to enter a destination, but it was either my mistake in typing in the numbers or a system flaw that took me several blocks past my hotel when I gave it a try. I tried to go back and check to see I could verify what numbers I had typed in, but the system wouldn’t let me do it.
Just put it down as my mistake.
The system also had the annoying habit of advising me to continue on the same road from time to time as I made my way north on I-95. Note to programmers: If you don’t tell me to take a freeway exit or make a turn at some point, you don’t need to remind me to keep going straight on an interstate. It kind of reminded me of this: www.onionsportsnetwork.com/video/nascar-coach-reveals-winning-strategy-drive-fast,14154/.
I didn’t actually ride in the backseat, but I did venture back there, and it’s not as bad as you might think. It’s not that difficult to get back there in the first place, which is half the battle in a two-door, and it wouldn’t seem to be too cramped for shorter jaunts. Not sure I’d want to go all the way cross-country riding back there, but for smaller children I wouldn’t see a problem.
Cargo capacity is fine for most chores (15.4 cubic feet), but you gain only another 14.5 cubic feet by folding the rear seats.
Overall, I would have to say the new Beetle is a worthy successor to the New Beetle and serves its heritage well. I don’t see Volkswagen selling 21.5 million of them over the next few decades -- too many other choices on the market today. But it should get a hefty number.