2012 Volkswagen Beetle: First DriveS

In a little over a decade Volkswagen saw its Beetle transform from Adolf Hitler's dream of the "people's car" to the foulest of all marketing slurs — a "chick car." Does the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle finally provide a more manly solution? We drove it today to find out.

The front-engined, front-wheel-drive New Beetle, first launched in 1998, was as far away as Volkswagen could get from the simple rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive formula that made the original the longest-running and most-manufactured automobile of a single design platform anywhere in the world.

But nevermind the mechanics. Everyone knows the people of our male-dominated society buy cars for their looks. The old New Beetle's flower vase? Funky pastel colors? A body shape with the same side profile as the three-breasted alien hooker from Total Recall? According to marketers, all these things alienate the vast majority of men. It makes them feel insecure about themselves, their sexuality, and their inability to find a woman with three breasts.

Sure, a car with a feminine side can be a novelty at first — especially if it strikes a chord with a public looking desperately for anything reminiscent of times gone by. But keep the design around too long and it's tantamount to sales suicide.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle: First DriveS

And Volkswagen saw the New Beetle do just that — sales plummeted from a high of over 83,000 in 1999, its first full year of production, to just over 16,000 in 2010.

And that's why Volkswagen hopes the new 2012 Beetle will be seen as more manly than the last one.

Lucky for them, it is.

View gallery »

To start with, the 2012 Beetle not only looks, but is, bigger, longer and more uncut than the bug it replaces. This new bug's no toy — despite the tilt-shift shots I took of it. It's built off Volkswagen's new A5 platform, the same skeleton that gave birth to the bigger-than-ever VW Golf and crossover-sized VW Tiguan.

The 2012 Beetle is 71.2 inches wide (3.3 inches wider than the last one), 58.5 inches tall (0.5 inches lower) and 168.4 inches long (6.0 inches longer). Gone is the triple-breasted hooker silhouette with the middle breast focal point. In its place, is a C-pillar-focused car that looks as if it were aggressively pulled, kicking and screaming, from the Porsche branch of the family tree.

There's also a rear spoiler standard on the 2.0-liter Turbo version that's been slickly integrated into the design by painting the top surface black, and the underside in body color.

And some of the Beetle's longstanding design characteristics have been updated for a more modern look - its round headlights now get optional bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, the hood is longer and sleeker, and the wheels get even larger, now going up to as high as 19 inches on the Turbo Sport package.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle: First DriveS

The wider stance helps the Beetle feel much more planted in the few turns we experienced in what turned out to be a rather tame driving route North of Berlin. But, that said, because the models we drove had no way to turn the traction control nannies all the way off, they would pop on just as I started to get the little bugger's tires squealing. Volkswagen PR tells us the U.S. models will have a button to turn some of the control systems off. Still, they weren't there today.

Also, all Beetles will now come with strut-type front suspension with a lower control arm and an anti-roll bar: on the base model Beetle, it's 22 mm in diameter and is increased to 23 mm on the Turbo. But, since all of the roads we were on were flat, that, and the multi-link independent rear suspension with coil springs, telescopic dampers, and an 18-mm-diameter anti-roll bar, were all fairly useless to us. Their roads are just that good.

Oh, and VW's anti-lock brake system (ABS) come standard. The Beetle has 11.3-inch-diameter vented front discs and 10.7-inch-diameter rear disc brakes. The Turbo has larger 12.3-inch-diameter vented front discs, with red calipers. I actually felt a strange head-fake-like stutter under hard braking that seemed to be the ABS nanny system acting a bit too over-protective. One hopes this is solved by the time we get a high-performance version in the next year.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle: First DriveS

On the inside, the Beetle greets the driver with three round gauges (tachometer, speedometer, fuel gauge). A multifunction display is integrated in the speedometer, is housed in the central position in the triple-display binnacle. Sadly, the fuel gauge doesn't have a 1/1 readout when full.

Similar to the original Beetle, the new car has an extra glove box integrated into the dashboard - the kaeferfach or "Beetle bin." The lid folds upward, while the standard glove box opens downward.

Another classic feature is the optional auxiliary instrumentation package sited above the audio/navigation system that consists of an oil temperature gauge, a clock with stopwatch function, and a boost pressure gauge.

There's also much more complexity when it comes to the sound system options — certainly much more than the original Beetle's choice of one check box for either "yes" or "no." The 2012 Beetle comes standard with the RCD 310 sound system with eight speakers; an optional Premium VIII audio system with a CD changer, interface for SD cards, a touchscreen, and a navigation system.

For the first time ever, navigation will be offered in the Beetle, with the RNS 315 featuring a five-inch touchscreen, CD player, and SD card slot. The Beetle will also offer the available Fender Premium Audio System.

Sadly, out of a desire to protect frail male sexual security, gone is the flower vase that once stood as a beacon of floral-fueled power. Luckily, since I am secure in my sexuality — I decided to stop and fashion my own man-vase for the 2012 Beetle today — made out of manly things like steel, glass, petroleum products, and duct tape. Because nothing says "I'm a man" like a roll of duct tape ensconced in German-printed plastic shrink wrap. (Note: Dan Edmunds from Edmunds.com built the vase while I was driving. I used "I" for purposes of story-telling.)

View gallery »

So, there Volkswagen, I fixed it.

Under the hood, the engine choices have been updated to match up with its platform-mate, the new Volkswagen Golf. At launch in September, the 2012 Beetle will come with two engines: the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic and the 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine with the DSG six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Five- and six-speed manual transmissions will be offered starting in November on the 2.5-liter and Turbo models respectively. Better news is that the 140 HP TDI engine will also be available in 2012.

We don't know about the 2.5-liter-engined model (or the TDI engine, for that matter) but the two 200 HP 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged four-cylinder-engined Turbos we drove today did an admirable job of pushing the big bug's 2,983 lb body down the Autobahn. This is absolutely a more powerful bug than the effete Beetle it replaces. That makes sense as the new Golf is also more powerful than the last generation.

2012 Volkswagen Beetle: First DriveS

Basically, what Volkswagen's created is a more Porsche-like Beetle body atop a less-practical Golf. That said, while it's no rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive simple driving machine, it's certainly a hell of a lot more interesting than the outgoing Beetle. It'll probably also sell a hell of a lot more cars — even if it doesn't have a cool place for a flower.

But, if you're like me and you simply must have a flower vase, you can just make your own man-vase.