The Volkswagen New Beetle is a charmer for design and as cute as its namesake, with some clever features. But give me a VW Golf GTI any day, which used to share a platform and engines. It was much more spirited to drive and had more functional interior space.
But now VW is pushing harder to reach me and more male drivers with the re-engineered 2012 Beetle. It is longer by 6 inches, is 3.3 inches wider and has a half-inch lower roofline. It looks racier now, less cute.
The wider and longer body has done wonders for handling, not to mention elbowroom and space in the back seat. And the 200-horsepower Turbo model puts a stinger in this bug.
There are a half-dozen trim levels, with pricing that starts at $20,565 for the base model, which has a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission. Add $1,100 for the six-speed automatic, known as the direct-shift gearbox, which is an automated manual. The midrange 2.5L Beetle with a panoramic sunroof and an automatic transmission starts at $24,165, and the top-of-the-line Turbo (today's test car) — with a sunroof, a Fender audio system, a navigation system and leather-trimmed seats — is $29,765 with a six-speed manual.
A diesel model goes on sale later this year, and there will be a convertible model.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, Bluetooth, eight-speaker audio system with iPod and auxiliary audio inputs, V-Tex leatherette seating, six-way manual adjustable seats with lumbar and two glove compartments, including the smaller "kaeferfach" box, in the vintage style of the original.
I began my test week somewhat patronizing, but the good Beetle bones couldn't be ignored. Sightlines are clear all around, and the front seats have headroom and legroom for a 6-foot-6-inch male with size 16 shoes. (The tall colleague who occasionally "sizes" my testers also said he had more room for his feet than he does in his Toyota Highlander.)
There is decent room in the back seat (when there aren't 6-foot-6-inch adults in the front seats), and the trunk space is large, at 15.4 cubic feet, which is as much room as some midsize sedans have. The back seats fold, but the expanded space doesn't look large enough to stow a bicycle.
The interior design is crisp and contemporary, with appealing plastics, solid construction and V-Tex leatherette that is almost as good as the real thing. The Bluetooth phone connection was an easy hookup, and the Fender audio upgrade gives a concert-grade blast of sharp tones.
The Turbo's sport seats have good support, but the steep side bolsters were showing wear and scuffing from backsides scraping across the seams and leather. The only other critical observation was that the long doors need a better grab point in the armrest to prevent a flyaway door from banging into the car next door.
There is still some body roll, even with the tighter Turbo suspension, but the tires stay connected better than they ever have. The ride quality is comfortable and quiet over most surfaces, except for some wind noise as it pushes up and over the windshield and around the mirrors.
The standard models with the automatic have responsive power and are rated 22 mpg city and 29 highway on regular unleaded gasoline. The 2-liter, four-cylinder Turbo beats that with 22/30 mpg on premium — if you can resist having too much fun.
And with 207 foot-pounds of torque pulling full-bore at just 1,700 rpm, the Beetle Turbo launches hot from the traffic light and has plenty of upper-end power to lead the interstate pack. The pull is surprising and attitude-changing.
Volkswagen says that about 75 percent of sales for the previous Beetle were to women. It may be too soon to call this the Man Beetle, but it has the right mix of pheromones.