2012 Volkswagen Beetle Driving Impressions

The 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine, transversely mounted, cast-iron block, is carried over from the New Beetle, but horsepower has increased from 150 to 170, and torque from 170 to 177 foot-pounds at 4250 rpm. It's mated to a 5-speed manual transmission or 6-speed automatic with a manual mode.

Acceleration performance is adequate, and 75 mph on the freeway is smooth and mostly effortless.

We were not wowed by the automatic transmission, whose side-to-side shifting with the lever at the floor was better than nothing, but won't inspire boy racers. We didn't get to test a Beetle with the manual transmission, but we have driven a VW Golf with that same transmission, and besides being satisfying, it picks up the car's acceleration, particularly from 0 to 60.

If you want killer torque, coming in summer 2012 as a 2013 model is the Beetle TDI, a 2.0-liter turbodiesel with direct injection, making 236 pound-feet of torque. The engine is proven, as used in the Jetta and Golf TDI. It comes either with a manual transmission or VW's double-clutch DSG automatic manual transmission. The TDI will deliver the most fuel mileage by far.

For the best fuel mileage in your 2.5L, the manual transmission is EPA-rated higher than the automatic, at 22 City/31 Highway, vs. 22/29 mpg for the automatic. We landed in the middle, at 24.5 mpg with the automatic, running about 200 miles on both the freeway and around-town.

As with any new design today, the chassis is rigid and the body solid, with subframes front and rear, supporting the suspension. The same torsion beam rear suspension as the old New Beetle and the recently redesigned Jetta is used, and Volkswagen does a good job with this technology that some might call ancient. However, the Beetle Turbo uses a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, for the higher threshold of cornering that will be expected of it.

The freeway ride in the Beetle doesn't suffer for the torsion beam. It's comfortable and consistent. Potholes don't hurt, but rough pavement can make the rear end of the car want to dance.

Most new cars are going to electric power steering nowadays, because it's less of a drag on the system and the cornering is crisper; but the Beetle uses hydraulic assist for its rack and pinion, and this detracts some from the precision. The Beetle has limitations in the twisties, although it stays with you in moderation. However, if sporty handling is what you want, the Beetle Turbo and Golf both use multi-link rear suspension and electric power rack-and-pinion steering. Whether hydraulic or electric power steering, the Beetle's ratio is the same tight 16.3:1.

The 2.0-liter turbo with the DSG transmission is the hot rod, but it's not nearly as hot as the Golf R with its pumped-up horsepower and all-wheel drive (and $10k higher cost). It's a boost thing, and balance thing. The Beetle Turbo is heavier, doesn't handle as well, and its DSG is programmed relatively wish-washy. But that doesn't mean it's still not a lot sportier than the 2.5L Beetle, and more fun, if you need snappier acceleration. If what you want first is a Beetle and then sport, the Beetle 2.0T works.

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