Friday, April 5, 2013

2012 VW Beetle Loaner Review

2012 Volkswagen Beetle

Well, the Phaeton’s at the dealer having warranty work carried out, which means it’s loaner time! The last two times I had to leave my precious P at the dealer I ended up with a Passat. And while I like the Passat, it left me yearning to be back in my car the minute I stepped into it. For the top of the range car in Volkswagens line up, it just can’t hold a light up to the luxury that I’ve grown accustomed to in the Phaeton. Granted, the loaners are pretty much the base model Passats, and I know that once they’re optioned out they are quite nice. But they still just don’t have that special ‘thing’. So I wanted something different this time. When I scheduled my service with the dealer and requested the newest Beetle as a loaner, my service guy looked puzzled and said “Are you sure?” Oh I was sure. And I can say that I am not regretting that. This is such a fun little car.

First Impression

I end up with a 2012 Platinum Grey Metallic base model. There’s an initial struggle transitioning into it at the dealer. Turns out a full set of golf clubs will not fit in the trunk, but thank you 50/50 folding rear seats. The car seat fits just fine in the remaining rear seat. Stepping into the car I’m actually very surprised at just how roomy it feels. I thought I would look like a circus clown driving around in this thing, but no. The revised roof line has done wonders for head space in the rear and the overall openness of the interior. Everything seems very well put together, with a good choice of materials. I love the retro look of the dash. I just feel like I’m sitting in something significantly different than any other car I’ve been in.

My first on road experience was just a short jaunt back to work. At the first light, of course I have to give it the beans and see what the little N/A 2.5L 5-cylinder can do, which surprises me actually. With only 170hp it’s pretty impressive how quickly it scoots away from a stop. At the rest of the lights up to the freeway entrance I have time to explore a little. Since this is a base model, of course there’s not a whole lot. Pretty basic radio function, manual climate control, standard headlight switch. What’s this scroll knob next to the interior dimmer that’s intriguing me? Four options, R – W – B – 0. Hmmm, doesn’t seem to do anything noticeable. Maybe it’s color choices for the dials. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow morning when I head for work in the wee hours. Now why’s my butt getting so hot? What the…heated seat’s on full blast!!! Turn that off right away. Next light I decide to put the loaner papers away in the glove box, of which there are two compartments to chose from. Bottom one is the standard glove compartment that drops slightly down with ample space for the typical junk that one keeps in their car. The second one is in the beautifully exterior paint matched fascia of the dash. It has an oblong shaped silver button which you push in to expose the latch, which you pull out to pop the door open. I love that! It just feels so retro and mechanical. Not much room in there. Maybe enough for a pair of aviators and a couple of Taco Bell hot sauce packets. But you always need those. The hot sauce packets I mean, not the sunglasses. It’s rarely sunny enough here. Let me open it up again. *Big grin* Alright, enough fooling around.

Finally the free way entrance, let’s open her up a bit. Again, I’m really surprised just how well this little 5 cylinder pulls without feeling like it’s being taxed by the duty. It just makes a little noise and does its job. It’s like a Terrier, who’s bigger than he looks and happy enough to show you why. At highway speed it settles down into sixth gear and just cruises along. The suspension does a decent job soaking up all the small imperfections in the road. I usually find that smaller cars don’t do as well as the bigger euro-cruisers at this, but I think the Beetle does nicely. After a short freeway trip I’m almost back at work. The road entering the parking area has a great sweeping left hander. Time to see what the suspension’s really about. Shifting the transmission in to sport mode, the car automatically downshifts to hold higher revs, allowing me to build steady speed through the corner. Firm and planted, the tires hold the road through the turn with ease. No body roll whatsoever. It feels confident. I’ll have to try faster next time.

Finally back at work, it’s time to scour through the parking lot in search of an empty spot. I go ahead and leave it in sport mode just because I love the way it holds in first gear as I’m cruising through the lanes. I’ve been out of a manual trans for too long now. Finding nothing in the back lot I head to another. Let me open that glove box hatch again at the light….oooohhh yeah, that’s so nice. Next lot. This steering wheel is excellent. It’s small and very solid. I love how grippy it is in my hands, and that flat section at the bottom. Turning this thing in and out of lanes in search of a spot is somehow enjoyable because of this wheel. I don’t understand it, but it just makes me happy. Alright, twenty minutes now, time to park illegal. This thing’s so small no one will even notice it double parked. Squeeze in there baby.

As I turn the car off I hear a noise from the door window, almost like when you bump the button to roll it down. After I get out and lock the car I hear it again. I think about the window for a minute and then realize what’s happening. Since it has frameless doors, it actually rolls the window down out of the groove in the weather stripping upon exiting, and rolls it back into it when the door is shut. That takes care of my main annoyance with frameless doors, the wind noise. Clever design VW. Very clever indeed. Good first drive.

The next morning I get to find out about that scroll switch. My first assumption was incorrect, it doesn’t control the dial lighting. Scrolling the wheel I spot a color change out of the corner of my eye. Illuminated speaker rings. Oh, and shadow light out of the underside of the upper door trim. The 16 year old boy in me likes this. He likes it a lot. It is cool. Hmmmm, I’ll set it to red to match the rest of the lighting. Yes, this is super cool. Sport mode! Brrrrrrrrm, brrmmmrmmrrmrrrrrrm, eeeerrrrrrrrrkk. (those are my car noises). Five minutes on the highway I realize I actually don’t like the illuminated speaker rings. They’re too bright, and a distraction in my peripheral view. These are not practical to drive with, off they go. The 29 year old man in me wins. Shift out of sport mode and drive sensibly.

Luckily, the Phaeton will be with the dealer for at least a week, so I get plenty of time with the Beetle. I get to actually live with it in various day-to-day situations. The long term will always reveal the qualities and flaws of a vehicle.


Not everyone will agree with me, but I love the body styling on this one. The last generation, the ‘New’ Beetle, didn’t really do it for me. For one, I couldn’t tell if it was coming or going. It just looked like an unwanted benign tumor on the road. It didn’t do the original beetle justice. This model however, gets it right. From every angle, there are lines reminiscent of the original. The roof line is spot on. The shape of the hood and rear hatch, the fender flares, the more upright windshield, it’s just right. A true ode to the classic with a modern touch. The 50's style wheels are a nice way to keep that retro look, but I think if it were me I’d try to score a set of 70's style wheels. A part of me would like to see a little more chrome worked into the body lines to represent the window trim and bumpers of the old days. Or maybe have a ‘Classic Package’ that includes this. But overall, great looking car.


The driver seat of the Beetle is just a nice place to be. It’s simple and functional and has nice retro flair. I think the upper door panel trim and dash fascia being exterior color matched is the perfect way to transport you back a few decades, and it integrates well in to the rest of the interior. The material choices seem like good ones. I always look at the a-pillars when I judge a car’s interior. Typically cheaper made cars will have plastic trims, which at some point will produce rattles as they age. I’m not sure exactly what the Beetle’s pieces are made from, but they feel sturdier than what I’d expect. The dual glove compartments are nice. The upper one isn’t very useful, but opening it is lots of fun. There’s also a hidden compartment on the lower dash surface by the drivers left knee. It was three days before I spotted it, and was pretty excited upon the discovery. For my loaner with black interior, the matching black headliner made it feel very sporty inside. There’s gobs of head room for such a small car. Front leg room is also good, though in the rear my two year old feels just slightly cramped in his car seat. I’ll be returning the car to the dealer with toddler sized shoe prints on the back of the driver’s seat. But getting him in and out is fairly easy due to the front seats folding up and sliding forward far out of the way. The front seats are comfortable and pretty easy to adjust. They have nice side bolsters for those times that you want to test the nimbleness of the car. More lumbar adjustments would be a nice addition, and might be an option on higher end models.

The systems are all pretty easy to use. The base model has a very basic stereo head unit. But, I’ve had experience with the navigation unit that comes optional, and it’s pretty user-friendly as well. It is a little high up on the dash, so seeking through the radio stations wares on your out-stretched arm a bit. The optional steering wheel controls would eliminate that. All of the other controls are very obvious and make sense. Everything’s within reach and clearly marked. The instruments are well lit with a white backlight and red needles. The speedo is centered and slightly larger than the others, and I would prefer the tach be there. I don’t see a temp gauge, but I assume an idiot lamp goes off if you exceed the threshold. Then there’s the accent lighting on the door and around the front speakers which can be color selected between red, blue, and white. These might be a bit adolescent for me, others might find it sporty.


From behind the wheel, you can tell that the Beetle is always eager to go. In first gear the lower half of the rev band is pretty sluggish, but once you hit about 2800rpm, there’s this incredible surge of power that seems to come from out of nowhere. Acceleration from second gear on is steady enough, but not nearly as exciting as first gear. Driving around with it in sport mode is more invigorating though, just because it holds the revs so much longer. At the same time, it’s a bit of a jerky ride as you get on and off the throttle in gentle cruising. As well as this engine does its job, I’d still find myself opting for the turbo model with a 6 speed manual for more fun. Stopping power is really good, which is what’s expected out of such a light car.

The handling is one of most impressive things about this car. There’s one turn in particular that I always use to test a car’s cornering ability. It’s a sweeping right hander with a normal driving turn speed of about 20mph. I easily took this turn at 55mph, no tire squeal whatsoever. And throughout, the Beetle was always in control. The car wasn’t at its limit at this speed, but I was. I’ve never had another car take that turn with such ease. Part of that might be because all of my other cars have been 2 ton euro cruisers, but still, respect where it’s due. I’d like to see if I can take it any faster, but I think I’d fall out of the car at a higher speed. Maybe if I keep the window rolled up.


The Beetle is not the most comfortable place to be. I mean, it’s comfortable enough, but I wouldn’t drive across the country in it. The seats are more on the sporty side. The heated seat function works quickly on those frosty mornings. This base model did not have a center arm rest, which isn’t too bad since I’m not a one handed gangsta rida, but more of a 10 and 2 kind of guy. My main passenger has complained about no place to put her elbow though. It would be nice to have the additional storage that a center console offers as well. The suspension is nice and firm, which is good for tossing it around turns, but not good for making an incredibly smooth ride. That being said, for this particular car, I’d rather have the sportier suspension and be able to feel the road instead of feeling like I’m driving on clouds.

I am a bit disappointed in the audio system. There might be a better system available when you step up the trim line, but for the base model, it’s just lacking a lot. There is an aux-in plug and Bluetooth connectivity, which I guess is nice. Newfangled tech like that scares me, so I didn’t attempt to use any of it. Everything else is easy to use and doesn’t distract from the task at hand. One maybe minor annoyance was that I had to use a little more effort than I’d expect to close the rear hatch. If I didn’t force it down, it would only partially lock, and the interior trunk light would stay illuminated. The only other way to know it’s still partially open is that when you lock the car you get the signature VW sick goose horn honk. Anyone that’s ever owned a Golf or Jetta should know what I’m talking about here. If it doesn’t honk, it’s not shut right.

Final Thought

At the end of the day, I really love this car. Driving it is just a happy place to be. I don’t know that I would ever call this car exciting, or sexy, or exotic. But that’s okay I think. I mean, if every one of your friends were exciting and sexy and turned you on, you’d probably have pretty big problems. You need a fun friend. Someone that’s just good to be with. And that’s the Beetle. It’s just fun. It makes whatever it is that you’re doing feel like a good time. And I really appreciate that.

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