Frank S. Washington, Fri, 24 Feb 2012 04:19:12 PST
HERNDON, VA - So many cars and so little space to write about them.
Volkswagen invited reporters to its new North American headquarters here to give us a look at the facility and to let us test drive its product lineup for 2012.
But like most consumers I didn't realize just how many models VW sells in the U.S. until I saw the list. Get this; the good folks from Wolfsburg, Germany, sell 13 different models here.
Since I didn't have that much time, I decided to concentrate on the all new 2012 Volkswagen Beetle. That's right; VW has dropped the "New" from the nameplate and now the Beetle is, well, the Beetle. And that's just the beginning of the changes.
In a word, the "New" Beetle was soft. That is it appealed to fairly narrow segment of consumers. In an attempt to broaden the new car's customer base, the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle is bigger, more muscular and more road worthy.
The 2012 Beetle is longer, lower and wider than the model it replaces. That translated into a driving experience that I found alluring. But first let me tell you about the guts of the Beetle.
When fully rolled out, the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle will have three engine choices. Now, the new car has a 2.5-liter five cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque that can be mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine makes 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to a six speed dual clutch transmission.
VW said there will soon be five and six speed manual gearboxes available for both engines. And that engine duo will be joined by a 2.0- liter four cylinder turbo diesel that makes 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque next year. It will feature the six-speed dual clutch transmission.
I drove the turbo with the dual clutch transmission and was really impressed. First, the longer wheel base and wider track translated into a ride that was as smooth as that of a midsize sedan. There was no deep compression of the shocks on the abrupt or pronounced bumps and the car was really easy to steer.
The 2012 Beetle was especially steady in the rift of tight turns on the two lane county highways here. I remember powering through the exit curve onto the 7/287 county highway to Purcellville and the Beetle hugged the road, the chassis didn't bend and there was no tire squeal. It was an example of excellent engineering.
I also think the VW engineers did some tinkering with the Beetle's exhaust note. It was just authoritative, guttural; I could feel that engine. In fact, I only had a couple of quibbles with the driving dynamics. I thought wind noise was a little louder than it should have been but that was when we were driving at highway speeds. On surface streets, the 2012 Beetle was almost silent. And because of the car's sporty driving dynamics, I thought the steering wheel could have been a bit fatter.
Oh, I almost forgot that the turbo powered Beetle has a rear integrated spoiler that is standard equipment.
In my view, the 2012 VW Beetle's interior was just a classy as the driving dynamics and the more muscular styling of the car. The dashboard of my test car was painted to look like carbon fiber, the interior was all black. I rode to the airport in a 2.5-liter Beetle; the dashboard had been painted to match the exterior. The Tornado Red was a little much for me.
Still, the car's three gauges - tachometer, speedometer and fuel gauge - housed in a pod (called the binnacle) in front of the driver had a sophistication that I didn't expect in a Beetle. Perhaps it was the gauges' chrome edged frames.
Anyway, the navigation screen was centered in the dashboard and it had audio and navigation controls on either side. The climate controls where underneath. Holding on to some of its heritage, the 2012 Beetle has a dual glove box; the top has an aluminum latch like the original car.
Interior space has been increased, especially the rear seats. I think the 2012 VW Beetle can hold a couple of average sized adults in its back seats for a short haul. Overall, interior volume had been increased by four cubic feet.
Prices start at $18,995 for the 2.5-liter and $23,395 for the turbo. I've got to get the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle for a week-long test drive to see how it handles life in the big city, not just a morning drive on twisting country two lane roads. Still, early indications are that the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle is a very capable city car. In fact, it always has been.