WOODSIDE, Calif. -- From the sprawl of Standford's campus in Palo Alto we turn onto Sand Hill Road and climb a winding road into California's Santa Cruz Mountains for some drive tests in Volkswagen's new Beetle.
Note that this test car is not the New Beetle, VW's roly-poly-cute 2+2 hatchback bug car that debuted in 1999 as a modern expression of Volkswagen's original Kaefer (German for Beetle), the "people's car" which through 59 years of production became the best-selling automobile in history.
Instead, our 2012 Beetle tester is a new third-generation design that replaces the New Beetle with a longer, lower and wider vehicle which rides on a platform from the revamped VW Golf with front-wheel-drive orientation and offers several powertrain choices but deletes the word "new" in the nameplate.
Volkswagen labels it as the new Beetle, rather than the New Beetle.
It looks like some Teutonic giant sat on a New Beetle and squashed it into an aerodynamically enhanced, leaner and cleaner vehicle that's still unmistakably a Beetle but one with better proportions and less roly-poly cuteness.
It's almost muscular now, broad in the face with a tight-lipped mouth tucked below the body-colored front bumper and front fender flares that bulge to squared rims.
The rescaled body of the 2012 Beetle measures 7.4 inches longer, 3.3 inches wider and about half an inch lower than the 2010 New Beetle, which was the last production year for Generation 2.0.
The longer and wider body creates a larger passenger compartment and expanded cargo bay.
Designers retained the 2+2 layout for seats -- a pair of buckets in front of a bench for two -- but cabin volume increases by 5 percent to 85 cubic feet with more legroom and shoulder space for front riders and, despite the dropped roofline, more headroom for backseat riders.
The trunk measures to 15.4 cubic feet, but with the rear seatback folded down the space expands to almost 30 cubic feet.
A color-keyed dashboard houses the clean-designed instrument panel with three round analog gauges (tachometer, speedometer, fuel gauge) and an integrated multifunction display accessed from a thumb wheel on the steering wheel.
Optional is a drop-down glovebox (dubbed the "kaeferfach" in German, meaning "beetle bin") that's reminiscent of the dashboard bin in the Generation 1.0 Kaefer.
All 2012 Beetle models carry a front independent strut-type suspension with a lower control arm and anti-roll bar.
The Beetle 2.5L has a torsion beam rear suspension with coil springs and telescopic dampers.
The Beetle 2.0T turbo model upgrades the rear suspension to an independent multi-link arrangement with coil springs, telescopic dampers and 18-mm anti-roll bar.
Brakes consist of large discs (ventilated in front, solid at the rear) tied to smart electronic controls. Every edition has an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) plus VW's anti-slip electronic stabilization control (ESC) program.
The 2.0L TSI adds VW's XDS (cross differential limited-slip system) which, in the event of wheel slippage, can transfer additional engine torque to the wheels gaining the most traction.
Beetle 2.5L draws from a dual-cam in-line five-cylinder VW engine with 2.5-liter displacement.
It produces 170 hp at 5700 rpm and torque of 177 lb-ft at 4250 rpm.
Shifter choices are a five-speed manual or six-speed electronic automatic.
Fuel economy figures for this powertrain work out to 22/31 mpg City/Highway for manual transmission and 22/29 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.
Beetle 2.0L TSI stocks the muscle of a turbo-charged yet gas-sipping four-cylinder engine. The 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder plant -- with turbocharger and intercooler aboard plus direct injection -- produces 200 hp at 5100 rpm and torque of 207 lb-ft at 1700 rpm.
This turbo plant manages to nix the customary lag in timing for launch -- that annoying lull of a second or more after pushing the accelerator while the turbocharger spools up before spitting out boosted torque to turn the wheels.
All of the turbo muscle is manipulated through a six-speed manual transmission or VW's twin-clutch and six-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) Tiptronic automatic.
Fuel figures for the turbo Beetle tally to 21/30 mpg city/highway for manual transmission and 22/30 mpg city/highway with the DSG automatic.
Equipment provided for the 2.5L Beetle includes 17-inch turbine alloy wheels, air-conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks, six-way manual controls for driver's seat, heated front seats, leatherette vinyl upholstery, 50/50 split folding rear seatback, a leather-wrapped tilting-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, the kaeferfach secondary glove box and an 8-speaker audio package with CD deck.
Volkswagen lists MSRP numbers for the 2012 Beetle beginning at $19,795 (2.5L with manual transmission) or $20,895 (2.5L with the automatic).