Just in: 2012 Volkswagen Beetle

Consumer Reports News: March 19, 2012 03:38 PM

Back in 1998, when Volkswagen recast its iconic Beetle, it produced a caricature of the original--a car with modern technology, but having more style than substance that ended up appealing to drivers (mainly women) who put a premium on cuteness. A frequent question was whether the company could continue to keep such a design fresh.

Now VW has revealed the answer with a somewhat more practical design that looks closer to the shape of the original.

Our Beetle is a base model with Volkswagen's long-lived 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission. We had to hunt for one with a stick shift to pair with the normally-aspirated, manual transmission Hyundai Veloster we are also testing. In the end, we found one in nearby New York state at a fair price, but no great discount could be negotiated.

We've found this five-cylinder engine is not as powerful or fuel efficient as VW's 2.0-liter turbo. But it's noticeably torquey and uses regular fuel.

Our Beetle has a basic beam axle and drum brakes in the rear, a rather unsophisticated design that we have found compromises handling in the platform-mate Jetta.

The car has Tornado Red paint with Titan black leatherette upholstery. The new more-conventional dashboard is painted high-gloss red to match the exterior. And the nostalgic chrome hubcaps harkens back to the days when steel wheels and hubcaps were nearly universal. Grab-type hoops on the inside of the B-pillar are also true to the original.

Floor mats brought the final price of our Beetle to $20,835.

While the original Beetle provided cheap, basic transportation for the masses alongside such cars as the original Mini and the Fiat 500, now these three cars compete for trendy buyers looking to make a fashion statement rather than a purely rational choice. Once we complete our testing, we'll let you know whether the redesigned Beetle provides good basic transportation or just looks sharp.

Eric Evarts

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