It's not all that fuel efficient, but it's more fun to drive than we expected.
That's our reaction to a quick drive last month in a blue 2012 Volkswagen Beetle.
It's the entirely redesigned follow-on to the former New Beetle model that was perhaps best known for its dash-mounted flower vase--which quickly gave it the reputation of a "chick car," for better or worse.
The new 2012 Beetle has butched up, with tauter, less rounded lines and a profile that reminds some of an old Porsche.
We don't quite see it, but for a car whose defining shape is almost a blob, VW's stylists have done an excellent job of making it look serious both inside and out.
We didn't spend a lot of time in crowded areas during our brief drive, but we've seen a few 2012 Beetles in cities, and they're attention-getters for sure.
In this case, the particular shade of Denim Blue paint was straight out of the Fifties, and we suspect our test car would have drawn quite a lot of looks.
Behind the wheel, the dash is both attractive and functional, with nary a flower vase in sight.
The interior feels spacious from the front seats, and especially wide. The rear seats are far more usable than in the prior New Beetle model, but while the cargo bay looked distinctly marginal, it's rated at a higher-than-expected 15.4 cubic feet of space.
Nice touches include body-color panels on the dash and the caps of the inside door panels. They're plastic, not actual metal--unlike those on the much simpler Europe-only Volkswagen Up we tested and liked--but they're a distinctive touch that nods to the Beetle's long history.
We also liked the old-school chrome wheel covers and trim rings, which resemble nothing so much as what we used to call "hubcaps" back in the old days--and nod to the shape, size, and format of those fitted to original Beetles decades ago.
The 2012 VW Beetle we tested was fitted with the standard 170-horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is offered at extra cost.
There's also a Beetle Turbo model, using a 200-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four. And the car will be offered next year with Volkswagen's beloved TDI turbodiesel engine, which should be by far the most fuel efficient model.
The EPA rated our Mexican-built 2012 Beetle at 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, for a not-all-that-great combined rating of 25 mpg. That combined rating applies with either transmission.
And it compares, for instance, to the 2012 VW Jetta sedan, which has a combined rating of 26 mpg using the same five-cylinder engine and transmission, or a higher 28 mpg with the base 2.0-liter four and five-speed manual.
That base Jetta, we're told by our colleagues, isn't a particular nice car to drive, but it's more fuel efficient for sure.
In the 2012 Volkswagen Golf, the 2.5-liter five also delivers a combined rating of 26 mpg--in a car with a far more practical five-door hatchback body (there's also a three-door Golf, by the way).
2012 Volkswagen BeetleEnlarge Photo
Behind the wheel, we noticed two things: The VW Beetle holds the road surprisingly well for a car with such a distinctive style, and the clutch pedal only engaged at the top of its travel. The latter we put down to adjustment; the former was a pleasant and unexpected feature.
We're looking forward to a longer test drive of the new 2012 Beetle.
It'll never be the greenest of VWs--those honors will always go to the sturdy TDI diesels, which deliver higher real-world mileage than their EPA ratings, as well as the upcoming 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid--but it sure is fun.
Our 2012 Beetle came with a base price of $19,795, not a single listed option, and only the mandatory $770 delivery fee to bump up the sticker price to $20,565.
The highest trim level of the standard Beetle comes with a power glass sunroof, a vastly improved sound system, and a navigation system, starting at $24,865 including delivery. The Turbo model runs from $24,165 to $28,765.