There were the Type 1, Type 11, then the 1100, the 1200, the 1300, the 1500, though seemingly nobody outside Volkswagen's offices in Germany used those names. To the rest of the world, it was simply the Beetle, regardless of the displacement of its air-cooled, four-cylinder, rear-mounted engine. Finally, in 1971, when it introduced the Super Beetle with its bulging windshield, large trunk and new front suspension, even VW agreed and the beloved Beetle was sold by that moniker.
But times and tastes changed -- except, perhaps, for those who operated and used Beetle-based Mexico City taxi services. Among the changes were those concerning safety and environmental regulations. Of course, such changes are good, but, alas, after more than 21 million bugs had been built, the Beetle's 57-year production run came to an end in 2003.
And it might have remained that way had a few rebels within the VW design studio not created a concept car that looked like a new version of the Beetle, and which they convinced their bosses to display only because the concept had been built around a new all-electric powertrain that VW wanted to showcase to keep government regulators happy.
Of course, you know what happened. Nobody paid any attention to the technology beneath the skin but everybody loved the looks of this New Beetle and the Beetle was reborn, albeit with its modern engine and its drive wheels -- an even an HVAC system! -- in front instead of behind the driver.
This new Beetle even was sold as the New Beetle.
But as they always do, times and tastes change, and here we are in the 2012 model year and its time for a new version of the New Beetle, and now it's not new anymore -- at least not in name -- now it's just the Beetle -- and despite its name it actually is quite new, what with its longer, wider and lower body designed to enhance the car's appeal among buyers who shave their faces instead of their legs.
Well, I've never shaved my legs, and the last time I shaved my full face was nearly 40 years ago, but that fact caused me no hesitation when the arrival of a week-long test drive of a 2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo "Launch Edition" coincided with my annual coverage of the Copperstate 1000, a vintage sports car rally here in Arizona.
While the "Candy White" painted body wasn't nearly as masculine, say, as that of the black 427 Shelby Cobra or as racy as the red '57 Jaguar Cozzi Special or as classic as the light green Aerodynamica skin of the 1942 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS, I wasn't the only person impressed with the Turbo's ability to keep up with the a Copperstate contingent that included those cars as well as several Ferraris and a trio of RS Porsches.
Sure, the Beetle Turbo suffered some front-wheel understeer when I'd have preferred quicker cornering, but the six-speed, twin-clutch DSG automatic transmission could be manually manipulated with ease and there was absolutely no turbo lag so it felt as though all 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque were available whenever I needed them to motivate wheels that, beneath the Beetle's new lower and longer body, looked even larger than their 19-inch diameter measurement.
Several Copperstate participants mentioned the car's dynamic capability and many thought the wheels looked like at least 20s. (The car we drove was one of 600 specially equipped "Launch Edition" Beetle Turbos.)
Not only is the powertrain powerful -- O.K., it's only 200 hp, but that was more than sufficient in such a package, and, as I mentioned, we had no trouble keeping up except when the turns got tight -- but it's also amazingly fuel efficient. The 2012 Beetle Turbo is rated at 22 miles per gallon in city driving and at 30 on the highway. I averaged 36.6, and drove many of those miles at what I'll simply describe as a quick clip.
Propelling the Beetle Turbo is a 16-valve, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The DSG automatic will be joined at some point by an optional six-speed manual gearbox. Compared the standard 170-hp Beetle, the Turbo is equipped with a larger anti-roll bar up front and a multi-link independent rear suspension with telescoping dampers and anti-roll bar. The Turbo also has 12.3-inch vented front discs (they're 10.7 at the rear) with red calipers at all four corners.
Standard equipment also includes electronic stability control, heated and height-adjustable front sport seats with manually adjustable lumbar support, a second glovebox, rear spoiler (painted black on top and body color underneath), alloy pedals, height-adjustable telescopic steering column, Bluetooth/iPod connectivity, an 8-speaker audio system, front and side airbags, and more.
Base price for the car is $24,950. The one I drove was the basic, what VW calls the "Launch Edition" model and had no options, so the bottom line with destination charge is $25,720.
In addition to the pair of glove boxes and other interior storage compartments, the trunk can hold 15.4 cubic feet of luggage and gear; that's 3.4 cu. ft. more than the New Beetle offered.
Even with its lower roofline, there's plenty of headroom inside. The sports seats were comfortable and supportive for both long-distance driving and quick-as-we-could cornering.
But what I liked best about the interior was the steering wheel. It was just a steering wheel. White with red-stitched black leather grip. No radio control buttons. No HVAC system switchgear. No silly paddle shifters. Just a wheel to steer the car!
And while what I'd prefer to steer would be an even lower Karmann-Ghia version of the car, this newest Beetle is something an enthusiast driver of either gender can enjoy steering.