published Saturday, May 5th, 2012

TestDrive: Redesigned VW Beetle tweaked with males in mind

Our 2012 Beetle test car was dressed up to mark a new River Giants exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium. 
Photo by Mark Kennedy
Our 2012 Beetle test car was dressed up to mark a new River Giants exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium. Photo by Mark Kennedy
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FAST FACTS

• Model: 2012 VW Beetle

• Exterior color: Aquarium graphics by Printree Printing and Signage

• Interior color: Titan black

• Engine: 2.5 liter, five cylinder

• Horsepower: 170

• Transmission: Six-speed automatic

• Fuel economy: 29 mpg highway, 22 mpg city

• Dealer: Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga

• Price (as tested): $21,935

Little boys love VW Beetles.

On our drive to a Chattanooga Lookouts game last week, a spirited game of "slug bug" broke out in the back seat. I peeked in the rearview mirror, and it looked like Ali-Frazier III back there. Who knew we would pass 25 VWs in the 20-minute trip to the ball- park?

The problem for VW is that boys go through puberty, and they are generally no longer enthralled by Volkswagen Beetles.

The new Beetle, introduced in 1998, was a modern redesign of the iconic VW model. It became predominantly a women's car with only 29 percent of sales to men, according to Bloomberg.

Now, the heavily updated 2012 Beetle has been tweaked to appeal more to male drivers, and indeed 43 percent have been purchased so far by men.

"They [the new models] are more rugged with a lower stance," explained Ron Kwiatkowski, sales manager at Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga.

Meanwhile, most women will always love a "bug" for its unique curves and contours.

STYLING IMPRESSIONS

For our test drive, Kwiatkowski loaned us the keys to a fun 2012 Beetle wrapped with removable graphics by Printree Printing and Signage touting the Tennessee Aquarium's new River Giants exhibit. Underneath was a Saturn Yellow Beetle with Titan Black leatherette seat coverings.

There is something about this redesigned Beetle that is decidedly more masculine. The hoodline is lower and flatter, and the overall profile is more like a nose tackle in a three-point stance than anything prissy. The roof pillars are thicker, too, adding to the beefier countenance.

Inside, the Beetle is a typical, clean VW design with simple gauges and straightforward switches. It occurred to me that either of my sons, ages 5 and 10, could climb into this car and immediately operate the climate and radio controls. Simplicity is an undervalued commodity in modern car design.

Highlights of the interior include firm, comfortable front seats, improved forward visibility and those intuitive controls and gauges. Access to the back seat is a little tricky for someone my size but should be a breeze for smaller adults and children. The body paint color carries into the cockpit and accents the dash and doors.

In the storage department, the glove compartment is small, but trunk space is surprisingly roomy.

I was pleased with how rich the interior felt, from the easy-to-grip, leather-wrapped steering wheel to leather-like seat coverings and soft-touch plastic dash and door panels.

Retro wheels with echoes of the original Beetle's chrome hubcaps are a nice nod to nostalgia.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The 2012 Beetle comes in two engine variants. Our tester was a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder model rated at 170 horsepower. There's also a 2.0-liter turbo engine available that makes 200 horsepower for those who want a Beetle with a bit more juice.

Our five-cylinder model had plenty of oomph in midday traffic along Highway 153. Steering was responsive, and handling was balanced and sure. Overall, fun is the word that comes to mind when describing the driving experience.

Volkswagen's free scheduled maintenance for three years (or 36,000 miles) is a real deal sweetener.

BOTTOM LINE

Our well-equipped test car stickered for $21,935, a reasonable price for this level of engineering and top-shelf design. Overall, the Beetle just felt more substantial than several other four-passenger coupes I've tested recently.

Standard equipment includes an eight-speaker sound system, Bluetooth connectivity, a telescoping steering wheel, split rear seats and three-color ambient lighting which magically transforms your Beetle into a lightning bug -- pun intended.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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