On Wednesday, your humble author had the opportunity to drive several of the newest Volkswagens on an identical 14-mile loop around rural Virginia. By adding a few unauthorized extensions to this loop, I was able to walk away from the day with a reasonable understanding of a few different VW models. Naturally, the four most interesting cars were the turbocharged compacts:
- 2012 Beetle Turbo
- 2012 Jetta GLI (tested in both DSG and manual form)
- 2012 Golf GTI
- Golf R (tested in Euro-market six-speed form)
None of these cars can be said to compete directly against each other, but I’ve decided to create an impromptu comparison test between the four. The ranking is solely my opinion and is not the result of collaboration, voting, free long-term
bribes testers or an utterly inexcusable blurring of the already thin line between editorial and paid content Special Advertising Section placement.
The podium positions will be revealed on Monday through Wednesday, but there’s a loser in every group, and today we are meeting that loser: the charming but ultimately outclassed 2012 Beetle Turbo.
In the comments for yesterday’s Beetle 2.5 review, more than a few TTAC readers mentioned that they liked the “mini-911” or “Audi-TT-esque” looks of the new car. Volkswagen isn’t shy about playing up that Porsche/Audi connection; just look at the Seventies “BEETLE” sticker laid along the rocker panel of the silver car at the top of said review. A “turbo” script which either mocks or pays tribute to the old 911 Turbo decklid badge is available as well.
The Turbo model starts at $23,395 for the six-speed manual model. Our tester was that base-ish car plus DSG, listing for $24,495. With all the goodies — nav, sunroof, leather interior, bi-xenons — you can break the $30K barrier pretty easily. That kind of money would almost put you into a five-liter Mustang. Trust me: if you’re at the stoplight in any Beetle Turbo and a five-point-oh rolls up next to you, hit your turn signal and pretend you don’t see the other guy.
Did I say “five-liter Mustang”? I meant “V-6 Mustang”. The 2.0T FSI engine, which debuted in the Mk V GTI, continues more or less unaltered in this car. Allow me to give you a short list of forced-induction two-something-liters with more power than this Beetle:
- Kia Optima Turbo
- Hyundai Sonata Turbo
- Hyundai Genesis Koop 2.0T
- every Japanese rally-rep to arrive on these shores, with the exception of the Mazda 323 GTX
- Acura RDX
- The old Cobalt SS
- The even older Cobalt SS Supercharged
- Saturn Ion Redline
- 2003 Dodge Neon SRT-4
- That new BMW turbo four, if anybody cares
- The 1991 Dodge Spirit R/T, which was basically a K-car made from recycled plastic bottles
- Pretty much every other engine in the world
Get the idea? Is it any wonder the Beetle isn’t fast at all? About the most one can say about the Beetle Turbo is that it can run with traffic pretty well, as long as that traffic isn’t filled with V-6 Camrys bent on proving a point. Among sporting forced-induction small cars, only the MINI Cooper S is less impressive, producing a normally-aspirated Hyundai Elantra’s worth of power from its turbo 1.6.
Not that your Beetle Turbo buyer will be focused on raw speed. Rather, it will be the organic driving experience that pulls her in. Here’s the good news: on fast back roads, the Turbo inspires plenty of confidence. The limits are relatively high and there’s no bad behavior when you try to look for them. Volkswagen’s DSG transmission, as always, is an utter revelation when attacking a narrow, twisty one-and-a-half-lane. Cinch up your seatbelt, put your left foot on the brake pedal, and screw your courage to the sticking-place, as Lady Macbeth would say.
Believe me, you will see results. The old Beetle 1.8T couldn’t rock and roll like this one. The visibility was wonky, the driving position felt unnatural, and the chassis couldn’t really keep the wheels in check at all times. This one is improved by a factor of ten. Don’t get the impression that the new Turbo is some kind of novelty joke. It’s perfectly competent at hauling ass, within the limits of its relatively poky powerplant.
Unfortunately, “competent” is as far as you get. The biggest issue is the monster wheel syndrome that affects so many modern sporting cars. Never for a moment is it possible to forget the boat anchors attached to all four corners of the Turbo. They take effort to steer, accelerate, and stop. (Brake fade, by the way, shows up early, even on the street.) This is the skidpad-g-number school of handling. I bet it kicks all sorts of ass on a long, sharply curved freeway ramp.
Get it off the ramp and into some fast left-right transitions, however, and the Beetle just can’t muster up any desire. The steering feels slow and the ultimate grip available isn’t well-telegraphed back through the wheel. It’s easy to fall behind the road and start having to play catch-up, which only makes the unhurried response from the helm that much more frustrating.
As the second-lightest 2.0T Mk VI (the two-door GTI is listed at 3080lbs to the Beetle’s 3089), with the shortest wheelbase, this Turbo should be the fast-road superstar in the group. Instead, it’s the least enthusiastic of them all. What’s going on? I suspect that VW specifically tuned the steering and suspension to be less aggressive than that of the GTI. Just a little deliberate preservation of the boundaries, you see. There can’t be any other reason.
I wouldn’t expect anybody to be terribly discouraged from Beetle-buying intentions by this review. Nor should they be. The 2012 Beetle is cute inside and out, it’s a genuine improvement over its predecessor, and if you really need to hustle, it will be your partner, albeit a diffident one. It’s very far from being a bad car, but in this company, it is a no-brainer fourth place.