New 2012 VW Beetle 2.0 TDI review

* New Beetle, now with 2.0-litre diesel * First UK test with this engine * On sale now from 20,085...

17 September 2012

New 2012 VW Beetle 2.0 TDI review

Few cars have a longer history than the VW Beetle, but that didn't stop Volkswagen's designers making some big changes to the latest version, which came out earlier this year.

Volkswagen wanted the new Beetle to be sportier and more masculine, so the hippy chick flower vase has been ditched and the styling has been made sharper and sleeker. Purists needn't panic, though the car still looks undeniably retro.

We've driven the Beetle a few times now, but this is the first time we've had a go in the 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel version on UK roads.

This engine is available only in mid-spec Design and Sport trims, so prices start at 20,085. It seems power and looks come at a price.

A sportier and more masculine look replaces the previous car's flower and vase image

What's the 2012 VW Beetle 2.0 TDI like to drive?
The 2.0-litre TDI unit is widely used and well known throughout VW's model range. It's smooth and quiet, only making itself heard when you floor the accelerator. Granted, the standard six-speed gearbox is notchy, but VW's slick-shifting six-speed DSG semi-auto gearbox is available as a 1595 option. Importantly, the engine also provides strong, flexible performance.

However, the Beetle doesn't quite have the handling to match. The steering is a bit slow to react, and the car is too easily unsettled by mid-corner bumps.

The biggest criticism is reserved for the Beetle's low-speed ride, though. There's a persistent jitter over most surfaces, and potholes can thump into the cabin.

The new Beetle's handling doesn't reflect its sporty looks

The VW Golf, on which the new Beetle is based, is more fun to drive, yet a lot more comfortable. Other rivals, such as the retro-inspired Mini, are also a lot more enjoyable.

What's the 2012 VW Beetle 2.0 TDI like inside?
Volkswagens have a reputation for cabins that are great for quality, but not so great for design flair. That's not the case with the Beetle when you go for Design trim the body-coloured dashboard and door panels really bring the interior to life.

The Beetle's interior flair isn't what you'd normally expect from a VW

The controls are a doddle to use, too, but you might struggle to find your ideal driving position. The steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake, but there's not a great range of movement. The small rear-view mirror and thick rear pillars also restrict your visibility.

Access to the rear seats is good, thanks to the car's large doors and front seats that tilt and slide out of the way. However, limited head- and legroom in the back means that adult passengers might feel a little cramped.

The 310-litre boot is only 50 litres smaller than the Golf's, but a deep lip and a sloping bootlid limit practicality. What's more, the height of the open tailgate means some shorter drivers could struggle to close it.

Rear-seat space is limited, while the boot's shape limits practicality

Should I buy one?
The Beetle 2.0 TDI costs between 20,085 and 23,445, so prices are on a par with those of a Mini Cooper SD. Our Target Price mystery shoppers show that you can get much bigger discounts on the Beetle, but it doesn't hold its value as well as the Mini.

The diesel-powered Beetle has average economy of 57.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 129g/km. The equivalent Mini does slightly better.

However, while our True MPG team is yet to test this engine in the Beetle, it has done rather well in other similarly sized Volkswagen models, getting within 10mpg of the official figures.

That said, you're unlikely to buy a Beetle based on the numbers. It will be down to whether or not you are smitten by the car's looks.

It isn't the greatest car to drive and there are other more practical and economical alternatives out there, but there's no doubt that the Beetle will turn heads as it goes past. For some buyers, that could be the clincher.

If you must have a Beetle, we'd recommend the 1.2 TSI with the DSG gearbox, though. The engine is quiet and flexible, and feels perkier than its 103bhp suggests. It's also more than 2500 cheaper than this 2.0-litre diesel model.

Read the full VW Beetle review >>

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By Iain Reid