2012 Beetle gets 'manly' redo

— -- Man up, Volkswagen is saying to its iconic Beetle. We love all those female buyers, but the cute look is leaving too much male money on the table.

The 2012 Beetle ("New" no longer is part of its name) is a redesign that's bigger, still rounded but sleeker, more powerful and sits on a wider stance.

The dashboard bud vase of the previous model wasn't carried over.

Instead, you can adorn the dashboard with optional gauges to monitor temperatures and pressures.

VW U.S. chief Jonathan Browning says the New Beetle, discontinued in August 2010, had "a very large contingent of female buyers. We want to keep those buyers and expand to male buyers."

Women were registered owners of 60.6% of New Beetles last year, up from 56.1% in 2009, according to industry tracker TrueCar.com. "It is the most female-oriented car on the market," says TrueCar's Jesse Toprak. No. 2: Nissan Rogue, at 56.3% and 53.5% female owners.

Experience tells automakers that women will buy a "guy's car," but men are less likely to buy what still is called in the business "a chick's car," or "a girl's car."

We'll soon see how well VW read the tea leaves. The 2012 Beetle hits showrooms next month, starting at the same $18,995 (before $770 shipping) as the model it replaces. It has a meaner look outside, more like the TT from VW's corporate relative Audi.

Beetle and TT share some hardware, too, though neither brand brags about that.

In dark colors, with the right wheels, the new Beetle does have a masculine look and feel, so maybe it'll be fine.

The 2010 had only a 2.5-liter five-cylinder rated just 150 horsepower. The 2012 uses a modified version of that engine rated 170 hp, same as in other VW models.

And there's now an optional 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated 200 hp for spirited drivers. Not to say the frisky always are male, but the auto industry thinks they usually are.

Inside, the bigger cabin is appreciated, and works toward the man thing because men generally are bigger than women.

Rear seat legroom is down a bit, despite a longer wheelbase, but the back seat is repositioned and more comfortable.

The short take: The 2012 Beetle is a very nice car' its changes are welcome, as is its hold-the-line starting price.

Solid, yet agile

It is, fitting for an icon, a great example of things good and bad about VW. On the plus side: solid feel, quick and agile. On the minus side: no backup camera, although the government intends to require such safety features soon. Good that it's easy to see out of Beetle.

And the electronic power locks on the test car were unreliable. Sometimes they worked fine when you touched the outside door handle where the owner's manual said to, other times not. It's a big deal, because the remote-control fob didn't work. The turbo engine has a so-called dry-clutch (DSG, in VW-speak) automatic, and it's a bit clunky. Power delivery lagged when you tried to move away fast from a dead stop. Even underway, the drivetrain paused slightly before hard-throttle downshifts. That could have been more turbo lag than gearbox indecision.

The five-cylinder with conventional automatic is our preferred model.

The hard-plastic, body-color instrument panel was a paragon of presentation: big gauges, well-placed controls, inviting surfaces. If you adore the soft-touch panels common in today's cars, Beetle's hard dash panel will be a tactile challenge. Or you could see it as refreshing.

The radio station controls, displayed in a semi-circle on the dashboard screen, are awkward. Too many steps to do simple things that would be one-touch maneuvers on other vehicles.

The suspension is a good blend. Not stiff, but sporting enough to let you motor briskly through corners. Not soggy, but compliant enough to handle drainage channels and potholes with only modest disruption. Steering and brakes are quick to answer the driver's call and feel as if engineers had more influence than marketing mavens.

In the end, Beetle drives gender-neutral. Its male/female persona depends as much on the body color and wheel design as it does on the basic car.

•What? Remake of the modern Beetle, bigger, beefier to attract more men. Front-wheel-drive, four-passenger, two-door subcompact.

•When? Went on sale Thursday.

•Where? Made in Mexico.

•How much? Starts at $19,765 including shipping, same as previous model despite more power, more features, more room. Top model starts at $29,865.

•What makes it go? 2.5-liter five-cylinder rated 170 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, 177 pounds-feet of torque at 4,250. Optional: 2-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder rated 200 hp at 5,100, 207 lbs.-ft. at 1,700.

•How big? About 7 inches longer, 3 in. wider than previous model. The 2012 Beetle is 168.4 in. long, 71.2 in. wide, 58.2 in. tall on a 99.9-in. wheelbase.

Weighs 2,939 to 3,089 lbs. Rated to carry 829 to 875 lbs. of people, cargo and accessories, depending on model.

Passenger space: 85.1 cubic feet. Cargo space: 15.4 cu. ft. behind rear seat, 29.9 cu. ft. when rear seat's folded.

Turns in 35.4 feet, curb-to-curb.

•How thirsty? 2.5-liter automatic rated 22 mpg in town, 29 highway, 25 in mixed driving. 2-liter turbo automatic: 22/30/25.

Manuals, available late this year, are expected to be rated 22/31/25 (five-cylinder) and 22/30/24 (2-liter turbo).

Trip computer in 2-liter turbo test car with automatic showed 24.8 mpg (4.03 gallons per 100 miles) on rural back roads driven at highway speed; 2.5-liter with automatic registered 23.8 mpg (4.35 gal/100 mi.) in suburbs.

Regular-grade gas specified for 2.5-liter, premium recommended for 2-liter turbo. Tank holds 14.5 gal.

•Overall: Satisfying, but not as overtly manly as VW probably hopes.