Volkswagen’s 3rd generation Beetle and the neo-retro look

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Since Volkswagen released what’s being called the “masculine”, “sporty” 2012 Beetle, a lot of car enthusiasts have looked at the new model wondering what it says about VW, the new car market, and what people want in an iconic car model. I can’t be the only person wondering what this car’s influence will be on neo-retro design. Is the 2012 Beetle, the “3rd Gen Beetle“, really a neo-retro car like its predecessor, the “New Beetle“? Or is it just a funky European hatchback?

To analyse the design a little, I put together some little gif animations. Here’s the original Beetle body style in all its celebrated spendor (1968 model shown).

Here’s the New Beetle (2010 model).

And here’s the 3rd Generation Beetle (2012 model).

Here are all the faces combined into one image: 

Looking at this comparison, I’m inclined to say the most prominant face-feature the new Beetles got right was the round headlights, and I give the 3rd Gen Beetle props for having wider chrome rims around its headlights. But I think the New Beetle and the 3rd Gen beetle needed a a chrome stripe (or some kind of contour) along the hood and a curvier roof. I noticed that the 3rd Gen Beetle did a better job staying true to the original Beetles’ rear view mirror shape. Neither car has chunky lights above the headlights, which might have been a good touch. And the voluptuous fender shape of the original Beetle is mimicked on the new models, but is a little too svelte on both.

Overall, I think the front view of the 3rd Gen Beetle is at least as neo-retro as the New Beetle’s front view, and more so in a few places. I suspect the 3rd Gen Beetle’s dedication to small, tasteful design details instead of over-the-top retro-futurism (like you see in the New Beetle) will help make it a solid choice for the buyers of high-end German cars in general — upper-middle-class-and-up consumers who would buy a VW, BMW, Mercedes, or Audi might see the 3rd Gen Beetle as a classy choice, rather than just a cute one.

Let’s look at the side view:

I didn’t label these slides, but the cars  shown from are 1968, 2010, and 2012. A look at their profiles reinforces the idea that the 3rd Gen Beetle is as much a neo-retro look at the original Beetle as the New Beetle was — but instead of taking Beetle owners into a UFO-shaped futuristic Beetle (like the New Beetle), Volkswagen reimagined the 3rd Gen Beetle as a funky-but-practical upscale ride. I think this is admirable — Volkswagen isn’t selling New Beetle kitsch here as much as they are selling the classic Beetle brand’s staying power.

But as much as I have to tip my hat to the 3rd Gen Beetle’s neo-retro design, I’m a purist. I hope the next Beetle model stays true to the original vision.


  1. Even thought the 3rd gen beetle is closer in shape to the first, it seems to share even less of its visual impression. I think it is the idea of roundness that is gone. Not only is the shape less round, the wheel covers have severe lines that look like blades.

    I’d prefer to see it with hubcaps like the original:

    • Thanks, Mike, I should have mentioned the hubcaps – I absolutely agree, the wheels on the 3rd gen beetle don’t really appeal to me. But I still think the 3rd gen beetle is a good homage to the original beetle – more if you compare it to the original, not the “new beetle”. But the more I’ve thought about what I like about beetles, the more I’ve appreciated the newest version.

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