The VW New Beetle is an old idea made new again. Technically, the Beetle has been in production for 65 years, but from 1977 to 1994 they were only manufactured in Mexico due to a drop in sales in the mid 1970's. Today, the original German plant in Wolfsburg produces the Golf and the Beetle continues to be manufactured in Puebla, Mexico. The Mexican plant still produces the classic Beetle design as well as the revamped model. The New Beetle debuted at the 1994 Detroit Auto Show, but went out for its true critical test at the 1998 Detroit International Auto Show. Volkswagon predicted it would sell 160,000 cars that year, but their sales figures exceeded their expectations in Europe, Canada and America. Surprisingly, the car appealed even more to the Generation X audience than to the baby boomers whom they assumed would be nostalgic for it.
The New Beetle comes in the following models:
- The GL with 115 HP(horsepower), a 2 liter engine, available in 5 speed manual transmission and 4 speed automatic.
- The GLS in three options, a 2 liter 115 HP engine, a 1.9 liter 90 HP engine, and a 1.8 liter 150 HP engine. All available in either 5 speed manual or 4 speed automatic.
- The Sport with 1.8 liters and 150 HP, available in 5 speed manual only.
- The GLX, 1.8 liter, 150 HP, manual and automatic.
- The Turbo 1.8 liters, 180 HP, six speed manual only.
Other differences are in the options packages which can include sunroof, alloy wheels, leather, heated seats and washer nozzles, and Monsoon sound system. Most of these are available for the GLS model, but some, such as 17" alloy wheels are only offered on the GLX and Turbo model.
The GLS is currently the most popular selling model. The single overhead cam engine puts out 122 foot-pounds of torque and gets from 0-60mph in 9.7 seconds. To put that in perspective, the 2002 Corvette's 8 cylinder 400-lb. gorilla has 370 horsepower and 390 foot pounds of torque. A Geo Metro has 70 horsepower and 78 foot pounds of torque. It doesn't have muscle, but it's got zip and it is climbing to 60mph 20 seconds faster than the Beetle of old. Unlike the old air-cooled engine, this water-cooled power plant is quiet and smooth, none of the rattle, puttputt, rattle noise of the old Beetle that sounded not unlike a lawn mower. Fuel economy is very good with 24 mpg city and 31 on the highway.
That's nothing compared to the Turbo Diesel model. The efficiency of this engine is almost without parallel. It gets an amazing 41 mpg city and 49 mpg highway. The emissions are 20 percent cleaner than a gasoline engine and the ride is just as easy. As with most any diesel engine, the power is somewhat lacking with only 90 horsepower, but the Turbo makes up for it in torque with 149 foot pounds that will kick out of the gate fast, just doesn't give a lot at the top end.
Creature comforts include adjustable, heated front seats, although the pump-action height adjuster handle is a little cumbersome to operate. The back seat is surprisingly roomy, not that it will dispel any "back seat of a Volkswagon" jokes. Most appealing is the dashboard display. It lights up in vibrant primary colors at night, blue for the numbers, red for the needles.
The option of manual or automatic, being 90% about subjective opinion, can, if necessary, be filtered down to cost and functionality. The gearbox is smooth and tight and the car has enough pep to make the manual transmission a fun ride, but the clutch tends to wear out by the 30,000th mile. That isn't exactly abnormal wear, but the cost to replace is a little steep at around $1,300.00 so you have to decide if being able to downshift into 3rd to gun it past a Honda Civic is worthwhile when you know an Acura Integra could easily blow your doors off.
Base prices on these cars range from $15,900 to $23,500. Basic warranty is 4 years or 50,000 miles with wear and tear items excluded after 12 months or 12,000 miles. Additional warranties include the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles and anti-corrosion for 12 years unlimited distance.
Research courtesy of monthly test driving excursions for the past year. God, I need a new car.