Review: 2002 Volkswagen New Beetle Turbo S


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SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS



    Hard to believe, but Volkswagen's New Beetle has been with us
for almost four years. It has become a familiar sight in most places,
and no longer stops traffic.  Beetle drivers now have some privacy.
Does that mean the Beetle is dead?  Not even. There is still plenty
of life left in the Beetle line, as to maintain interest Volkswagen
keeps introducing new variations on the theme. The latest is the
extremely lively Turbo S.
    Turbocharged Beetles, using the 150-horsepower version of
VW's 1.8-liter turbocharged 20-valve four-cylinder engine, have
been adding stealthy excitement to the line for a while now, and
continue in 1.8T GLS and GLX trim. I say ``stealthy'' because the
regular 1.8T models have few visual differences from the standard
Beetle models. A movable spoiler that raises at speed and is
mounted just forward of the rear window is the major difference.
The Turbo S, on the other hand, will emphatically not be mistaken
for any other Beetle version. New front and rear bumper fascias
give it a definite sports look, which is further accentuated by special
alloy wheels. The extra attitude is no pose, for the Turbo S's engine
has been hot-rodded to 180 horsepower and drives the front wheels
through a six-speed manual gearbox. Turbo S-specific trim,
including leather seating surfaces and special aluminum pieces, is
found inside.
    I first drove the New Beetle Turbo S when it was introduced to
the automotive press in Phoenix, Arizona, last December. A long
day driving through the mountains showcased its comfort and real-
world handling, and time spent on the track at Firebird Raceway
proved that the ``S'' (for ``Sport") is no misnomer. Currently I've
been driving one at home. The Turbo S works well in city or
commute traffic, on the open road, on the Interstate, or on the
track, and offers upscale comforts that are not common in its class.

APPEARANCE: From the side, the Turbo S could be mistaken for
any other New Beetle with fancy 17-inch wheels, which look like
alloy discs with five radial slots. In side view, it has the same
almost-symmetrical arched shape as all other New Beetles. But
from the front, turn signals below and inboard of the headlamps hint
at differences. More obviously, a large three-piece air intake sits in
the bumper fascia below the smiling hood line. It looks straight off
an endurance racer, and incorporates twin foglamps. At the rear are
found a ``ground-effects''  panel over the bumper fascia and a
chrome-tipped dual exhaust. And at speed, the roof-mounted
spoiler is raised.

COMFORT: The Turbo S sits at the top of the New Beetle lineup,
and boasts a comfort and equipment level that is at the top of the
affordable small sports coupe class. It is differentiated from more
expensive luxury-sports cars more by minor details than by fit and
finish and material quality, which are first-rate. The interior design
is the same as in other New Beetles, but with unique seats and
white, not blue lighting for the instruments at night. The well-
bolstered front bucket seats are manually-adjustable, but in all
important ways, including cushion height (a VW characteristic for
quite a while) and have leather facing with contrasting cushions and
bolsters. Real aluminum, not the metallic plastic more common in
the class, is found in the steering wheel spokes, and for trim pieces
on the door and glovebox, gearshift lever, and bud vase. The pedals
are aluminum with rubber inserts. The steering wheel is manually
adjustable for tilt and reach. As with other Beetles, the tachometer
is small and hard to see, but the engine's power characteristics (and
a rev-limiter) make that less of a problem than one might suspect.
Also like all Beetles, the body styling reduces rear seat headroom
and trunk space versus those of its close cousin, the VW GTI. But
rear seat access is very good, and headroom is no worse than in
most other small sports coupes. There is still adequate trunk space.

SAFETY: The Turbo S adds standard ``ESP'' stability control to
the New Beetle's rigid body structure with front and rear crumple
zones, dual front and front side airbags, and antilock disc brakes.

ROADABILITY: Like other New Beetles, the Turbo S is a front-
wheel drive car with a unibody chassis. Front suspension is by
independent MacPherson struts, while the Volkswagen twist-beam
axle is found at the rear. It's a tried-and-true design that has been
honed to a high degree in the Turbo S. Stiffer, but not too stiff,
spring and shock rates make for great cornering ability with no
sacrifice of comfort - this car can appeal to an older, more comfort-
oriented buyer than many other sports coupes. But it can still be
pushed hard in an autocross or on a race track. I did both at the
introduction, and the car was not out of its element at all. Don't be
fooled by the retro styling, the Turbo S is a very competitive sports
coupe.

PERFORMANCE: Nostalgia need not apply. Your Beetle in the
old days was never like this. With higher turbo boost and electronic
control software upgrades, the Turbo S's version of VW's 1.8-liter,
20-valve four-cylinder turbomotor puts out 180 horsepower at
5500 rpm, and 174 lb-ft of torque between 1950 and 5000 rpm.
That's 20 percent more horsepower and 12.3 percent more torque
than the regular Turbo Beetle, and over three times as much
horsepower than the most powerful old Beetle. It's matched to a
smooth and quick close-ratio six-speed manual transmission, but
shifting is strictly optional in many situations given the engine's
broad torque spread. Acceleration, with 0-60 officially 7.4 seconds,
is almost a second less than the regular Turbo Beetle (and over 10
seconds less than any stock Bug!). Turbo lag is nonexistent, as is
torque steer. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes do a great job of
stopping, and are aided by standard ``ESP'' electronic stability
control.

CONCLUSIONS: Retro-chic styling meets serious comfort and
speed in the new Volkswagen New Beetle Turbo S.

SPECIFICATIONS
2002 Volkswagen New Beetle Turbo S

Base Price			$ 23,400
Price As Tested		        $ 24,400
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 20-valve
                                 turbocharged inline 4-cylinder
Engine Size			1.8 liters / 109 cu. in.
Horsepower			180 @ 5500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			173 @ 1950-5000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		98.7 in. / 161.1 in.
Curb Weight			3,005 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        16.7
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
                                  recommended for best performance
Tires				P225/45 VR17 Michelin HX MXM4 XSE
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
                                 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
                                 semi-independent torsion beam axle
                                 with coil springs
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		23 / 30 / 25
0 to 60 mph				7.4 sec (mfg)
Coefficient of Drag (cd)		0.38

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
California and Northeast emissions spec	        $ 100
6-disc CD changer				$ 350
Destination charge				$ 550

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