New Car/Review

Old Versus New: A Beetle Comparison

by Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide

My first car, many years ago, was a much-used 1969 Beetle. I drove it for many years and several hundred thousand miles. It was an educational experience - high-mileage cars are often like that. I learned basic and intermediate auto mechanics from it, often by the side of the road. The roadside rebuilds were largely my fault - if certain basic maintenance was not done (most importantly, valve adjustments at least every 3000 miles!!!), disaster could and usually would strike. Laziness was not rewarded. Care was. Except for a dropped number three exhaust valve due to non-adjustment, it always got me home without a tow truck. My tool kit may have been worth more than the car, however, and the tools were used frequently. Needless to say, I was never consumed with nostalgia over my Bug, and when I could afford something else, I sold it.

So, reaching back into my memory, I will attempt to compare the old and new Beetles. That's a bit of an apples and oranges comparison, as the old Beetle was a 1930s design that, while very well- made was archaic by the time it became popular in the 1950s and 1960s. The new Beetle is a completely contemporary car.
Old Beetle New Beetle
Engine: rear, air-cooled, 25-5- hp depending on year of manufacture and displacement. rear-wheel drive. front, liquid cooled, 115 hp gasoline or 90 hp / 149 lb-ft torquemeister turbodiesel. front-wheel drive.
Gas Mileage: Mine got 20-23 mpg around town and 28-32 on the highway. Earlier, smaller engined Beetles did a little better Contemporary V8 behomoths were lucky to break into double digits (i.e. better than 10 mpg) About the same, actually EPA estimate is 23 city, 29 highway for gasoline engine with manual transmission or 22/27 with the 4-speed automatic. Turbodiesel is rated at 41/48 manual or 34/44 automatic.
Suspension: 4-wheel independent. But pre-1968 Bugs had rear swing axles, which had lots of camber change and interesting handling characteristics. My 1969 Bug had a semi-trailing link rear suspension and handled reasonably well. It was a good car in which to learn basic cornering techniques. "Compliance" was not a word used in describing the ride quality, however. 4-wheel independent. With a wonderful contemporary balance of ride comfort and nimbleness, the New Beetle feels even better than the VW Golf on which it is based. And that is high praise. The New Beetle handles far better than the old and your fillings will stay in place.
Performance:
(0-60 mph)
Good luck in older models, eventually in later ones. My 1969 Bug did it in around 18 seconds. Yes. Around 10 seconds, which may not be supercar status but sure beats the 15 to 30 seconds of old Bugs.
Hillclimbing: OK, everybody out. Let's push' Or at least downshift to 3rd or even 2nd gear. Hill? What hill? No problem here!
Brakes: Stopping best planned in advance. Drum brakes on all four wheels weren't any worse than the norm for the day, but the standards of the past were nothing to get excited about. Or maybe something to get very excited about, if you know what I mean... Stop. Now. No problem. Disc brakes at all corners for fade-free performance. A good antilock system is available and highly recommended.
Shape: Looked streamlined. Looks can be deceiving. Stability in gusty winds was legendary in its lack. "Guess Which Lane" was the name of the game in strong winds. Stays put in gusty winds as well as most other small cars and much better than its namesake. Coefficient of drag is still greater than that of a Golf, though.
Body and Safety: Bolt-on fenders and easy availability of body parts made minor crash repairs cheap and easy. But the bumpers were mostly for looks and only later models had seat belts or shoulder harnesses. A strong roof meant rollovers were mostly survivable. New fenders won't be as cheap to fix as the old bolt-on ones but bumpers and crush zones make serious impacts less serious.
Windshield: Inches from your nose. Way out there.
Steering: Large-diameter traditional German steering wheel right up against your chest for that Bernd Rosemeyer at the Nurburgring in the 1936 Auto Union Grand Prix car driving experience. No power-assist, but, with no weight on the front wheels it wasn't necessary anyway. No change of position. Modern, thick-rimmed, stylish 3 spoke steering wheel of reasonable diameter. Adjusts for both tilt and reach, most unusual for this price class. Has an airbag within. Power-assisted steering is unobtrusive.
Comforts: Heater: down jacket worked best. Sometimes, a little warm, oily-smelling air would work its way into the cabin but the heater hoses usually didn't conduct it very well.
Air conditioning: roll the windows down.
Heater: Right now, good and warm.
Air conditioning: Standard, and causes no loss of power to operate. Works quickly.
Passengers and Cargo: I did once get 11 people in mine. Cozy. (kids, don't try this at home) Mostly held 4 or 5 people in semi-comfort. In my rock-and-roll days, I could get a piggyback Fender amplifier and a couple of guitars in with some imagination Has seat belts for 4. Large rear hatch makes loading & unloading large objects easier than wrestling them past the seats in the old days.
Accessories: Hood with Rolls-Royce grille for the ultimate fashion accessory. Volkswagen now owns Rolls-Royce. Hmmmm....
1998 Volkswagen New Beetle Car Review

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