New Car/Review

1998 VOLKSWAGEN BEETLE 2.0L

by Tom Hagin

vw

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 15,200
Price As Tested                                    $ 16,580
Engine Type               SOHC 8-valve 2.0 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 121 cid/1984 cc
Horsepower                                   115 @ 5200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               122 @ 2600 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   98.9"/67.9"/161.1"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     2746 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  14.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     205/55HR16
Brakes (F/R)                                     Disc /disc
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                Two-percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.38

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            23/29/27
0-60 MPH                                       10.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       18 seconds @ 76.5 mph
Top speed                                           110 mph
     * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

Even as New Volkswagen Beetle euphoria wanes, it's impossible for the driver of one to park the car in public and not to hear a "...when I had my Bug.." story from total strangers. I had one too, but I'll give you the short version.

My first car ever was a '61 Beetle, orange, with no fuel gauge and a broken motor mount that would knock the exhaust system off each time I carelessly let out the clutch. The car cost me $500, plus about $200 in fines for excessive noise violations.

OUTSIDE - Where the original's bolt-on steel fenders were easy to damage but simple to replace, the New Beetle's fenders are plastic and make up a substantial part of the nose and tail. Both the front and rear are tied together by protruding sills below each door, in the same spot as the original's rubber-covered side steps. The single flush headlamps house projector-beam headlamps, and a set of optional fog lamps are set low in the air dam. The New Beetle's wheelbase is stretched by over four inches over the original, yet its length is less than one-inch longer. And like the rest of the VW lineup, the radio antenna sticks out conspicuously from the middle rear portion of the roof. The standard wheel trim uses full wheel covers, but most Beetles we've seen ride on 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels with performance tires.

INSIDE - The original's windshield was flat, the steering wheel was thin and the dash couldn't hold much of anything on top. The New Beetle's dash is a vast expanse of plastic, and carries a descendant of the single-pod instrument cluster used on the original. The steering column adjusts up and down and also telescopes, and the front seats are height adjustable using a clever ratchet handle. One drawback is the blind spot created by the thick pillars that form the leading edge of the roof. The New Beetle has standard features unheard of in the original. Items like air conditioning, anti-theft, powered and heated outside mirrors, AM/FM cassette and power door locks are standard on all New Beetles. Options include power windows, a CD system, cruise control, leather upholstery and heated seats.

ON THE ROAD - The vast majority of New Beetles are powered by a 2.0 liter inline four cylinder engine mounted sideways under the hood - and it's now located in front. It's the same 115-horse engine used in the base model Golf, and delivers 122 lb-ft of torque at relatively low rpms. It accelerates briskly to freeway speeds, and easily maintains above-the-limits cruising. A 95-horse turbo diesel engine is optionally available and soon New Beetle buyers can power up with a turbocharged 1.8 liter 20-valve four cylinder, the same powerplant used in a version of the new Audi A4. Rumors are flying that future New Beetles will be available with the smooth VR6 engine from the Golf GTI, possibly connected to an all-wheel-drive system. A five-speed manual transmission is the standard gearbox, while a four-speed automatic is optional.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Volkswagen based the New Beetle on the Golf unit-body platform, but the body shape allowed the wheels to be pushed to the furthest corners of the car. The suspension is typical small car stuff with MacPherson struts, lower transverse arms, coil springs and tube shocks up front, and a rear twist-beam axle with coil springs and tube shocks. Stabilizer bars are fitted front and rear to keep the car flat in corners. There's a bit of understeer when the car is pushed into corners, but the oversized tires grip well enough to for the driver to fully enjoy twisting two-lane country roads. Handling aficionados may complain about a slight lack of on-center feel from the power rack-and-pinion steering, though performance versions of the New Beetle are on the way. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) offered optionally. Our car, without ABS, was able to stop from 70 mph in just under 190 feet.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, side-impact airbags and door beams are standard, while ABS is optional.

OPTIONS - Convenience Package (cruise control, power windows): $470; Sport Package (alloy wheels, fog lamps): $410; Destination: $500.

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