SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide
I still remember the first time I saw one of the new model Beetles. 1998, San Francisco, walking up an extremely steep hill (is there any other kind in that city?!) and there was some sort of commotion on the pavement. Curious, I wandered over and as the group cleared I espied the cause of interest. A gleaming, bright red, brand new Beetle, replete with flower, proud owner and dog. Indeed I donít know who seemed more pleased with himself, the owner or the canine, for riding in such a sublimely envy-inducing vehicle.
Move forward a few years and I finally get to drive one. Bright blue and gleaming, this car inspires an instant grin. Itís just speaks of pure, unadulterated fun. The new Beetle won a host of awards when it was launched, and I can see why. It is beautifully designed both inside and out, with all parts being smooth and flowing and 'softí in look. No square edges just soft leather, brushed aluminium and sleek metallic paint.
The Beetle is equipped with a 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder in-line engine. It doesnít produce the most resonant tones, sounding somewhat tinny, and I found myself having to punch the accelerator to get a reaction, but once it realizes you mean business, the 115 bhp engine (@ 5200 rpm) proves to be extremely nippy, generating 122 ft-lbs of torque (@ 2600). In spite of said punching of foot, fuel consumption is a respectable 24/32 : city/highway.
Handling is amazingly good. The chassis is laser-welded to give the new Beetle improved torsional and body rigidity, and it really does the trick. Obviously, the Beetle also drives very low to the ground, which helps, but I was really, pleasantly surprised by how well it stuck to the road. The suspension is also very firm, the independent McPherson struts in front, and torsion beam axle at rear, plus coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and stabilizer bars all adding up to a beautifully strong, European-style ride.
ABS is fitted as standard, with EDS on the front wheels. The 4-speed automatic, front-wheel drive transmission is smooth and the rack and pinion, power-assisted steering was responsive and light.
The performance of the Beetle was extremely enjoyable. But frankly, if youíre buying this car, I donít think itís for whatís under the hood. Itís for the abundant design features that make this such a unique car. From the blue-illuminated dash (and radio) with bright, red needles, to brushed aluminium steering wheel, gear stick and hand brake, from the flower holder to the Beetle-shaped cars on the trunk lever, this car shouts of originality and attention to detail.
There are some details which need some fine tuning - the electric window buttons are so in-line with the moulding of the doors that it proved difficult to depress the button properly. None of the 3 cup holders were actually big enough to fit a cup of Joe, there is no CD as standard (donít square cassettes clash with the round feel of the car?!) and contortionists only need apply to sit in the back seats.
There is room, however, in the trunk. And the amount of headroom makes transporting out-size objects easier than one might expect. All-round visibility is great, especially when gazing through the immense front windscreen, even if it does feel a very long way away. Indeed, I donít think Iíve ever seen so much room between driver and glass.
Safety features are plentiful ranging from encoded, immobilizer keys (no starting the engine without the code) and DRL, to front dual airbags, and side airbags installed in the seat themselves, in order to maintain the protective relationship with the occupant, no matter what the position the seat is in.
Despite the sensible attributes this car displays, you canít really take anyone too seriously if they drive one of these cars, and I mean that in a good way. Even if itís the Turbo, if they were totally sensible (and I use that word in the most inane and straight-laced of ways) theyíd be driving something spat out by a computer, wouldnít they? And, basically, there is just no computer in the world that could have designed this car. Itís got too much personality.
MSRP $16,850 Model Tested $17,685 Engine 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder, in-line HP 115 @ 5200 Torque 122 @ 2600 Transmission 4-speed automatic Drive Train Front Wheel drive