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2008 Volkswagen New Beetle Review

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SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Pictures, Prices, Specs - Volkswagen Buyers Guide

A Beetle in Gecko Green
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

The little neighbor boy, Noah age 8, jumped up and down excitedly pointing as we returned from town in the Gecko Green New Beetle. We waved, of course, though we weren’t used to getting such attention with what we thought of as a relatively ordinary car. Little Noah was hollering something about “Herbie.”

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The little guy had no way of knowing that this New Beetle has virtually nothing more in common with Herbie or the original Beetle than the overall shape and having the engine over the drive wheels. This New Beetle is much larger, way more sturdy, has a water-cooled, inline 5-cylinder engine in the front driving the front wheels, and is a good step up from inexpensive, entry-level position that characterized the original Beetle.

Our test car this week, the 2008 New Beetle S with five-speed manual transmission, has a suggested retail price of $17,365. Only one cost notation shows up on the Monrony sticker – a $375 “delete” for the Satellite radio which brings it just under 17-grand. The $640 destination charge brings it to $17,630.

For that price the New Beetle is well equipped. AC, power heated exterior mirrors, cruise control, adjustable steering wheel, power locks, power windows with pinch protection, height-adjustable manual front seats, remote releases for hatch and gas filler door, 16-inch alloy wheels, in-dash single CD player with MP3 auxiliary input jack and of course the traditional bud vase all come standard.

We went out for a walk later in the day. Noah and his Dad were still out there working in the yard. As we approached we could hear Dad saying to Noah, “Now’s the time to ask . . . go ahead and ask.”

The little guy mustered his courage and asked with a big grin of anticipation, “Could I have a ride in that Beetle Bug.”

We weren’t able to accommodate Noah right away since we were off on a road trip to Chicago for a multi-make ride-and-drive event at the Volo Museum where we would be driving dozens of different cars all day long. But we promised a ride when we returned.

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Herbie, all the old Beetles and their derivatives, as most of you know, had an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed, four-banger in the rear driving the rear wheels making about 60 horsepower, as I seem to recall – an unconventional layout with unconventional sound and quirky but simple design. This New Beetle, on the other hand, is powered by a conventional, modern, front-mounted, water-cooled, 2.5-liter, in-line 5-cylinder making just 150 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque – about as conventional as a driveline comes. I must say that, with the 5-speed manual transmission, it felt like more horsepower on the highway as we easily kept up with, and often led, brisk traffic headed for the big city.

The Beetle, built in Puebla, Mexico, feels larger inside than it really is, perhaps because of the broad, steeply sloping windshield that meets the cowl way, way out in front of the dash. You could easily spread out a picnic blanket and eat your fried chicken off that dash. Dash design, gauges and controls are exceptionally simple and practical as well as attractive. There is now question that the New Beetle appeals particularly to women. I have not seen the numbers, but I’ll wager that the vast majority are sold to buyers of the female persuasion.

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In the back, behind the rear seat, where the engine used to be, is a modest-sized hatch and cargo area. The opening is not very big and the space is both limited and not efficiently shaped. But that is a function of the humpy shape of the car. The rear seat folds but we could not get it down all the way because of the intrusion of the rear-seat head rests. I’m guessing they must be removable but I could not make them budge and the manual was missing – snagged, by some other journalist, I expect, who was trying to figure out how to get the rear seat down.

The EPA estimates fuel mileage to be in the range of 20 to 28-mpg and that’s just what we experienced. We averaged just about 26-mpg with probably three-quarters of each tank being on the open highway and a quarter in the city. Not bad, I’d say.

The New Beetle has all the expected safety equipment: lots of smart air bags, adjustable seat belt anchors, children’s special anchors, daytime running lights, and side impact protection door beams. In NHTSA tests the New Beetle earned four-star ratings (out of five) in frontal crashes and five stars for front-side impact, three stars for rear-side impact and four stars for rollover protection.

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Around Chicago, and driving to the Volo Museum nearly an hour northwest of the city, we appreciated the Beetle’s civility and ease. As is usually the case, traffic coagulates often any time of the day anywhere around Chicago. The Beetle crawled easily in stop-and-go traffic in spite of having to clutch so often. The position of the stubby shifter takes a little getting used to because of the way the center arm rest encroaches on the console space. With the arm rest in its optimal position we can hardly reach our coffee in the cup holder and we must manage the shift knob with finger tips rather than the palm of our hand as we would normally tend to do. The shifter is not the smoothest on the planet, to be sure, but it is not at all unpleasant either.

Warranty on the Beetle is good for 4-years/50,000-miles bumper-to-bumper and the powertrain is covered for 5-years/60,000-miles. Rust through is covered for 12 years and unlimited miles.

Purely by coincidence my pretty blonde and I took time to explore a bit of the Volo Museum where we found on display the original Herbie, or should we say one of the original Herbies. We snagged a brochure for little Noah and we’ll suggest that his Dad take him to the Volo sometime to see Herbie, the Cat in the Hat’s car, the Munsters’ coffin car and other cartoon vehicles. Noah will be squirming with anticipation.

We finally arrived home mid-day Sunday in time to get some fall yard work done. Later that day, I hopped in the Beetle and drove next door, picked up Noah and we went for a ride. Buckled in securely he chatted continuously about the car, his pets, the Herbie movie and anything else that came immediately to mind. This boy is interested in everything, including cars.

I’ll not be surprised if, in about 7 or 8 years as Noah is thinking about finding his first car, he’ll be looking for a Beetle. Will it be an old one or a New Beetle? We’ll wait and see.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved