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New Car/Review

1998 Volkswagen New Beetle

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:                  2.0-liter I-4
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:       115 hp @ 5200 rpm/122 lb-ft @ 2600 rpm
TRANSMISSION:            Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:            23 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, 23.6 mpg test
WHEELBASE:               98.9 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH X HEIGHT: 161.1 x 67.9 x 59.5 in.
CURB WEIGHT:             2712 lbs
FUEL CAPACITY:           14.5 gal.
CARRYING CAPACITY:       12.0 cu. ft. 
TIRES:                   205/55R16H
INSTRUMENTS:             Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                         water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:               Power mirrors, power windows, 
                         power door locks, air conditioner,
                         AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, 
                         ABS, front air bags, side air bags. 
STICKER PRICE:           $16,500

I have to admit that when I first sat in the New Beetle, I wasn't impressed. I had heard so much about this car that I really entered the driving experience with a chip on my shoulder. Nothing could be so great. Nothing could be as much fun as the original Beetle. The styling was too cutesy. There were so many things that I felt were going against the New Beetle that I questioned the trouble of building it.

Then I drove it. After five minutes, as I've told numerous people over the past few weeks, I fell in love with it. It is everything the Old Beetle was and more. It is a fun car, it is a cute car. And Volkswagen will probably sell a bazillion of them, which I wouldn't have said two weeks ago.

One of the best ways to describe the New Beetle is to compare it to the Old Beetle. The Old Beetle had a 1.2-liter air-cooled engine that was located behind the rear axle and drove the rear wheels through a four-speed manual transmission. The New Beetle is powered by a 2.0-liter water-cooled engine that drives the front wheels. this engine develops 115 horsepower, more than double what you could get in the old Bug. The gearbox is a five-speed manual, and an automatic is available. The ratios are nicely spaced so you can get the maximum advantage out of the quieter engine.

With this amount of power, the New Beetle has the capability of getting out of its own way, and can actually climb hills without sputtering near the top. The Beetle has the ability to accelerate and reach decent speeds. In fact, the New Beetle cruised comfortable at 70 mph and I had to be careful to be sure I didn't make any donations to local traffic funds.

Seats in both cars were comfortable and reasonably dished for some side support. Both cars were two-doors, except the rear seat of the New Beetle offers much more legroom than the rear seat of the Old Beetle did. Passengers can ride back there without feeling cramped or uncomfortable.

In the Old Beetle you sat close to the windshield. Based on modern philosophy, it was dangerous. You could touch the windshield from your seat. The New Beetle has a dash that closely resembles that of the GM "Dustbuster" minivans. It seems to go on forever.

There was a joke when I bought my Super Beetle that the dash wasn't deep enough to put a plastic Jesus on it. This car has a dash big enough to put the real Jesus there.

I also liked the little touches, and I think it's the little touches that make the charm of the New Beetle. The textures are fascinating. The steering wheel has a nice dimpled feel. The wheel itself is a nice design that is comfortable to use. The gear lever cover is made of the same material. The hand brake has a nice touch and it's a large diameter handle. There are tiny dimples in the door pulls that add a styling touch. Instruments located in front of the driver are informative. There is a large speedometer with an inset tach and small water temperature and fuel level gauges. These light up purple at night, a color I haven't seen in any other car and one that is pleasing.

Adding to the space feel is enormous headroom for all passengers. A carryover touch is a body-colored panel under the side windows.

There were some features in the New Beetle that didn't exist in the Old Beetle, such as a good heater, air conditioning, great sound system, power mirrors, power door locks and cruise control. And there was one add-on feature in the Old Beetle that is standard equipment in the New Beetle; a bud vase. When the car was delivered, it had a daisy in the vase that attracted as much attention as the car itself.

I have to admit I was skeptical when the New Beetle first came out. I became a fan of the car after driving it for five minutes, though. It's a fun car, it's a relatively safe car. Not only will it bring back memories of the Old Beetle, it may make you forget the Old Beetle because of its own charm.