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Volkswagen's New Beetle is no longer that new, having been around for about four years now. With new entrants such as the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Thunderbird, and Mini Cooper stealing headlines, der Beetle no longer basks alone in the retro-fad limelight. Out on the road, in the real world, however, the New Beetle still attracts attention.
More important to people who own one, the Beetle's driving dynamics continue to deliver a spunky driving experience to go along with its spunky-yet-timeless looks. Opt for the 150-horsepower 1.8T turbocharged model, and the Beetle is downright quick.
As mentioned, it takes a little time to grow accustomed to the Beetle's unique seating ergonomics. At first the deep dashboard makes you feel like you're driving the car from the back seat. Once adjusted, we were able to drive this car quite hard in corners. The tall roofline and a fair amount of body roll contribute to a tippy feeling. But quick and accurate steering response, combined with good grip from the tires and suspension, keep the car firmly in contact with the road. The Beetle feels quite stable in high-speed sweeping turns. It's smooth and stable under hard braking, though it doesn't stop as quickly as the Golf and other cars in its class. Handling among the different Beetle models is quite similar as the suspension is tuned to provide the same driving characteristics.
The difference lies chiefly in the engines. The standard 115-horsepower engine offers good response and should be perfectly suitable for most drivers. Others have reported they like the TDI diesel engine. Volkswagen builds some of the best small diesel engines in the world and this one is smooth, quiet and clean. It is slightly rougher in texture than the standard gas engine, which some people like because they say it reminds them a bit of the original Bug.
Those who enjoy the driving experience itself will appreciate the new 1.8-liter turbocharged engine. It lacks some response at the bottom of the rpm range, but once the revs are up it provides good acceleration performance. Step on the gas and the car begins to build momentum, then there's a whoosh of power. The Beetle 1.8T can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 7.5 seconds, a quite respectable performance.
By comparison, torque from the base 2.0-liter engine comes on at relatively low revs and makes the car feel quite sprightly around town. You won't leave a trail of rubber taking off from a stoplight, but it will keep up with many of the cars in its class.
We prefer the 5-speed manual to the optional 4-speed automatic. That's the way the original Bugs were equipped and shifting gears is part of the driving fun. The automatic works well enough, but it makes the car slower off the line. Overall, the Beetle feels tight and responsive. The ride is smooth and sporty with out undue noise from the road or engine compartment.
Volkswagen's New Beetle 1.8T is fun to drive. Its mild manners make for a joyful ride around town. And, of course, its unique styling makes a statement. Driving enthusiasts should find the New Beetle a fun alternative to sport coupes and small sports sedans.
The standard New Beetle, meanwhile, offers a trendy, reliable fun machine that retails for less than $16,000. We'll leave choosing the color up to you, but we like green, blue and yellow Beetles.