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The Volkswagen New Beetle isn't that new anymore, but still smart and stylish. And because it's a Volkswagen, it's refined. Der Beetle combines German engineering and performance with exceptional fit and finish, and it represents a good value. As in other retromobiles, however, driver and passengers must make some concessions for style. Interior ergonomics are not as good those in a more traditional car, like a Golf, nor is there a lot of trunk space.
But the Beetle is charming. It comes in an assortment of bright, happy colors, including Tornado Red, brighter than last year's red. Its exterior and interior design details are fun and creative. On the road, the Beetle is smooth and sophisticated and handles well.
The convertible adds to the fun with its ability to drop the top. It feels tight. Volkswagen engineered a solid chassis with none of the cowl shake common on most convertibles.
The Beetle is considered a safe car. It earned top scores in the federal government's crash tests and comes with Volkswagen's excellent safety features. Just don't expect to see people looking, smiling and waving at you every time you come around a corner as much as they did when the New Beetle first hit the streets. After all, the Beetle is once again a familiar face in America.
Soft top or hard top, the Volkswagen New Beetle is built on the same basic platform as the Volkswagen Golf, a high-quality, highly rigid chassis. A rigid chassis results in a smooth, controlled ride with little noise, vibration or harshness. Well-engineered crumple zones and other features enhance crash protection. The convertible's body has been reinforced with additional structure to increase chassis rigidity.
The Beetle is bigger than it looks. It's longer, wider, and taller than a Mini Cooper. The Beetle body is 161.1 inches in length and 67.9 inches wide, on a wheelbase of 98.7 inches, with a height of 59.0 inches. That's nearly an inch wider than a PT Cruiser, though it is shorter and not as tall as Chrysler's little cruiser.
Build quality is excellent. Gaps between doors, fenders and other body panels are tight. Fenders and bumpers are made from a special dent-resistant plastic. Outside door handles are easy to grab, feel good, and don't require inverting your hand to operate them. Turn indicators on the outside mirrors warn drivers alongside when changing lanes. Color-keyed mirror housings and door handles add to the Beetle's clean appearance.
Convertibles are distinguished by an exterior chrome strip that surrounds the greenhouse and by a different trunk design with an integrated third brake light. Convertibles offer a choice of black, gray and cream-colored tops.
The Beetle's sweeping roofline creates tremendous front-seat headroom, more than even in the tall PT Cruiser and considerably more than in the Mini Cooper. The convertible gives up only half an inch of front-seat headroom to the coupe.
The Beetle's deep dashboard can make you feel like you're driving the car from the back seat. You cannot see the hood or anything else but road in front of the windshield. Beefy front A-pillars (the post between the windshield and side window) impede vision in tight corners. Small sun visors have no hope of blocking the sun coming in through the giant side windows.
The standard seats are comfortable and attractive. The flat design of the seat bottom makes it easy to get in and out, but side bolstering is lacking for driving quickly on winding roads. The usual fore-aft and rake adjustments are provided, while a lever jacks the height up and down. My right knee came into contact with the corner of the center console, but adjusting the seat rearward solved this. Your passenger may encounter the unfriendly seat tracks while groping around for the fore-aft adjustment. The outside mirrors are mounted well forward of the driver, which is actually a better position than that of many other cars which mount them too close.
The back seat is fine for a couple of adults on short trips. Shoulder and hip room are cramped in the coupe and significantly more cramped in the convertible, but there's decent rear headroom, more in the convertible than in the hardtop (and even more with the top down). There's a reasonable amount of rear legroom in the convertible when the front passengers cooperate, and hardtop Beetles offer even more rear legroom. The Beetle coupe offers more rear legroom than the Mini, less than the hardtop PT Cruiser. Both of Beetle's front seats flip and pivot up and forward, making it easier to climb into the back seats. They then flip back to their original position, a nice memory feature.
Beetle's trunk is small, just 12 cubic feet, though the rear seats can be folded down to more than double that volume. The convertible's trunk is even smaller, just 5 cubic feet. Mini Cooper offers just 5.3 cubic feet, but PT Cruiser has a far larger cargo bay at nearly 22 cubic feet. The PT Cruiser convertible's trunk is hopeless.
Dual cup holders in front of the shifter are tucked under the protruding center dash that houses the audio and climate controls. That arrangement at first appears to preclude tall drinks, but the cup holder platform cleverly swivels to the right to make room for that grande cappuccino. Your companion will have to hold his or hers, however. The convertible benefits from a new, sliding front center armrest with storage space.
Beetle's interior is attractive and, as in all Volkswagens, nicely finished. A myriad of materials is used to give the Beetle a high-tech look. We love the painted metal trim at the upper edges of the doors, which matches the exterior paint. In GL and GLS models, the standard cloth upholstery is tightly woven, resilient and sporty, yet soft to the touch. Leatherette (vinyl) and leather are also available. The upper dash uses coarse, hard materials accented by smoother, softer surfaces elsewhere. A wide array of interior color combinations (Uni-Red with cream; Platinum Gray with black and gray; Cyber Green with black and cream; Aquarius Blue with gray; Sundown Orange with cream) is available.
The curved, dimpled door handles look ultra-modern. The steering wheel feels good and features brushed aluminum spokes. The little bud vase keeps a small flower looking fresh or holds a plastic daisy. The console looks like it may show dirt and wear over the long haul when ordered in the light colors. The glove box looks impressive and has a small shelf at the top for the owner's manual, but its massive door belies the tiny, awkwardly shaped space within.
A big speedometer and tiny tachometer are set in a ci
The Volkswagen New Beetle is fun to drive. It feels tight. Handling and brakes are excellent. Acceleration performance varies from lethargic to brisk, depending on the engine.
It rides well on bumpy pavement, smoother than a Mini Cooper and more refined than a PT Cruiser. The Beetle feels stable at high speeds and in high-speed sweeping turns. It leans in corners when driven hard, but its tires and suspension give it good grip and keep the chassis firmly in contact with the road. The steering is quick and accurate. Handling among the different Beetle models is quite similar in character as the suspension is tuned to provide the same driving characteristics.
Beetle is smooth and stable under hard braking. It can stop in a shorter distance than a PT Cruiser, according to published reports, but it doesn't stop as quickly as the Golf or Mini.
The 2.0-liter engine that comes on GL and GLS models is smooth, quiet, and refined. It delivers good, usable power when putting around town at low rpm. That means you don't have to do a lot of shifting. Put it in second or third gear and leave it there as you work your way around town and on rural roads. It's quite pleasant at 20 mph in third. You can even take off from a stop sign in second gear without lurching. It cruises well at high speeds. Torque from the 2.0-liter engine comes at relatively low revs and makes the car feel sprightly. It wouldn't be our first choice for drag racing, though. Developing just 115 horsepower, the 2.0-liter Beetle is among the slowest cars sold today. It takes about 10.2 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, according to Volkswagen. That's lethargic performance by anyone's stopwatch. Convertibles are even slower due to their added weight (0 to 60 in 11.4). It's clean performance, though, qualifying for as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) in all 50 states.
We prefer the manual gearbox, which shifts smoothly and adds enjoyment to driving the Beetle. However, the six-speed automatic with Porsche's Tiptronic system offers performance that's nearly as quick as a manual gearbox (0 to 60 mph in 11.8 seconds). It also allows semi-manual shifting.
Volkswagen builds some of the best small diesel engines in the world. The new 1.9 TDI-PD is rated at only 100 horsepower, but its 177 pound-feet of torque compares favorably with the 173 pound-feet of the defunct hot-rod Turbo S. Plus it can be ordered with the terrific DSG gearbox with Tiptronic, which makes the most out of the diesel engine's power. The new diesel is rated 46 mpg on the highway, compared to 44 for last year's 90-horsepower diesel, and 31 for the 2.0-liter gas engine. In our past experiences with VW diesels they have run brilliantly, on long trips and in everyday driving. They have none of the clatter of an old Mercedes-Benz diesel, but just a slightly rough texture that some people like because they say it reminds them a bit of the original Bug.
Driving enthusiasts will prefer the 1.8 T turbocharged gasoline engine. It lacks response at the bottom of the rpm range, but provides good acceleration performance once the revs are up. Step on the gas and the car begins to build momentum, then there's a whoosh of power. The GLS 1.8 T can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 8.2 seconds. We strongly recommend the manual gearbox with this engine. We have not been happy when pairing the 1.8 T with an automatic because the turbo seems to confuse the transmission causing a distinct lack of response in certain situations; this often happens when you most need a squirt of power, such as when jumping out of a slow, bumper-to-bumper lane into a fast lane.
The Volkswagen Beetle feels tight and responsive. Its ride is smooth and sporty. Handling and braking are excellent. The standard 2.0-liter engine is smooth and quiet, fine for most people, but driving enthusiasts will find its acceleration performance lacking. The GLS 1.8 T is fun to drive. Its mild manners make for a pleasant ride around town, while its acceleration performance gives it sports appeal.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough is based in Southern California.
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2009 Volkswagen New Beetle$10,495 | 82,432 mi
2009 Volkswagen New Beetle$10,990 | 62,972 mi
2009 Volkswagen New Beetle$10,995 | 24,315 mi
2008 Volkswagen New Beetle$7,793 | 115,235 mi
2008 Volkswagen New Beetle$8,499 | 109,894 mi
2008 VOLKSWAGEN NEW BEETLE$9,995 | 90,654 mi
2008 Volkswagen New Beetle$11,448 | 63,470 mi
2008 VOLKSWAGEN NEW BEETLE$12,687 | 37,157 mi
2008 Volkswagen New Beetle$13,493 | 31,661 mi
2007 Volkswagen New Beetle$7,990 | 79,984 mi
2007 Volkswagen New Beetle$10,995 | 41,389 mi
2007 Volkswagen New Beetle$11,523 | 80,703 mi
2006 Volkswagen New Beetle Coupe$7,450 | 79,557 mi
2005 Volkswagen New Beetle$5,903 | 80,365 mi
2005 Volkswagen New Beetle$6,999 | 90,136 mi
2004 Volkswagen New Beetle$6,325 | 97,490 mi
2004 Volkswagen New Beetle$6,900 | 111,421 mi
2004 Volkswagen New Beetle$7,116 | 55,736 mi
2004 Volkswagen New Beetle$10,451 | 44,215 mi
2003 Volkswagen New Beetle$5,645 | 112,745 mi
2003 Volkswagen New Beetle$5,895 | 73,200 mi
2003 Volkswagen New Beetle$6,775 | 61,125 mi
2003 Volkswagen New Beetle$8,964 | 24,014 mi
2002 Volkswagen New Beetle$3,995 | 134,746 mi
2002 Volkswagen New Beetle$5,995 | 75,595 mi
2002 Volkswagen New Beetle$8,311 | 48,665 mi
2000 Volkswagen New Beetle$3,999 | 138,994 mi
2000 Volkswagen New Beetle$5,995 | 79,300 mi