They were slow, ungainly, noisy, cramped and uncomfortable. Passengers froze on cold days. But people loved them. For countless American Baby Boomers growing up in the turbulent 1960s, the Beetle was not just a piece of transportation. It was an obsession. To some, its worst traits only made it more endearing. The Volkswagen Beetle could have been a cult car, had it not been for its huge popularity. Nearly 21 million Beetles were produced during the past 59 years--more than any other automobile in history. That's in spite of the fact that there hasn't been a Bug legally imported into America since 1979. But if you've dreamed of buying one or longed to own another, your opportunity has arrived. The Beetle's Back. Well, not precisely. Volkswagen officials take great pains to point out that this is the "New Beetle," far more than just an update of the car that helped define an American generation. The New Beetle is based on the same platform as the Volkswagen Golf. As a result, it's far roomier than the original. The engine is up front powering the front wheels, not the rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration of the old Bug. Two new engines are available, both water-cooled, not air-cooled. But some traits remain: Just as with the original, Volkswagen put a premium on reliability. But definitions have changed over the years: The original Beetle would seemingly run forever-if you didn't mind getting your fingernails dirty fixing a loose wire or adjusting the valves. Today's buyers expect a bulletproof Beetle that starts every time they turn the key; no one, it seems, has time to carry around a tool kit any more. Purists will lament all the changes. Yet even they are likely to be won over by the roominess, ride and creature comforts of the New Beetle. At least that's the way it's been shaping up.
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