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1998 Volkswagen New Beetle

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1998 Volkswagen New Beetle
Available in 2 styles:  New Beetle 2dr Hatchback TDI shown
Asking Price Range
Estimated MPG

23–41 city / 29–48 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 8
1998 Volkswagen New Beetle 4.3 4
$ 707-6,235
May 3, 1998

Beetle. Bug. Doodlebug. Love Bug. Punch Buggy. Slug Bug. Pregnant roller skate.

Whatever name you choose to call it, it's baaack.

That lovable little German car that the flower-power generation embraced in the 1960s and early '70s, the car whose worldwide sales have far outpaced any other vehicle in history, the car that came to symbolize the utilitarian concept of the motor vehicle as a simple, inexpensive, easy-to-maintain "people's car," is showing up again at your local Volkswagen dealers.

Well, almost. The New Beetle looks a lot like the original, which first came to the United States in the late '40s and stayed on the market, with a few refinements over the years, until 1977. And though it turns heads wherever it goes and dealer showrooms have been crowded with let's-take-a-lookers, the new one really isn't a Beetle, deep inside, where high-tech gadgetry and creature comforts abound.

Creature comforts? In a Beetle?

VW's magazine ads for the cute new car sum it up nicely:

"Comes with wonderful new features. Like heat."

"Less flower. More power."

"Zero to 60? Yes."

Yes, there is heat, air conditioning, power steering, front and side air bags for front-seat passengers, tilt steering wheel ... the list is almost endless. Our test car even had a remote compact-disc player in the rear.

Wait a minute. A quick check under the rear hatch reveals a major flaw in the New Beetle.

"It must need a tuneup -- the engine's missing," quipped Don Nichols, 54, who runs a repair shop for real Beetles in Haltom City, Texas, and has been driving a Bug since 1965.

Yep. The rear engine of the original is no more. The power plant has been moved up front in the New Beetle, and "power" has been added to the equation.

There's 115 horsepower under the hood with the base gasoline engine, and 90 horsepower in the optional turbocharged diesel, which can get up to 48 miles per gallon on the highway. The first VWs had a whopping 36 horses, and it needed every one of them just to get up to traffic speed. The New Beetle will top 100 mph, and the speedometer goes to 140.

Nichols, who operates the Bug garage with his son Donnie, 35, got a chance to check out one of the new ones recently.

Both men pronounced the New Beetle a "fantastic little car" and predicted great success for it, even though, underneath, it really isn't much like the original.

"It's impressive, and drives really nice," the elder Nichols said. "But most importantly, it's cute. It's got to be cute, you know. That's the charm of the original one. It's truly an emotional thing; either you love the Beetle or you hate it -- there's no in between."

He predicts that the New Beetle will spur the already bustling revival of old Beetles that have survived the elements. They are now coming out of storage, junk yards and back yards, many of them turning up in the hands of young drivers trying to recreate the flower-power era of their parents, he said.

1998 Volkswage n New Beetle dashboard.

"We get three or four people a week coming by trying to find a Beetle, and they're mostly kids or parents trying to buy one for their kids," Nichols said. "It's unbelievable how popular these cars still are."

James Seals, 23, of Fort Worth, Texas, bought his first Beetle, a baby-blue 1974 model, three weeks ago. "The price was right, just $1,000," he said.

The new ones list for $15,200; with all the extras, such as power windows (power windows!), diesel engine and automatic transmission, the price can approach $20,000, 10 times the cost of a new Bug in the '60s.

A college student and part-time waiter, Seals had economy in mind as he searched for a car, he said. But there was some nostalgia involved in the choice of a Bug, too. His mother had two of them while he was growing up.

Taking the New Beetle for a spin around the block, Seals was impressed.

"This is really nice," he said. "It's got great pickup, and it's so smooth. But it really doesn' eel like my Beetle. Then, it's not 24 years old, either."

Seals said he'd love to have one of the new ones if he could afford it, especially for daily driving.

"But I'd keep the old one, continue fixing it up, and drive it on weekends and special occasions," he said. "It's really crude next to the new one, but it's charming, and it's really growing on me."

Side by side, the old and new are almost identical in length; the new one is slightly wider, the old one is slightly taller. But everyone agrees: The New Beetle is much roomier inside, and Seals can't get over how comfortable the seats are.

"Can we take the seats out of this one and put them in mine?" he asked with a chuckle.

    Expert Reviews 2 of 8

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