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Expert Reviews 1 of 8
By Jim Flammang
April 10, 2002
Vehicle Overview Early in 2002, a sporty new Turbo S edition of the New Beetle joined the lineup. This model is equipped with a turbocharged, high-output, 180-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed-manual transmission. Meanwhile, the New Beetle with the turbocharged, 150-hp, 1.8-liter engine added 16-inch alloy wheels.
Built on the front-wheel-drive Golf/Jetta platform and produced in Puebla, Mexico, the New Beetle draws a cross section of American buyers that ranges from teen-agers getting their first car to aging baby boomers who may be reminded of their youth. Other New Beetle models available include the GL, GLS, GLS TDI diesel, GLS Turbo and GLX.
The New Beetle helped spark a big sales surge after it debuted in 1998, but sales dropped a bit in 2000 and fell further in 2001. Ever since the New Beetle hatchback has been on the market, theres been speculation regarding a convertible version. Now expected to emerge in fall 2002, the New Beetle convertible could help trigger another burst of enthusiasm. The convertibles development has been taking place at the Karmann facility in Germany.
Volkswagen also has revised its warranty. Instead of the prior two-year/24,000-mile basic coverage and limited 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, VW now offers bumper-to-bumper coverage for four years or 50,000 miles. Wear-and-tear items and adjustments are covered for one year or 12,000 miles. Fully transferable powertrain coverage is for five years or 60,000 miles, and roadside assistance previously limited to two years is now for four years or 50,000 miles.
Exterior Needless to say, nothing else on the road looks like the New Beetle. In mid-2001, Volkswagen began showing commercials that emphasized the dome-shaped profile, and no other vehicle has a shape that remotely compares to this one-of-a-kind hatchback.
With a front-mounted engine and front-wheel drive much different than the air-cooled rear engine of the original Beetle the New Beetle is based on the familiar Golf/Jetta platform. Standard tires are 16 inches in diameter, but 17-inch alloy wheels are optional. High-intensity-discharge headlights are also available as an optional feature. The Turbo S has unique 17-inch wheels, integrated fog lamps and a speed-activated rear spoiler that deploys at 45 mph and retracts when road speed falls to 10 mph. An Electronic Stability Program is standard in the Turbo S.
Interior A bubble-shaped roof gives the four-passenger New Beetle a strong visual kinship to the original. Unfortunately, it infringes on rear headroom, and plenty of heads are likely to brush the back window. Legroom in back is also limited. Cargo space totals 12 cubic feet at the rear, and split rear seatbacks fold down for additional storage space.
A standard theft-deterrent system immobilizes the engine unless a key with the proper electronic code is used in the ignition. The many standard features in the GL include air conditioning, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable front bucket seats, a cassette/CD stereo, remote keyless entry, heated power mirrors and power door locks. The GLS adds power windows, fog lights and cruise control. Extras in the GLX include leather upholstery, heated front seats, a sunroof and alloy wheels. A premium Monsoon sound system is standard in the GLX and optional in the GLS. Black leather upholstery goes into the Turbo S, which also features aluminum pedals.
Under the Hood The base 115-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is available in the GL and GLS editions. A turbocharged, 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 150 hp is available in the GLS Turbo and GLX models. A 180-hp turbo version of that engine with a six-speed-manual transmission became available early in 2002 for the new Turbo S. The GLS TDI model uses a turbocharged, 90-hp, 1.9-liter direct-injection diesel. With all of the engines except the 180-hp 1.8-liter, a five-speed-manual gearbox is standard and a four-speed-automatic transmission is optional. Side-impact airbags, antilock brakes and daytime running lights are standard.
Driving Impressions Even after being on the market for several years, the New Beetle draws plenty of glances from passers-by. Depending on your preference, thats either the benefit or the penalty to be paid for driving a car that veers away from the conventional form.
Except for the tight space problems in the backseat, the New Beetle is an appealing automobile all around. Performance is modestly energetic with the base engine, snappy with the Turbo and surprisingly eager with the diesel. The manual shift takes the best advantage of the cars potential with any of these engines. The manual is easy to operate, but the automatic doesnt sap too much of the engines strength away. Now and then, a Turbo Beetle with the automatic transmission might misbehave for a moment, but most gear changes are trouble-free.
Steering is quick and confident in Volkswagens European manner. Drivers and passengers can expect a comfortable ride over most pavement surfaces as the firm suspension soaks up most of the roads imperfections.
The new Turbo S is one quick-running machine, delivering plenty of oomph from a standstill and when passing. The six-speed-manual gearbox works nicely with only an occasional misstep, and it seems perfectly matched to the clutch. Handling is also top-notch. Slight suspension tweaking for the Turbo S made quite a difference, and this hot model could hardly be more stable and confident on the highway. Though the suspension is taut, the ride isnt particularly bothersome. The Turbo S has a barely perceptible sound, but tire whine occurs on some pavements.
The Turbo S has several annoyances: The spoiler goes up and down far too often along with speed changes, the doughnut-shaped headrests are hard and the tachometers are awfully small.