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Expert Reviews 2 of 8
By Jason Stein
May 13, 2002
Any way you drive it, the 2002 Volkswagen New Beetle is a rolling contradiction.Cute, quick, lovable, no longer psychedelic, hardly-like-the-original, but ... a contradiction.Where the reincarnated Beetle (unveiled at the 1998 Detroit Auto
Show) was meant to spark nostalgia, the New Beetle Turbo S, unwrapped for '02, is meant for speed.It's small, yet incredibly safe. It's attractive, yet deceptively devilish under the hood. It's a Beetle, but now it's really turbocharged.Turbo?
Beetle?Isn't that kind of like saying powerful Pinto? Or, growling Gremlin?Anyone who drove an original Beetle will tell you it must be an oxymoron. But don't tell that to the folks at Volkswagen. In the New Beetle, their aim is set directly at a
brand new buyer. VW hopes that if a beefed-up, six-speed slice of nostalgia doesn't pull on the heartstrings of baby boomers everywhere, maybe it will get your 21-year-old kid interested.One problem: You'll have to co-sign on the loan.At a shade
more than $24,000 in the new souped-up, speedier turbo, the Beetle is not a cheap trip down memory lane or an inexpensive form of experimentation.It's a whole new Bug ... that requires a few bucks.So exactly who is the customer here? Let's let VW
figure that one out. For now, we'll just call it one juicy ride.Thought your neighbor's old Beetle was an oil-burning, rough ride through the '60s? The Turbo S is a blast into a new century.With the infusion of a new 180-horsepower 20-valve
1.8-liter turbo engine (the most powerful four-cylinder ever offered by VW), this year the Beetle moves into a whole new realm in the world of small-car cruising. Or, should we say, flat-out flying? However you shift it, the new six-speeder (another first
for VW and the only six in the class) is a racer. It's fun to drive. It's a whole lot more power in the same package that currently sits in the Audi TT.The problem is, the Beetle isn't a sports car.In its simplest form, the Beetle is a small car
with great head and leg room up front, cramped quarters in the trunk and rear, but a rocket under the hood. From the outside, it's still that same Beetle - as curvaceous as a lopsided egg. From the inside, it still keeps the simplified dash, logically
placed controls, supportive seats and lots of cargo nets for tucking stuff.From head to toe, the Beetle has the kind of unique qualities car enthusiasts crave and the kind of safety features mothers will adore.It comes with a laundry list of
standard features: side air bags, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and stability control to keep things centered in rough weather. It comes with the kind of simplicity that still makes it a head-turner on the open road.And that simplicity works.
We're just not sure what it's supposed to be.Is it a rekindled spirit at high speed? Is it a new spirit for a new generation?Tough to say.One thi
ng: It sure tries hard to be a little of everything to everyone.Younger drivers will like the fancy 17-inch alloy wheels along with fog lamps, a manual-only transmission, a stiffer suspension, a leather-lined cabin and brushed aluminum gauges to the
long list of standard equipment. There's even a rear spoiler - which, incidentally, is another source of concern.The faster you drive, the more the spoiler is raised - a sporty feature usually found in rare sports cars. (Again, a
contradiction.)But the worst part is the clunk! the spoiler makes when it lowers after you've come to a complete stop - kind of like a case of pop sliding around in the trunk.The first few times it happened, I thought someone had hit me from
behind or the trunk was open.Very irritating.What's also troublesome, for passengers, is the rear-seat room. One guest had to sit sideways to fit along the church-like bench pew in the back. Cargo room is also a tight squeeze with
multiple bags.What is good is an excellent stereo with a six-disc changer, an extra-large sunroof and a climate control system that is top notch.Despite its odd size (and shape), handling on the Beetle is also precise and secure. With a lower
center of gravity, it zips in and out of turns as well as any small vehicle.And mileage is very good - 23 in the city, 30 on the highway.All of which brings us back to our original premise: For the perfect niche, it might be very enjoyable.Six
speeds and a turbo. Limited room. A cute ride.What is it? What does it matter?2002 VOLKSWAGEN NEW BEETLE TURBO SSPECSHigh Gear: The performance of the New Beetle can't be denied: It's a rocket ship rounded at the edges. The interior is
classy, its crash-test scores are excellent and it's a blast to drive. A unique combination of safety, fun and small-car practicality.Low Gear: Rear seat/cargo capacity is uncomfortable compared to other models in the same segment. Pricing can also be
a knock - at almost 24k, it's pretty steep. The pop-up rear spoiler is a nuisance.Rating: 3Vehicle type: Front-wheel drive, front-engine, two-door, four-passenger compact coupe.Standard equipment (Turbo S): Six-speed manual transmission;
heated, leather seating; height adjustable seats; folding rear seat; rear seat heating ducts; power windows, mirrors, doors; all-season tires; full-size spare; power glass sunroof; ABS brakes; traction control; stability control; front side-mounted
airbags; cruise control; power, tilt steering; air conditioning; Monsoon premium audio system; AM/FM cassette CD-controller stereo; daytime running lights; fog lights.Competition: Acura RSX-Type S, Subaru Impreza WRX, Ford Focus SVTEngine (Turbo
S): 180 horsepower, 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinderTorque: 173 foot-lbs. @ 1,950 rpmWheelbase: 98.7 inchesLength: 161.1 inchesMPG rating: 23 mpg city/30 mpg highwayManufactured: MexicoWarranty: Basic warranty is four years/50,000
miles; powertrain warranty is five years/60,000 miles; rust perforation warranty is 12 years/unlimited miles; roadside assistance is four years/50,000 miles.Base price (GL model): $16,082Price as tested (Turbo S - includes options, destination and
delivery charges): $24,890