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2003 Volkswagen New Beetle

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2003 Volkswagen New Beetle
Available in 12 styles:  2003 Volkswagen New Beetle 2dr Hatchback shown
Asking Price Range
Estimated MPG

23–42 city / 30–49 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 3 of 7
2003 Volkswagen New Beetle 3.1 24
$ 2,263-8,379
January 11, 2003

Almost from the first day the New Beetle hit Volkswagen showrooms with a resounding splash, people were asking this question:

What about a convertible?

After all, a perky ragtop was a mainstay of the Volkswagen experience way back when the original rear-engine beetles (that's with a small "b") were cruising the nation. With its fat fenders and funky top that, when folded, stuck out over the rear, the first VW convertible was a real charmer and remains a collector's item. Now, more than four years after the New Beetle introduction and many attempted chop tops, the convertible has finally arrived.

Just now reaching Volkswagen dealers, the convertible should help boost what continues to be a fun and usable automobile, although with some sagging sales.

The new convertible pays homage to the convertible of the past, with a top-down profile that looks remarkably like the original. Yes, the top still sticks out in back when folded.

Top up or down, the convertible is distinctive and very, very cute. If anything, the convertible is even more successful than the retro hatchback, which is still enjoyable to behold.

Like the hardtop, the convertible shares the solid driving characteristics of all the Volkswagen and Audi products. The steering is direct and responsive; the suspension is firm yet pliant; and the handling is sure-footed.

Still, there are some bothersome elements of the convertible. The standard 2-liter engine is challenged enough motivating the 2,800-pound hardtop Beetle but feels downright anemic pulling the 250-pounds heavier ragtop, even with the benefit of the standard five-speed stick shift. The little critter must be a real slug with the optional automatic, which also adds an additional 75 pounds.

The GLS model is available with an optional 150-horsepower turbo four, standard on the top-end GLX, which is probably plenty of power. I drove a Beetle S last year with the turbo, and it had plenty of spunk, probably worth the extra $2,250 added to the GLS. Unfortunately, there's a wait for the turbo, which won't be available for several months.

More troublesome than the engine power was the odd looseness of the front side windows, which wobble and shake when the doors are opened. At highway speed, there's wind noise around the windows that can get annoying. Otherwise, the three-layer top feels snug and nicely tailored. The rear window is glass with defroster. In the GL base model, priced at a modest $20,450, the top folds by hand, while in the GLS and GLX versions, it's a push-button affair. The heavyweight tonneau that covers the folded top is attractive and easy to install.

The rear seat, snug in the hardtop, is about worthless in the convertible, unless everybody on board is pretty small. It's also hard to access the back seat without contortions. Really, consider it a two-seater with a jump seat. There's none of the convenience o f the hardtop's large hatchback and folding rear seat, replaced by a small trunk and a pass-through for skis and such.

The trunk does open nicely, with an interesting cantilevered hinge that moves the lid out beyond the folded top.

Cupholders are poorly located under the dash, limiting the height of containers.

The GLS test car included a wealth of standard equipment, including the power top; power locks, mirrors and remote locking; 10-speaker audio; cruise control; and fog lights.

Standard safety features include four-wheel disc brakes with antilock and an automatic roll-bar system that springs up behind the rear seats if it senses impending doom.

Options included a leather interior package, $900; VW's fine Monsoon audio system, $325; Electronic Stabilization System for handling and skid control, $280; a wind blocker, $250; and a ski sack, $185. Shipping costs an extra $575.

But let's put this thing back in perspective. Despite the complaints, the new convertible succeeds at its mission, which is fun transportation for the young at heart. Top-down cruising is first rate, and the head-turning factor is definitely above par.

New Beetle GLS convertible

Vehicle type: Four-passenger, two-door convertible, front-wheel drive.

Base price: $21,850.

Price as tested: $24,365.

Engine: 2-liter inline four, 115 horsepower at 5,400 rpm, 125 pounds-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed manual.

Wheelbase: 8.8 inches.

Curb weight: 3,082 pounds.

EPA mileage: 24 city, 30 highway.


Top-down fun.

Moderate price.

Nice drivability.


Scant engine power.

Window woes.

Worthless back seat.

    Expert Reviews 3 of 7

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