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Expert Reviews 1 of 4
By Jim Flammang
November 5, 2003
Vehicle Overview Following its debut for the 1998 model year, the Volkswagen New Beetle helped spark an early sales surge. A sporty new Turbo S edition joined the lineup in 2002, and a New Beetle Convertible debuted early in the 2003 model year.
For 2004, the GLX version exits the lineup, leaving only the GL, GLS and Turbo S. A new 100-horsepower 1.9-liter TDI (turbo-diesel) engine is available for the GL and GLS models. Telematics is now optional for all models, and the wheels have been restyled. Two-stage front airbags, head thorax airbags and active front headrests are new this year. An in-dash CD/MP3 player will be available later. New Beetles may be equipped with a 115-hp four-cylinder engine, a turbocharged power plant or the diesel.
Nothing else on the road looks like the New Beetle. The hatchback rides a 98.7-inch wheelbase, measures 161.1 inches long overall and stands 59 inches high, making it one of the taller compacts on the market.
Equipped with a front-mounted engine and front-wheel drive, the New Beetle is based on the familiar platform used for Volkswagens Golf and Jetta. Standard tires measure 16 inches in diameter, and 17-inch alloy wheels are optional. High-intensity-discharge headlights are available for all models.
A bubble-shaped roof gives the four-passenger New Beetle a strong visual kinship to the original. Unfortunately, it also infringes on rear headroom, and plenty of passengers are likely to brush their heads against the back window. Legroom in the backseat is limited. Cargo space at the rear totals 12 cubic feet, 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. The GL includes air conditioning, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable front bucket seats, a cassette/CD stereo, cruise control, remote keyless entry, heated power mirrors, and power windows and locks.
A Cold Weather Package that includes heated front seats and heated windshield-washer nozzles is optional. Side mirrors with integrated blinkers are standard.
Under the Hood
The GL and GLS use a 115-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. A turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 150 hp is available in the GLS Turbo. The GL and GLS TDI use a 100-hp, turbocharged 1.9-liter direct-injection diesel. 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.
Turbo S This model is equipped with a high-output, 180-hp, turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed-manual transmission. New Beetles featuring the 150-hp, turbocharged 1.8-liter engine also remain on sale. Black leather upholstery and aluminum pedals are used in the Turbo S.
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. During the 2004 model year, a fixed spoiler will replace the powered unit to alleviate one annoyance: the powered spoiler goes up and down far too often with speed changes. The doughnut-shaped headrests are hard, and the tachometer is awfully small.
This quick-running machine delivers plenty of oomph from a standstill and when passing other vehicles. The six-speed-manual gearbox works nicely with only an occasional misstep, and it seems perfectly matched to the clutch. According to Volkswagen, the slight suspension tweaking in the Turbo S gives the car a rock-solid feel. This hot model could hardly be more stable and confident on the highway. Its suspension is taut, but the ride isnt particularly bothersome. The Turbo S has a barely perceptible engine sound, but tire whine occurs on some pavement surfaces.
New Beetle Convertible The convertibles development took place at the Karmann facility in Germany. Karmann is responsible for the development of the New Beetle Convertibles five-layer lined top, which features a glass rear window. These models are available in three trim levels: GL, GLS and top-of-the-line GLX.
Much like the original Beetle convertibles of the 1950s to 1970s, the new model has a fabric top that rests on the back of the car; it doesnt fold into the body. Designers retained the familiar curve of the hardtop New Beetle by neatly integrating the soft-top into the basic profile. To achieve this, the windshield pillars have been moved forward considerably. Devoid of ridges, the top has a smooth, round appearance.
The base GL convertible has a manually operated roof, but most cars have a powered top. Automatic pop-up rollover supports behind the rear seats are standard, and a Windblocker is optional. Optional 17-inch alloy wheels can replace the standard 16-inchers. Except for a slightly narrower rear seat, the four-passenger New Beetle Convertible looks nearly identical to the hardtop New Beetles interior. Trunk capacity is a modest 5 cubic feet.
A 115-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine goes into GL and GLS convertibles, and a 150-hp, turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder powers the GLS 1.8T and GLX. A five-speed-manual transmission is standard on all models, and a six-speed-automatic transmission with Tiptronic operation is optional. Volkswagens Electronic Stability Program is optional.
Volkswagen did a masterful job of designing the New Beetle Convertible, which is cute and appealing. Other than a shortage of passing power from the 2.0-liter engine, the soft-top turns in a beautiful driving experience. The ride is superior. The suspension absorbs plenty of road imperfections with no impairment of control. Directional stability is top-notch, and the convertible handles expertly. Steering feel and feedback are excellent.
Not only is the engine quiet, but the New Beetle Convertible also emits no road sounds to mar the experience. Performance with the manual shift is smooth and adequate; an easy-shifting gearbox matches up with a light clutch. But Volkswagens six-speed-automatic transmission doesnt provide enough prompt shift action to fully compensate for the lack of vigor when tromping on the gas pedal at 40 or 50 mph. By moving the shift lever fore and aft, the Tiptronic unit is helpful.
Other than its tight backseat, the New Beetle is a wholly appealing automobile. Performance with the base engine is modestly energetic, while its snappy with the Turbo S and surprisingly eager with the diesel. A manual gearbox takes the fullest advantage of the cars potential with any engine. The manual is easy to operate, but the automatic doesnt sap away too much of the engines strength. The Turbo S with the automatic transmission may occasionally 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.