Driving Volkswagen's 2004 New Beetle Convertible GLS 1.8T had me feeling good. After all, I could not remember when I had received so much attention from female passers-by. But I quickly absorbed the message: They liked the car, knucklehead; they could have cared less about the driver. Another male fantasy dies hard.
OK, I get it. The New Beetle, particularly a yellow convertible version of it, appeals to women. It's strongly marketed to them, and women like the VW's saucy good looks and female-friendly amenities, including that can't-be-ignored bud vase on the dash.
The litany of compliments directed at my test ride ran the gamut: "Love your car. ... Sweet ride. ... How much you want for that car?"
Sigh! Attention from the opposite sex is nice, but I felt like something was not quite right. I was liking the New Beetle droptop a whole lot on my own, without the unsolicited praise from women. Surely, I thought, there must be some macho characteristic of this car that calls to the male of the species.
There is such a characteristic, as I found out climbing a steep, incredibly curvy portion of Highway 29 north of Calistoga. It's called muscle.
Ordinarily, I would not dream of taking on a fifth-generation Chevrolet Corvette with a Volkswagen New Beetle on flat ground or even on the steady elevation climbs from Sacramento to Reno or Lake Tahoe. But there was something about the somewhat reckless, overly aggressive approach of that bright-yellow 'Vette in the rearview mirror that did something to me in Napa County.
And so, when the Corvette pulled even with me on a quarter-mile passing zone that commenced on a sharp uphill curve, I nailed the accelerator. This - if there is such a thing - was the New Beetle's turf.
The VW's 1.8-liter, turbocharged in-line 4 - with 150 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of torque kicking in at 2,200 revolutions per minute - stayed even with the 'Vette as its smiling driver accelerated and tried to hold the sports car's line on the sharp right-hander at 60 mph. The Corvette began to drop behind with 100 yards to go, and we zoomed toward a merge into a single lane that featured a sharp left-right twist.
The VW cleared the Corvette 50 yards before the merge and then - whip-whap - ripped through the left-right noodle with barely a wiggle. When I looked up, the 'Vette was 25 yards behind me, and the driver threw a jaunty salute out the window.
As expected, he blew past me at approximately 90 mph on the next straight stretch of road, but the point had been made: This turbo New Beetle droptop has the kind of handling to please the sports car demon in all of us - male and female.
And with the top down, the car is the embodiment of enjoyment on a sunny California roadway - style, performance and open-air goodness. Air flowed over the top of the car without tearing out my ever-thinning hair or assaulting the ears. A sweet ride, indeed.
For an engine with a turbo appendage, the fuel economy figures were impressive - 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway. The car's light weight - about 3,200 pounds in the tested car - certainly makes those numbers possible, but you take your fuel pump savings any way you can get them today.
An uncomplicated interior cabin was both functional and comfortable. Climate/audio controls were refreshingly easy to use and reliable. Simple pleasures such as immediate cool air in a hot cabin and a precise hit on a desired radio station can be wonderful in a time of overly complex automobile dashboards.
The owner's manual said the New Beetle can carry four passengers, but I accepted it as strictly a transporter of two. I cannot imagine torturing two passengers in the extremely tight rear-seat quarters - especially during impromptu competitions against late-model Corvettes.
Likewise, the VW's cargo-carrying capabilities are limited, with 5 cubic feet the manufacturer's listed maximum. Going away for the weekend in the New Beetle Convertible GLS 1.8T? Better pack light. Interior cabin storage space for those little items we pack along with us on our drives also is scarce.
All of which leads one to say: So what?
This Volkswagen delivers big-time on its promise of fun and smile-every-mile driving enjoyment. It's the prototypical purchase for young couples or older couples looking for a second car in which to romp around the countryside on weekends.
Forget all that gender-specific nonsense. This is a droptop on which both males and females can agree.
Volkswagen New Beetle at a glance Make/model: 2004 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible GLS 1.8T. Vehicle type: Four-passenger, front-drive, two-door, mini-compact convertible.
Base price: $25,995 (as tested, $28,720).
Engine: 1.8-liter, turbocharged in-line 4 with 150 horsepower at 5,800 revolutions per minute and 162 foot-pounds of torque at 2,200 rpm.
EPA fuel economy: 22 miles per gallon city; 29 mpg highway. Transmission: Six-speed automatic with overdrive.
Steering: Power rack and pinion.
Brakes: Power four-wheel discs with anti-lock.
Suspension: Four-wheel independent with MacPherson struts on front and torsion beam axle on rear (coil springs and stabilizer bars front and rear).
Interior volume: 78 cubic feet.
Cargo volume: 5 cubic feet.
Fuel tank: 14.5 gallons.
Curb weight: 3,217 pounds.
Front track: 59.3 inches.
Rear track: 58.5 inches.
Ground clearance: 4.7 inches.
Height: 59.1 inches.
Length: 161.1 inches.
Wheelbase: 98.8 inches.
Width: 67.9 inches.
Tires: P205/55RH16 all-season tires.
Assembly site: Puebla, Mexico.
About the Writer
The Bee's Mark Glover can be reached at (916) 321-1184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.