It's the egg shape. I'm convinced. People don't take seriously cars that resemble eggs, and the New Beetle looks like an egg threefold. There is the center portion, the main body of the car. It looks like an egg. There are the wheel wells front and rear. Both sets mimic eggs.
I was running late for an appointment, scooting out of the suburbs of Northern Virginia into the congested mayhem of downtown D.C. I planned to drive aggressively, but more in the manner of an athlete pursuing a goal than a scofflaw.
It matters not that I've never been an athlete. I had no plans to run red lights or disobey stop signs. The idea was to drive at top allowable speeds, to prevent anyone from cutting in front of me, to hustle for every inch of road. I had to get there!
It was odd.
I didn't cut in front of anyone. Nor did anyone cut in front of me. Other motorists allowed me to move ahead. Some smiled the way adult children smile at aging parents behaving badly. I was a sight -- an uptight, bespectacled gray-haired man racing around in a salsa red 2006 Volkswagen New Beetle 2.5 coupe.
Occasionally, I revved the New Beetle's engine. I use the term "revved" advisedly. It's a 2.5-liter, in-line five-cylinder gasoline engine that develops a maximum 150 horsepower. When you stomp the clutch, push the accelerator and shift gears, the motorized egg moves. But, let's face it. We aren't talking about the supernatural, speed-possessed 1963 Beetle of "Herbie-series" movie fame.
Nope. The New Beetle 2.5 coupe -- a bulbous front-engine, front-wheel-drive iteration of its rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive predecessor -- putters passionately. It evokes memories of the pony train in the child's tale "The Little Engine That Could."
Revv-v-vv. Revv-v-vv. "I think I can, I think I can. . . ."
And the New Beetle -- introduced in 1998 on the Volkswagen Golf platform, and so-named to distinguish it from the old Beetle -- could . . . eventually.
But it was no threat to faster cars. There was nothing intimidating about it. Volkswagen's marketers are aware of this, which is why they now advertise the New Beetle as "a force for good."
"Beetle people," as Volkswagen calls them, do not drive aggressively. They are gentle, caring, residual flower children -- baby boomers obsessed with the feel-good karma of the 1960s and younger folks, mostly women, who want to embrace and be embraced by a kinder, gentler world.
"Beetle people smile more often than other drivers," the Volkswagen pitch says. "They talk to their plants."
Compare that approach with the one the company uses to sell its 200-horsepower, dubbed-up hot-rod GTI MkV. That car comes with an ugly, devilish mascot that Volkswagen calls the "Fast."
The idea, of course, is that you can get your "Fast" on in the sporty GTI MkV. But the Fast gremlin and its suggested behavior are inappropriate in the four-seat, flower-vase-on-dashboard New Beetle.
Perhaps it's a sign of the times that the New Beetle, hailed as the rebirth of Volkswagen's love bug at its introduction, now is selling poorly. It is a friendly car in a decidedly unfriendly world, which renders it odd, comic, passé. That it has survived this long -- practically unchanged since 1998 -- is something of a miracle. But even miracles run their course. This one is near the finish line.
Nuts & Bolts 2006 Volkswagen New Beetle
The problem: The New Beetle came to be during a wave of automotive nostalgia that washed ashore other remakes such as the Ford Thunderbird, Plymouth Prowler (a metal-and-rubber paean to the storied drag-strip days of Detroit's Woodward Avenue) and the similarly conceived Chrysler PT Cruiser. But nostalgia often goes as quickly as it comes, and once it's over, it's over. Volkswagen's executives likely will reach that conclusion on the New Beetle soon.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Decent, but not exceptional in any category. It lacks the zoom of a Mazda3, the sassiness and smart handling of a Honda Civic Si, and the homeboy attitude of a Chevrolet Malibu SS. It's just an egg of a car, a motorized curio -- interesting, but not compelling.
Head-turning quotient: Cute is for babies. It looks odd on adults. The New Beetle has grown old. Time to get over it.
Body style/layout: The New Beetle is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive hatchback compact coupe. It is also available as a convertible.
Engines/transmissions: The New Beetle 2.5 comes with a standard 2.5-liter, in-line five-cylinder, 20-valve engine that develops 150 horsepower at 5,000 revolutions per minute and 170 foot-pounds of torque at 3,750 rpm. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. A six-speed automatic that also can be shifted manually is optional. Also available is a New Beetle TDI with a 100-hp, in-line four-cylinder diesel engine.
Capacities: The New Beetle has seating for four. Maximum cargo capacity is 27 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 14.5 gallons of recommended regular unleaded gasoline.
Mileage: I averaged 29 miles per gallon mostly in highway driving.
Safety: Dual front air bags with head protection, side-mounted air bags, four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front/solid rear) with antilock protection; traction and stability control.
Price: Base price is $17,180. Dealer's invoice price on base model is $16,107. Price as tested is $21,330, including $3,520 in options (power sunroof, premium sound system, heated leather seats, 17-inch designer wheels) and a $630 destination charge. Dealer's price as tested is $19,988. Prices sourced from Volkswagen, http://www.edmunds.com and http://www.cars.com , an affiliate of The Washington Post.
Purse-strings note: For "Beetle people" only. The rest of you had better shop around.