Vehicle Overview
Early in 2002, a sporty new Turbo S edition of the New Beetle joined the lineup. This model is equipped with a turbocharged, high-output, 180-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed-manual transmission. A New Beetle with the turbocharged, 150-hp 1.8-liter engine also remains on sale.

The New Beetle hatchback draws a cross section of American buyers that ranges from teen-agers getting their first car to aging baby boomers who may be reminded of their youth. In addition to the Turbo S, models include the GL, GLS, GLS TDI diesel, GLS Turbo and GLX. New Beetles may be equipped with a 115-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or a 90-hp turbocharged direct-injection diesel. Each engine can mate with a manual gearbox or a four-speed-automatic transmission.

Both the 1.8T 150-hp engine and the 1.9-liter TDI four-cylinder are available in the GL edition for the 2003 model year. Regarding emissions, the 2.0-liter Low Emissions Vehicle (LEV) engine attains an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) ranking. An Electronic Stability Program is now optional for the GL, GLS and GLX models and comes standard on the Turbo S. Four new colors are available, and several limited-edition color choices will be offered later in the model year.

A Cold Weather Package that includes heatable front seats and heated windshield-washer nozzles is now optional for the GL. Power windows and cruise control are standard on the GL. Side mirrors with integrated blinkers will become standard later in the model year. The new rear seat has two distinctive seating spaces, and the clock and temperature display have moved to the base of the center mirror. A Monsoon sound system is optional in the GL. As a dealer option, a six-CD changer can be vertically installed in a Jumbo Box.

Volkswagen’s warranty offers bumper-to-bumper coverage for four years or 50,000 miles. Wear-and-tear items and adjustments are covered for one year or 12,000 miles. Fully transferable powertrain coverage is for five years or 60,000 miles, and roadside assistance is offered for four years or 50,000 miles

Following its debut for the 1998 model year, the New Beetle helped spark a big sales surge. But sales dropped a bit in 2000 and fell further in 2001. Ever since the New Beetle hatchback has been on the market, there’s been speculation regarding a convertible version that could help trigger another burst of enthusiasm for Volkswagen.

After hesitating for several years, Volkswagen decided to produce a soft-top model with the assistance of the Karmann organization in Germany. Karmann is responsible for the development of the five-layer lined top, which features a glass rear window.

Replacing the recently departed Volkswagen Cabrio, the New Beetle Convertible will be available in three trim levels — GL, GLS and top-of-the-line GLX. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder are the two engine choices. They team with a newly optional six-speed-automatic transmission or a standard five-speed-manual gearbox.

Seven body colors will be offered: Black, Reflex Silver, Galactic Blue, Sundown, Harvest Moon, Mellow Yellow and Aquarius Blue. The last three colors listed here are not only exclusive to the convertible, but they’re also duplicates of the hues offered on the 1969 Beetle convertible. The last old-Beetle convertible was sold in the United States in 1979. The German automaker expects that nearly one-third of buyers will be female, with a median age of 45 years old. Like the regular Beetle, the convertible version is produced in Puebla, Mexico.

Nothing else on the road looks like the New Beetle. Since mid-2001, Volkswagen has been showing television commercials that emphasize the dome-shaped profile, and no other vehicle has a shape that remotely compares to this one-of-a-kind hatchback. The New Beetle 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.

With a front-mounted engine and front-wheel drive, which is much different than the air-cooled rear engine of the original Beetle, the New Beetle is based on the familiar platform used for the Golf and Jetta. Standard tires on the New Beetle measure 16 inches in diameter, and 17-inch alloy wheels are optional.

High-intensity-discharge headlights are available as an optional feature for all models. 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. An Electronic Stability Program is standard in the Turbo S.

Much like the original Beetle convertibles of the 1950s to the 1970s, the new model has a fabric top that rests on the back of the car rather than folds into the body. Designers have managed to retain the familiar curve of the hardtop 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 top, but most cars will have a power top with a switch in the console. Automatic pop-up rollover supports behind the rear seats are standard, and a windblocker is optional. Options include 17-inch alloy wheels to replace the standard 16-inchers. High-intensity-discharge headlights will be available later.

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 heads are likely to brush the back window. Legroom in the backseat is limited. The New Beetle’s cargo space totals 12 cubic feet at the rear, 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 in the ignition. Abundant standard features in the GL include air conditioning, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable front bucket seats, a cassette/CD stereo, cruise control, remote keyless entry, heated power mirrors, and power windows and door locks. Extras in the GLX include leather upholstery, heated front seats, a sunroof and alloy wheels. A premium Monsoon sound system is standard in the GLX and available as optional equipment in the GL and GLS. Black leather upholstery goes into the Turbo S, which also features aluminum pedals.

Except for a slightly narrower rear seat, the four-passenger New Beetle Convertible looks nearly identical to the hardtop Beetle’s interior. The gauges are the same, and a flower vase may be mounted on the dashboard. A 10-speaker cassette stereo and leatherette upholstery are standard. Options include a leather package and a Monsoon audio system. Trunk capacity is a modest 5 cubic feet.

Under the Hood
The base 115-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is available in all GL and GLS editions. A turbocharged, 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 150 hp is available in the all GLS Turbo and GLX models. A 180-hp turbo version of that engine, which mates with a six-speed-manual transmission, goes into the Turbo S. The GL and GLS TDI models use a turbocharged, 90-hp, 1.9-liter direct-injection diesel. With all of the engines except the 180-hp 1.8-liter, 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 on all models .

Driving Impressions
Even after being on the market for several years, the New Beetle draws plenty of attention from motorists and pedestrians. Depending on your preference, that’s either a satisfying benefit or a penalty to pay for driving a car that veers away from conventional forms.

Except for the tight space problems in the backseat, the New Beetle is a wholly appealing automobile. Performance in this car is modestly energetic with the base engine, snappy with the Turbo and surprisingly eager with the diesel. The manual shift takes the fullest advantage of the car’s potential with any of these engines. The manual is easy to operate, but the automatic doesn’t sap too much of the engine’s strength away. A Turbo Beetle with the automatic transmission may occasionally misbehave for a moment, but most gear changes are trouble-free.

The New Beetle’s steering is quick and confident in Volkswagen’s European manner. Drivers and passengers can expect a comfortable ride over most pavement surfaces as the firm suspension soaks up most of the road’s imperfections.

The Turbo S is a quick-running machine that delivers plenty of oomph from both a standstill and when it’s passing other vehicles. The six-speed-manual gearbox works nicely with only an occasional misstep, and it seems perfectly matched to the clutch. The New Beetle’s handling is also top-notch. Slight suspension tweaking in the Turbo S made quite a difference, and this hot model could hardly be more stable and confident on the highway. The suspension is taut, but the ride isn’t particularly bothersome. The Turbo S has a barely perceptible engine sound, but tire whine occurs on some pavements.

The Turbo S has several annoyances: The spoiler goes up and down far too often with the speed changes, the doughnut-shaped headrests are hard, and the tachometer is awfully small.

Volkswagen has done a masterful job of designing the New Beetle Convertible, which is just as cute and appealing as anyone could have anticipated. When behind the wheel, be prepared to get a lot of eager looks from other drivers and pedestrians.

Except for a shortage of passing power from the 2.0-liter engine, the New Beetle Convertible turns in a beautiful driving experience. The ride is superior with a suspension that absorbs plenty of road imperfections and no impairment of control whatsoever. Directional stability is top-notch, and the soft-top New Beetle handles expertly. Steering feel and feedback are also excellent, and the New Beetle Convertible is just as easy and as much fun to drive as its hardtop sibling.

Not only is the engine quiet, but the New Beetle Convertible also emits no road sounds to mar the experience. Performance is smooth and adequate with the manual shift, which combines an easy-shifting gearbox with a light clutch. Volkswagen’s six-speed-automatic transmission, however, cannot provide enough prompt shift action to fully compensate for the lack of vigor when tromping on the gas pedal at 40 or 50 mph. Tiptronic, which permits manual gear selection by moving the shift lever fore and aft, is helpful. Many typical New Beetle drivers will be entirely satisfied, but those who demand stronger performance may prefer to wait for the turbocharged engine.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2003 Buying Guide
Posted on 1/23/03