Machine Design

2002 VW New Beetle Turbo S

The New Beetle has caught up with the rest of the VW family.....

If you visit Volkswagen's Web site, the resounding theme is their commitment to redesigning and reengineering. And while they're not going to be changing the exterior of the Beetle any time soon (except a possible convertible version), they continue to tweak the engine and offer different levels of power for the New Beetle.

The New Beetle has caught up with the rest of the VW family, now offering the Turbo S, the latest and most powerful addition to the power Beetle family. The turbocharged engine has 180 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. The previous model, the 1.8T, has 150 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, which is supposed to result in a difference of 0.8 sec in the 0 to 60-mph time trial. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine on both cars has five valves/cylinder, instead of the traditional four, and double overhead camshafts. Also, the cars have an aftercooler for high-density intake air. This combination makes for a more-efficient, powerful engine.

I experienced these attributes in a purely visceral way. For example, when stopped after sitting at a green light too long, I punched the gas and experienced "push-you-back-into-the seat-acceleration." I felt my head lurch back as the car thrust forward.

The New Beetle, four years after its initial release, is still a head turner. And the Turbo S has a few extra standard features that attract even more attention. A dual-chrome exhaust and rear spoiler give it a sporty look. The car also features 17-in. alloy wheels, and a special brushed alloy trim. The standard sunroof was appreciated with the warm, sunny weather we were experiencing (said weather precluded use of the standard heated seats). The Monsoon sound system with a six-CD changer made the ride even more enjoyable.

The Turbo S sports black-leather seats, a black dash with bright colored gages, and a sporty shifter with chrome accents. Something I find especially nice is that the front seats spring forward, allowing plenty of room for passengers to climb into the back seat.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the Turbo S and is the only car in the line with this setup. I'm grateful there's a Beetle offered with a standard transmission as I thought they were becoming obsolete. One little caveat, however, is that the sixth gear feels like overkill. Driving home that point, my coworker, who shared driving privileges, commented the Turbo S is quick off the line but somewhat long-legged in the lower gears. "I skipped from second to third getting on the highway at 65 mph; 3,200 rpm in fourth, 2,800 in fifth, and 2,200 in sixth."

The biggest downside to the Beetle is space. It's 161.1 in. long and 67.9 in. wide, with a wheelbase of 98.7 in. Obviously, the Turbo S Beetle is not intended for trips to Home Depot. The dome shape gives the driver and front passenger plenty of space, however the backseat would turn anyone claustrophobic. It isn't practical for carrying much more than groceries. Preparing for a trip, I loaded a suitcase into the trunk of the Beetle and it barely fit. The seats fold down to provide more room, but even then room is scarce. If you're driving across country, pack lightly.

Also, I watched my review partner as he unsuccessfully tried to adjust the seat to his comfort level with the ratcheting pump handle. I can't comment, as I have a similar mechanism on my '98 Golf, and am fairly used to it.

The Turbo S Model of the New Beetle puts it in a higher class of automobiles, which also unfortunately, puts it into a higher price bracket. For $23,950, you get just about everything mentioned, except a flower for the vase.

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