VW New Beetle -- Beep, beep

April 5, 2001
Being a longtime VW enthusiast and having contemplated buying this car, I was anxious to sit behind the wheel to see what it offered. I also wondered what it had in common with the original Beetle.

Although the original version of the New Beetle was released about three years ago, I figure the novelty has probably worn off a little, replaced by the Chrysler PT Cruiser, another throwback to a bygone era.

But when given the opportunity to drive it, I jumped at the chance.

The VW GLS Beetle came in a bright metallic blue with an automatic transmission, power windows, and heated seats. I regularly ride in my friend's '73 Beetle, so when I got into this New Beetle, I was amazed at the size of the dashboard. It was so huge, you could serve a buffet on it. I believe this was designed to accommodate the outer aesthetics. It also was far more sophisticated looking than its bare-bones predecessor. The high-tech dash has brushed metal accents. The gages all have blue numbers, while the illumination on the stereo is bright red. This color scheme gives your eyes a chance to adjust more quickly to the road after looking at the dash, as well as keeps you alert. Another quirky touch is the bud vase next to the steering wheel.

The original Beetle had an air-cooled engine where the trunk is on the New Beetle -- for obvious reasons VW has now put the water-cooled engine up front. Also, the New Beetle has front and side airbags. Plus, our test car had heated seats, a nice touch in this cold Cleveland climate. This is a far cry from the original Beetle, where the heat worked sporadically, if at all. And while most enthusiasts of the old Beetle enjoy tinkering with the easy-to-fix engine, I'm sure most would rather leave the mechanics of this to a professional.

While the engine is the same as the '98 Golf I drive, delivering a 115 hp at 5,200 rpm and 122 lb-ft of torque at 2,600 rpm, this is no muscle car. But it does buzz around nicely in and out of traffic and has a lot of pep taking off at stoplights.

I was a regular taxicab the week I had the car, trying to get people's opinions. Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot of consistency. My roommate, when coming out to eyeball the car in the driveway, said "Wow, this car is cool." However, others were not so impressed. Men tend to consider it a cutesy girl car. A few front passengers found the car roomy, while one said he thought it was uncomfortably compact. The back seat didn't get a whole lot of thumbs up for roominess either. The trunk is rather small as well, but is fit for a trip to the grocery store or a weekend getaway. The seats do fold down for extra room, so I suppose you could stash skis or a 2 3 4 between the seats.

While the New Beetle is a lot safer, it's a lot less practical than the old Beetle. The new version appears to be a novelty while its predecessor was designed for practicality. However, the Beetle would be a good car for someone who likes a little kitsch in their life and needs a car to buzz around town or to work in. And for $16,850 base price (the heated seats and alloy wheels add an extra $460 to the price), this is an affordable car. That's one thing the new and old Beetle have in common -- both represent affordable means to get you from one place to another.

--Heather Milgate

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