The New Beetle (1998-Present)
The Beetle was long gone from most automotive markets by the 1990s, but the worldwide reservoir of goodwill toward the car had hardly diminished. Around 1991, at VW's design studio in Simi Valley, Calif., the studio's manager, J Mays, and designer Freeman Thomas began conjuring up a car that would recall the Beetle, but with a modern edge. The resulting design, the Concept 1, was displayed to huge and unprecedented acclaim at the 1994 Detroit Auto Show. So Volkswagen decided to turn it into a production vehicle.
The New Beetle, built exclusively at VW's Puebla, Mexico plant, appeared in mid-1998 more as a stylish variation on the front-drive Golf than as a lineal descendent of the original Beetle. In fact, under the evocative skin, all the mechanical bits were lifted directly from the Golf, including the transverse-mounted, water-cooled, 115-hp, 2.0-liter, SOHC, eight-valve, inline four in the nose; the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions; and the all-independent suspension. And shortly after the gasoline-fueled version was announced, the Beetle was also made available with VW's excellent 90-hp, 1.9-liter, turbodiesel four. Trim levels included base GL, midlevel GLS and loaded GLX.
"There is so much to say about the vehicle," we wrote upon our first experience with the New Beetle, "but the bottom line is that it makes everybody happy; it's a fun, refreshing car that drips personality, right down to the smile on its hood. It also comes in an array of sunny, cheerful colors including red, yellow, white and black in non-metallic finish, and silver, bright blue, (lime) green and dark blue metallic hues."
ABS brakes were added to the New Beetle's list of standard equipment for 1999. At the midyear mark, the Beetle was also offered with VW's 150-hp, turbocharged, 1.8-liter four in the 1.8T model. Besides the blown power plant, the 1.8T also featured a small spoiler that would automatically emerge from the top of the rear window as the car built speed.
Few changes came to the New Beetle 2000. An immobilizer anti-theft system was now standard and the 1.8T acquired traction control.
High-intensity discharge headlights were added to the 2001 New Beetle options list, the standard equipment list grew for the GLX and the sideview mirrors grew in size, but otherwise it was a carryover year.
The big news for 2002 was the addition of the sportiest New Beetle yet, the Turbo S. "For power, this fired-up Bug sports VW's venerable 1.8T turbocharged engine," we reported in a three-car comparison test with Ford's SVT Focus and Honda's Civic Si. "It's a 20-valve DOHC four-cylinder design, with an iron block and aluminum cylinder head. Thanks to upgrades and optimization of the air intake, ignition timing and fuel mixture, along with a less-restrictive exhaust system, the engine makes 180 hp at 5,500 rpm and 173 pound-feet of torque from 1,950 rpm to 5,000 rpm. These numbers are considerably more than the 150 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque provided by the 1.8T in the GLX. To get the Turbo S' power to the front wheels, VW has installed an exclusive six-speed manual transmission.
"This powertrain gives the turbos an advantage over the Civic Si and SVT Focus. Not only does it have more horsepower, but considerably more torque, too. During instrumented testing, however, the Turbo S did little to back up its specs. Zero to 60 mph took 8.0 seconds, just a smidge faster than the Civic and slower than we expected. Its fastest quarter-mile time was 16.1 seconds at 87.5 mph. While these are certainly respectable numbers, one usually doesn't want 'respectable' when spending more than $20,000. However, we will say it's possible that our test car was under-producing: The Jetta GLS 1.8T from the Econosport Comparison test was faster, and Volkswagen's conservative in-house 0-to-60-mph number for the Turbo S is 7.4 seconds."
One of the three cars had to finish third in that test — and that car was the New Beetle Turbo S.
Casting the New Beetle as a sports car was always kind of a stretch, however. But slicing off the roof and turning the car into a convertible seemed to be perfectly in character with the car. So it was gratifying when the New Beetle Cabriolet appeared for 2003. Available initially only with the 2.0-liter SOHC four, the Cabriolet immediately became an icon among sorority girls the world over. Later in the year, the Cabriolet became an even better car when the 1.8T version was offered. Except for new wheels and new color combinations, the New Beetle and Cabriolet began the 2004 model year almost indistinguishable from the '03 models.
Of course, New Beetle sales have cooled since the mania that occurred when the car first went on sale, but the car has undeniably been a hit for VW. Will it be as big a hit as the original Beetle was? Check back with this site in the year 2063 to find out if the new Beetle is still in production some place with more than 21 million of them having been produced.
_________________[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass...it's about learning to dance in the rain."