Introduction

Volkswagen has kicked its retro-fad car into high gear with the introduction of a New Beetle Turbo S. Flying off the line from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a mere 7.4 seconds, the new Turbo S promises to appeal to a wider audience: guys, in other words.

A true lightning bug, the Turbo S has been clocked at 130 mph and features a speed-activated rear spoiler. That sounds like more than a mere nostalgia car. Technically, competitors will include its cousin, the Audi TT, its stablemates, the Golf GTI, and, in some circles, other retro-mobiles like the PT Cruiser, the Thunderbird and the Mini. But the newest Beetle's unique looks and stand-out performance make it a species apart.

The rest of the Beetle line continues to turn heads, however, and 2002 brings special color editions in Riviera Blue and Pastel Green; Snap Orange, Double Yellow, and Cyber Green come with special seats, trim, and wheel inserts. Very cool.

Model Lineup

Six models of the New Beetle are available: GL; GLS 2.0L; GLS TDI; GLS 1.8T; GLX, and the new Turbo S.

GL ($15,900) and GLS 2.0L ($16,850) are powered by Volkswagen's 115-horsepower 2.0-liter engine.

GLS TDI ($17,900) uses a 90-horsepower 1.9-liter turbocharged diesel engine.

The 1.8T comes with a 150-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-liter engine. The 1.8T is available in two trim lines: the GLS 1.8T ($19,200) and the fully loaded GLX ($21,500).

Turbo S ($22,850) is equipped with Volkswagen/Audi/Porsche's next-generation 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which is mated to a six-speed manual transmission.

Walkaround

The design of Volkswagen's New Beetle captured the essence of the original Bug, and the Turbo S emerges from virtually the same cocoon. While the New Beetle doesn't garner the same attention it did a couple of years ago when it was truly new, the new Turbo S attracts the eyes of men, women and children, young and old. Some smile. Some wave. A few even flash the peace sign.

The Turbo S looks similar to the other New Beetles, but aerodynamic enhancements give it a hunkered-down German turbo look. Smoothed-out wheel wells and revised bumpers give it a seamless, aerodynamic appearance. Double exhaust pipes hint of compressed aspiration under the hood, while special 17-inch alloy wheels and tires indicate a sports suspension. A subtle Turbo S badge, styled after Porsche badging, adorns the back hatch on which sits a rear valance. Beetle Turbo S is available in three basic colors: black, red and silver. The metallic silver is available at no extra charge, and a dark platinum gray will be added to the palette early in 2003.

New colors for the rest of the Beetle line include Platinum Grey, Snap Orange, and Riviera Blue. Marlin Blue will replace Batik Blue; Blue Lagoon will replace Techno Blue; Double Yellow will replace Yellow; and Reflex Silver will replace Silver Arrow.

All Beetles look creative and distinctive and spare. Quality is excellent. Gaps between doors, fenders and other body panels are some of the tightest we've seen.

2002 Beetle GL and GLS models get a new wheel cover design. New 16-inch six-spoke wheels are available for GLS models. For 2002, 1.8 T models get the turbo badge and new 16-inch alloy wheels.

The New Beetle has distinguished itself being among the safest of small cars. It has well-engineered crumple zones, dual frontal and side-impact airbags, and antilock brakes.

Interior Features

Inside, the New Beetle reflects elements of Beetles past. The New Beetle offers surprising roominess, with 93 cubic feet of interior space and acres of headroom. Although truck space is small, the rear seats fold forward to increase cargo-carrying capacity.

The Beetle features an unusual seating position. A huge dash area looms ahead of the driver. It can take a little time to get accustomed to seating ergonomics that make you feel like you're driving the car from its rear seat because of the expanse of its long dashboard. In the old Beetle, the windshield was right in front of your face. Now the windshield is steeply raked and has been moved several feet forward. The hood slopes so sharply downward that the driver cannot see it. The only thing visible outside the windshield is the road ahead.

The sweeping roofline creates tremendous front-seat headroom. That same roofline cramps people in back, however. Outside mirrors are mounted well forward of the driver, a better position than that of many other cars which mount them too close to the driver. Beefy front A-pillars (the post between the windshield and side window) impede vision in tight corners.

For some of us, it takes some adjustment to get used to the seating position and general ergonomics. Volkswagen uses a unique set of seat adjustments that use a small jack-like handle to adjust height and an awkward knob to adjust the rake, but they work well once you've grown accustomed to them. Available seat heaters are adjustable and are a great feature.

A myriad of materials is used to give the Beetle a high-tech look. The upper dash uses coarse, hard materials accented by smoother, softer surfaces elsewhere. Curved, dimpled door handles look ultra-modern. Upper door panels use a matte version of the car's exterior paint. The steering wheel features brushed aluminum spokes and carbon-fiber-looking handgrips. A small bud vase keeps a small flower looking fresh or holds a plastic daisy.

Drivers will have few choices to make on the dealer lot, because Beetles come loaded with air conditioning, power windows and sunroof, eight-speaker CD stereo system, power outlets for phones and laptops, and remote locking system. One of the few options is a dealer-installed smoker's package including ashtrays and lighter. A cruise control indicator light has been added for 2002. Also, the quality of the leatherette has been improved and can be added as a no-cost option.

A big speedometer and tiny tachometer are in a circular gauge panel that glows indigo at night. The gauges are attractive, but somewhat small and difficult to read. Red lighting is used for the stereo and heating/air conditioning controls to minimize glare at night. It also looks neat. Sleek radio and heater controls are within easy reach. The stereo sounds good.

The glove box looks impressive, but its massive door belies the tiny, awkwardly shaped compartment. Other storage options are available, however: nets on the doors, a sunglasses compartment. One-touch power windows are a nice luxury feature, particularly at toll booths. But the rear windows do not open, so back-seat passengers can feel a little claustrophobic on summer days. Dual 12-volt power outlets and three cup holders make living with the New Beetle convenient.

Turbo S comes with special interior trim. The heated sport seats with leather trim and gray inserts are comfortable, though spare. Stainless steel pedals are perforated for a high-performance look and feel, and brushed-metal accents adorn the stick shift, steering wheel and glove box.

The bud vase, a now-classic sight in the Beetle, has been updated for high-speed flower power in the turbo version where the vase is brushed steel. The upper dash, or cowl, uses coarse, hard materials accented by smoother, softer surfaces elsewhere. Curved, dimpled door handles look ultra-modern. Upper door panels use a matte version of the car's exterior paint.

Driving Impressions

Beetles offer excellent handling. The rigid chassis provides a smooth, controlled ride with little noise, vibration or harshness. Quick and accurate steering response, combined with good grip from the tires and a compliant suspension, help keep it firmly in contact with the road. The Beetle is quite stable in high-speed sweeping turns and under hard braking. The suspension is firm enough for crisp handling, yet nicely damped to smooth out bumps and road vibration. Handling among the different Beetle models is quite similar as the suspension is tuned to provide the same driving characteristics.

The difference lies chiefly in the engines. In terms of transmission, we prefer the five-speed manual over the optional four-speed automatic transmission. That's the way the original Bugs were equipped and shifting gears is part of the driving fun. The automatic works well enough, but it makes the car slower off the line.

The standard 115-horsepower engine offers good response and should be perfectly suitable for most drivers. Torque from the base 2.0-liter engine comes on at relatively low revs and makes the car feel quite sprightly around town. It is, in fact, one of the slowest cars on the road.

Volkswagen's TDI diesel engine delivers solid small-car performance and fuel economy. The 1.9-liter four-cylinder diesel engine produces only 90 horsepower, but generates 149 pounds-feet of torque and runs brilliantly. Unlike most diesels and certainly unlike the original Beetle, the engine runs remarkably smoothly and produces a diesel sound only at idle. The TDI offers substantially better fuel economy than the gas engine (48 highway mpg with the manual transmission for the diesel versus 29 highway mpg with manual for the gas engine). The diesel also has a better feel to it. It's suited very well for everyday driving. Volkswagen builds some of the best small diesel engines in the world and this one is smooth, quiet and clean.

The 1.8T versions add brisk acceleration performance to the equation. It lacks some response at the bottom of the rpm range, but once the revs are up it provides good acceleration performance. Step on the gas and the car begins to build momentum, then there's a whoosh of power. The Beetle 1.8T can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 7.5 seconds, a quite respectable performance.

The new Turbo S model quickens the pace even further, into sports car territory. Zero to 60 in a mere 7.4 seconds makes the Turbo S a pest even to the hardiest competitors, including its cousins at Audi and Porsche.

Coupled with a less-restrictive exhaust system, the new Turbo S engine betters the horsepower of the 1.8T version by 20 percent and adds more torque. This shows up when coming off the line or in passing maneuvers. The long and flat torque curve of the Turbo S engine makes it very enjoyable to drive. There's no lengthy turbo lag.

We enjoy Volkswagen's first six-speed manual transmission, which slides through gears like a breeze. Its fifth and sixth gears help with fuel economy, while the middle gears improve acceleration performance. Upgraded brakes are designed to haul it down from speed.

Special Turbo S suspension tuning and 17-inch wheels and tires keep it glued to the road. This is further improved by an Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP). This state-of-the-art technology seamlessly uses the anti-lock braking system, the engine's power, and transmission to stabilize it in during emergency maneuvers and other demanding driving situations.

The Turbo’s rear spoiler pops up at speed and is designed to maintain rear-end stability in high-speed corners. After spending some time with the car, we found the rear spoiler a bit annoying as it comes back down with a “thunk” when slowing down to walking speeds.

Summary

The Volkswagen Beetle is among the top 10 best-selling nameplates of all time, ranking alongside the Ford Model T in terms of number sold. The New Beetles are fun to drive and fun to look at.

Volkswagen's New Beetle Turbo S is a unique combination of kitsch and competitiveness. This latest bug will give performance coupes a run for their money while retaining the fun-loving looks of the New Beetle. It would appear that VW has found a new tag line: "Enthusiasts Wanted." Turbo S delivers high performance and respectable handling in a cute little package. Macho it isn't, but this bug offers a pretty big bite.

 


Model Line Overview

Model lineup: GL ($15,900); GLS 2.0L ($16,850); GLS TDI ($17,900); GLS 1.8T ($19,200); GLX ($21,500); Turbo S ($22,850)
Engines: 115-hp 2.0-liter dohc inline 4-cylinder; 150-hp 1.8-liter dohc 20v turbocharged inline-4 (1.8T); 180-hp 1.8-liter dohc 20v turbocharged inline-4; 90-horsepower 1.9-liter, inline-4 turbocharged diesel (TDI)
Transmissions: 5-speed manual; 6-speed manual; 4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard): dual front and side airbags, ABS
Safety equipment (optional): N/A
Basic warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in: Puebla, Mexico

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): Turbo S ($22,850)
Standard equipment: ABS, traction control, electronic differential lock, air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette stereo with six speakers, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks with keyless remote control, cruise control, tilt and telescopic adjustable steering column, anti-theft alarm system, rear window defroster, pollen/odor filter, bud vase
Options as tested (MSRP): 6-disc CD changer ($350)
Destination charge: ($550)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $ 23,750
Layout: front-wheel drive
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 180 @ 5500
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 173 @ 1950-5000
Transmission: 6-speed manual
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 23/30 mpg
Wheelbase: 98.7 in.
Length/width/height: 161.1/67.9/59.0 in.
Track, f/r: 59.4/58.8 in.
Turning circle: 35.8 ft.
Seating capacity: 4
Head/hip/leg room, f: 38.2/NA/39.4 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r: 36.7/NA/33.5 in.
Cargo volume: 12.0 cu. ft.
Payload: N/A
Towing capacity: N/A
Suspension, f: Independent
Suspension, r: Independent
Ground clearance: N/A
Curb weight: 3005 lbs.
Tires: P225/45HR17
Brakes, f/r: disc/disc with ABS
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gal.

 

 

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of December 13, 2001.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-444-8987 - www.vw.com

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.


 

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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