When it arrived in 1998, Volkswagen's New Beetle rekindled the magic of its legendary namesake and became a ray of sunshine in an all-too-serious car market. At that time, we asked: Where's the convertible? We've been asking that question every year since. Finally, it's here.
The question now becomes: Did they wait too long? Volkswagen's New Beetle is no longer that new, having been around for about six years now. With the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Thunderbird, Mini Cooper and other retrospective designs stealing headlines, the Beetle no longer basks in the retro-fad limelight.
Beetle remains a stylish car, however. And because it's a Volkswagen, the Beetle is a refined car. It combines German engineering and performance with exceptional fit and finish, and it represents a good value. Like other retro-mobiles, however, driver and passengers must make some concessions for style. Interior ergonomics are not as good those in a more traditional car, such as the Golf. Nor is there a lot of trunk space.
Drop the top and all these concerns are blown away, of course. The New Beetle convertible is good fun. It's also tight. Volkswagen has engineered a winning chassis with none of the cowl shake common on most convertibles. New for 2003, Beetle convertibles are offered with a choice of trim and 2.0-liter or 1.8-liter turbo engines. Introduced for 2002, the Beetle Turbo S is fun, too, though its fun is best measured with a stopwatch.
The standard Beetle is still cool, too. It comes in an assortment of bright, fun colors. Its exterior and interior design details are fun and creative. On the road, the Beetle is smooth and sophisticated and handles well. It's considered a safe car. Beetle earned top scores in the federal governments crash tests and comes with Volkswagen's excellent safety features. Just don't expect to see people looking, smiling and waving at you every time you come around a corner as much as they did when the New Beetle first hit the streets. After all, Beetle is now a familiar face in America.
Beetle comes with a choice of engines: Volkswagen's 115-horsepower 2.0-liter engine comes on GL and GLS 2.0 models. TDI models are equipped with a 1.9-liter diesel engine called TDI for Turbo Direct Injection that earns an EPA-estimated 49 mpg on the highway. 1.8T models come with a 150-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-liter engine. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard; a four-speed automatic ($875) is optional. Turbo S is equipped with a free-breathing 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Convertibles offer a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic ($1175).
Models and MSRPs: GL 2.0 ($15,950); GLS 2.0 ($17,815); GL TDI ($17,195); GLS TDI ($18,995); GLS 1.8 T ($19,855); GLX 1.8 T ($21,640); Turbo S ($23,540); Convertible GL 2.0 ($20,450); Convertible GLS 2.0 ($21,850); Convertible GLS 1.8 T ($24,100); Convertible GLX 1.8 T ($25,550).
Beetle comes well equipped. Base GL comes with a long list of standard items: CFC-free air conditioning with an integrated pollen filter; a six-speaker AM/FM stereo/cassette; central locking with keyless remote; anti-theft system; four-wheel disc brakes with ABS; tilt/telescoping steering column; clear-lens halogen projector headlamps; heated, power exterior mirrors; cruise control; power windows.
GLS trim level adds front fog lamps, 16-inch alloy wheels, a power sunroof and no-cost optional leatherette. Options include leather-trimmed seating surfaces, heated front seats, a three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob and hand brake grip, 17-inch alloy wheels (on 1.8 T), Monsoon Audio System, ESP and heated windshield washer nozzles.
GLX also features 16-inch alloy wheels, a speed-activated rear spoiler (also available on GL and GLS 1.8 T), an eight-speaker Monsoon Audio System, a leather-wrapped shift knob, hand brake grip and three-spoke steering wheel, leather-trimmed seating surfaces with heatable front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, halogen fog lamps, rain-sensing wipers and a self-dimming rearview mirror.
Turbo S remains the most powerful New Beetle with its 180-horsepower 1.8 T engine rated at 173 pounds-feet of torque. All Turbo S models come with the six-speed manual. Other unique features include 17-inch alloy wheels, brushed alloy trim and dual stainless steel exhaust tips.
Convertibles offer a choice of standard five-speed manual or a new optional six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic. The New Beetle convertible is available with a manual or semi-automatic cloth-lined top that features three layers to ensure excellent insulation and appearance. Volkswagen's standard Automatic Rollover Supports serve to provide added overhead support in the unlikely event of a rollover. Sensors in the car indicate whether it is in a rollover situation, causing the Automatic Rollover Supports to deploy behind the rear seats, whether the convertible top is up or down. The exclusive system works in conjunction with the headrests to help provide even more protection for occupants.
Standard safety equipment includes driver and front passenger airbags, side-impact airbags mounted in the seatbacks, a safety-belt tensioning system, a collapsible steering column, an emergency trunk release handle and rear-seat tether anchorage points for securing a child safety seat. Antilock brakes (ABS) come standard. Volkswagen's Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) is optional on the New Beetle GL, GLS and GLX, and standard on Turbo S. ESP will automatically help stabilize the vehicle in the event of a sudden emergency maneuver.
The distinctive dome shape of the Volkswagen Beetle is no longer a novelty. So we were surprised when our black 2003 convertible attracted attention around L.A. Young women often turned and looked at it, pointing it out to their friends, even when the top was up. A young man who had just purchased a Mini Cooper stopped us in a parking lot and wanted to know all about the Beetle convertible. (He liked it.) Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised. While there has been plenty of time for the aftermarket to produce Beetle convertibles, the exorbitant price of these conversions kept the numbers down.
Soft top or hard top, the Volkswagen New Beetle is built on the same basic platform as the Volkswagen Golf, a high-quality, highly rigid chassis. A rigid chassis results in a smooth, controlled ride with little noise, vibration or harshness. Well-engineered crumple zones and other features enhance crash protection. To maintain structural integrity without sacrificing its round shape, the New Beetle convertible's body has been enhanced to provide additional support, including a rear seat support that enhances chassis rigidity.
Beetle's dimensions prove it is no small car. The body is 161.1 inches in length and 67.9 inches wide, with a wheelbase of 98.7 inches. It's longer, but narrower and taller than a Mini. Beetle is shorter, but wider and not as tall as a PT Cruiser.
Quality is excellent. Gaps between doors, fenders and other body panels are some of the tightest we've seen. Fenders and bumpers are made from a special dent-resistant plastic. Outside door handles are easy to grab, feel good, and don't require inverting your hand to operate. New turn indicators on outside mirrors warn drivers alongside when changing lanes. Color-keyed mirror housings and door handles add to the Beetle's clean appearance. At night from a distance, our black convertible looked like something from Porsche with its sleek dome shape and round headlamps.
Convertibles are distinguished by an exterior chrome strip that surrounds the greenhouse and by a redesigned trunk design with integrated third brake light, and side mirrors with integrated turn signals.
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. 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.
Color is important on the Beetle and a diverse palette is available, including special-edition colors introduced at different times during the 2003 model year: Campanella White, Galactic Blue, Sunflower Yellow, Sundown Orange, Cyber Green, Chromaflair Silver/Green, Blue Lagoon, Red Uni, Chromaflair Cyan/Purple, Black, Reflex Silver, Red, Blue Lagoon, and Platinum Gray.
Volkswagen Beetle sweeping roofline creates tremendous front-seat headroom, though less than the PT Cruiser and slightly less than the Mini Cooper. The Beetle's deep dashboard can make you feel like you're driving the car from the back seat. You cannot see the hood or anything else but road in front of the windshield. Beefy front A-pillars (the post between the windshield and side window) impede vision in tight corners. (This big dash area and thick A-pillars are no doubt part of the Beetle's excellent crumple-zone design.) Small sun visors have no hope of blocking the sun coming in through the giant side windows. Convertibles offer as much room as hardtop Beetles.
Volkswagen's seats are comfortable and attractive. The flat design of the seat bottom makes it easy to get in and out of the seats, but they lack sufficient side bolstering for driving quickly on winding country roads. The usual fore-aft and rake adjustments are provided, while a lever jacks the height up and down. My right knee came into contact with the corner of the center console, but adjusting the seat rearward solved this. Your passenger may encounter the unfriendly tracks while groping around for the fore-aft adjustment. The outside mirrors are mounted well forward of the driver, which is actually a better position than that of many other cars which mount them too close to the driver.
The back seat of the convertible is fine for adults on short trips. Shoulder and hip room are cramped, more cramped than in the hardtop Beetles. There's decent rear headroom, more in the convertible than in the hardtop. There's a reasonable amount of space for feet and legs in the convertible when the front passengers cooperate. Hardtop Beetles offer more rear legroom. Beetle hardtop offers more rear legroom than the Mini, less than the Cruiser. Both of Beetle's front seats flip and pivot up and forward, making it easier to climb into the back seats. They then flip back to the original seating position, a nice memory feature.
Beetle's trunk is small, just 12 cubic feet, though the rear seats can be folded down to carry more cargo. The convertible's trunk is even smaller, just 5 cubic feet. Mini Cooper and PT Cruiser offer more cargo capacity.
Dual cup holders in front of the shifter are tucked under the protruding center dash that houses HVAC and audio controls. That arrangement appears to preclude tall drinks, but the cup holder platform cleverly swivels to the right to make room for that grande cappuccino. Your companion will have to hold his or hers, however.
Beetle's interior is attractive and, like all Volkswagens, is nicely finished. A myriad of materials is used to give the Beetle a high-tech look. We love the painted metal trim at the upper edges of the doors, which matches the exterior paint. GL and GLS feature new interior cloth, a tightly woven upholstery that's resilient and sporty, yet soft to the touch. Leatherette (vinyl) and leather are also available. The upper dash uses coarse, hard materials accented by smoother, softer surfaces elsewhere. Curved, dimpled door handles look ultra-modern. The steering wheel feels good and features brushed aluminum spokes. A small bud vase keeps a small flower looking fresh or holds a plastic daisy.
Beetle gets several running changes throughout the 2003 model year, including: moving the clock and temperature display to the base of the center mirror for easy-to-read driver information; an integrated turn indicator on the side mirrors; pinch protection for models with a power sunroof; and a redesigned center console with storage and a padded armrest. A dealer-installed, six-disc CD changer, vertically installed in the center console, is a new option for GLS, GLX and Turbo S models.
The padded armrest on the redesigned center console is nice enough, but the storage compartment is small. The optional six-disc CD changer fills this space, eliminating one of your few storage cubbies. The glove box looks impressive and has a small shelf at the top for the owner's manual, but its massive door belies the tiny, awkwardly shaped compartment. The center console looks like it may show dirt and wear over the long haul when ordered in the light colors.
A big speedometer and tiny tachometer are in a circular gauge panel that glows a rich, deep blue at night. This indigo lighting complements the red lighting used for stereo and heating/air conditioning controls to minimize glare at night. It also looks neat. Sleek radio and heater controls are within easy reach on the protruding center dash, but can be difficult to decipher and awkward to operate at speed. Below are controls for adjustable seat heaters and the anti-skid system.
The power top, like the rest of the car, is nicely finished. It has a soft cloth lining that looks and feels good. It seems to filter noise well. Beetle is a quiet convertible at speed. The light-colored lining on our convertible was beginning to show dirt in what would be the C-pillar area where it folds down, though our car was a pre-production model. The map light on the convertible is mounted on the mirror, awkward to reach and easy for your co-driver to knock the mirror askew when trying to press the switch. Convertibles come with a glass rear window with a defroster. Rearward vision is compromised with the top down, blocking sightlines down low. You'll be viewing windshields rather than grilles. Raising the seat reduces this.
The convertible's power top is easy to operate. (A manual top is also available.) Twist a lever, press a button and it opens in just 13 seconds. Press a big power window switch and all windows lower at once. Suddenly, you're in a better mood. Turn on the seat heaters if it's chilly. Our convertible came with sunscreen, a nice gift from Volkswagen. Pressing the button for the power top raises it in just 13 seconds, though it takes a little practice to get it latched without a momentary struggle.
An optional wind blocker ($250) turns the convertible into a two seater. It's a nicely designed piece and easy to remove, but reinstalling it is a challenge and can scratch the interior if you're not careful. Also, you'll need to store it at home when not using it because, once removed, it won't fit in the car. We didn't drive the Beetle enough at high speeds with the top down to be sold on the need for the wind blocker (it was winter). It certainly isn't needed at low speeds. Our recommendation is to pass on the wind blocker and purchase it later if you decide you'd like to reduce wind turbulence at speed and find you rarely have back-seat passengers.
Convertibles boast a special 10-speaker sound system with two 220-millimeter subwoofers in the front, two 160-mm woofers in the rear, four tweeters and two mid-range speakers. The placement of the speakers helps maintain high-quality stereo sound even while competing with wind buffeting. Three 12-volt power points are provided, in the front and rear seating areas and in the trunk.
The Volkswagen Beetle is fun to drive. It feels tight. Handling and brakes are excellent. Acceleration performance varies from lethargic to brisk, depending on model.
Beetle rides well on bumpy pavement. It's smoother than a Mini Cooper and more refined than a PT Cruiser. The Beetle feels quite stable at speed and in high-speed sweeping turns. The Beetle feels stable at speed. It leans in corners when driven hard, but tires and suspension give it good grip and keep the car firmly in contact with the road. The steering is quick and accurate. Handling among the different Beetle models is quite similar as the suspension is tuned to provide the same driving characteristics.
Beetle is smooth and stable under hard braking. It can stop in a shorter distance than a Chrysler PT Cruiser, according to published reports, but it doesn't stop as quickly as the Golf or Mini.
The 2.0-liter engine that comes on GL and GLS 2.0 models is smooth, quiet, and refined. It's very tractable around town with good, usable power at low rpm. That means you don't have to do a lot of shifting. Put it in second or third gear and leave it there. It's quite pleasant at 20 mph in third. You can even take off from a stop sign in second gear without any lurching. It cruises well at high speeds. Torque from the 2.0-liter engine comes at relatively low revs and makes the car feel sprightly around town. It wouldn't be our first choice for drag racing, though. In terms of acceleration performance, the 115-horsepower Beetle is among the slowest cars sold today. It takes about 10.2 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, according to Volkswagen. That's lethargic performance by anyone's stopwatch. Convertibles are even slower due to their added weight (0 to 60 in 11.4). It's clean performance, though. Volkswagen revised the 2.0-liter engine for 2003 for reduced emissions, qualifying the Beetle as an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) in all 50 states.
We recommend the manual gearbox, which was used for the numbers above. It shifts smoothly and adds enjoyment to driving the Beetle. The automatic works well, but offers sluggish acceleration performance, dropping 0 to 60 times to 11.5 seconds with the 2.0-liter engine. The convertible, however, offers a six-speed automatic with Porsche's Tiptronic system that is nearly as quick as a manual gearbox (0 to 60 mph in 11.8 seconds). It's expensive, but also allows semi-manual shifting.
Volkswagen builds some of the best small diesel engines in the world and the available 1.9-liter TDI engine is smooth, quiet and clean. It gets an EPA-estimated 44 mpg on the highway, compared with 31 mpg for the 2.0-liter gas engine. The 1.9-liter four-cylinder diesel engine produces only 90 horsepower, but generates 155 pounds-feet of torque and runs brilliantly. It is slightly rougher in texture than the standard gas engine, which some people like because they say it reminds them a bit of the original Bug. But it doesn't clatter like old Mercedes diesels. It's suited very well for everyday driving.
Driving enthusiasts will prefer the 1.8 T turbocharged engine. It lacks response at the bottom of the rpm range, but provides good acceleration performance once the revs are up. 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 about 8.2 seconds. Again, the manual gearbox is best. We have not been completely happy when pairing the 1.8 T with an automatic because the turbo seems to confuse the transmission.
Turbo S quickens the pace, accelerating from 0 to 60 in a very respectable 7.4 seconds. Coupled with a less-restrictive exhaust system, the new Turbo S engine delivers betters the horsepower of the 1.8 T by 20 percent and adds more torque. This shows up when launching off the line and 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.
The Turbo's six-speed manual slides through gears. Middle gears are designed for improved acceleration performance, while fifth and sixth help with fuel economy. Upgraded brakes help the Turbo scrub off speed. Special Turbo S suspension tuning and 17-inch wheels and tires keep it glued to the road.
Volkswagen excels at engineering and the Beetle is a fine example of that. Beetle feels tight and responsive. The ride is smooth and sporty. Handling and braking are excellent. It rides well and there's little undue noise from the road or engine compartment.
With a price starting at $20,450 for the GL, Volkswagen aims for the New Beetle convertible to be the highest-volume, lowest-priced European convertible in North America. That should be an easy goal, especially since the Golf Cabrio is now gone.
The standard 2.0-liter engine is smooth and quiet, fine for most people, but driving enthusiasts will find its acceleration performance lacking. Beetle 1.8 T is fun to drive. Its mild manners make for a pleasant ride around town, while its acceleration performance give it sports appeal. It's best with a manual. Turbo S is for enthusiasts who want sporty handling and performance.
|Model Line Overview |
|Model lineup: ||GL 2.0 ($15,950); GLS 2.0 ($17,815); GL TDI ($17,195); GLS TDI ($18,995); GLS 1.8 T ($19,855); GLX 1.8 T ($21,640); Turbo S ($23,540); Convertible GL 2.0 ($20,450); Convertible GLS 2.0 ($21,850); Convertible GLS 1.8 T ($24,100); Convertible GLX 1.8 T ($25,550) |
|Engines: ||115-hp 2.0-liter dohc inline 4-cylinder; 150-hp 1.8-liter dohc 20v turbocharged inline-4; 180-hp 1.8-liter dohc 20v turbocharged inline-4; 90-horsepower 1.9-liter, inline-4 turbocharged diesel (TDI) |
|Transmissions: ||5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic; 6-speed manual |
|Safety equipment (standard): ||dual frontal airbags; side-impact airbags mounted in the seatbacks; safety-belt tensioning system; rear-seat tether anchor points for child safety seat; ABS |
|Safety equipment (optional): ||ESP |
|Basic warranty: ||4 years/50,000 miles |
|Assembled in: ||Puebla, Mexico |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): ||Volkswagen Beetle Convertible GLS ($21,850) |
|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, plastic daisy, front center armrest; power top |
|Options as tested (MSRP): ||Leather Package ($900) includes partial leather seating surfaces, leather steering wheel, shift knob and grip, heated front seats and heated washer nozzles; wind blocker ($250); ESP Electronic Stability Program ($280); Monsoon sound system ($325) |
|Destination charge: ||($575) |
|Gas guzzler tax: ||N/A |
|Price as tested (MSRP): ||$24,180 |
|Layout: ||front-wheel drive |
|Engine: ||2.0-liter sohc 8-valve inline-4 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): ||115 @ 5200 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): ||122 @ 2600 |
|Transmission: ||5-speed manual |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: ||24/31 mpg |
|Wheelbase: ||98.7 in. |
|Length/width/height: ||161.1/67.9/59.1 in. |
|Track, f/r: ||59.3/58.5 in. |
|Turning circle: ||35.8 ft. |
|Seating capacity: ||4 |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: ||40.7/NA/39.4 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: ||N/A |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: ||37.2/NA/31.5 in. in. |
|Trunk volume: ||5 cu. ft. |
|Payload: ||N/A |
|Towing capacity: ||N/A |
|Suspension, f: ||independent |
|Suspension, r: ||independent |
|Ground clearance: ||4.7 in. |
|Curb weight: ||3082 lbs. |
|Tires: ||205/55HR16 |
|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 November 25, 2002.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-DRIVE-VW - http://www.vw.com
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