Pre-Owned Profile: 1998 - 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle

The New Beetle generates much enthusiasm with its nostalgic style

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author photo by John Rettie July 2004

What can one say. The New Beetle was one of the most eagerly anticipated new cars to hit the market in a long time. When it first appeared in 1998 it brought smiles to millions of people who had fond memories of the old Beetle.
For a while pre-owned Beetles were selling for more than new ones as demand outstripped supply. Once sales of the car leveled off after a couple of years prices started to drop. Now that the early adopters have begun trading in their Beetles it is becoming easier to find pre-owned examples in the marketplace at reasonable prices.
If you couldn’t afford a Beetle when they first appeared now is a good time to buy one while they are still a relatively unique novelty amongst the millions of ordinary looking cars on the highway. There’s no doubt that you’ll stand out in the crowd in a New Beetle, even a pre-owned example.

What You Need To Know:
1. Review of a 1999 New Beetle
2. Summary of Good and Bad Points by Owners
3. History of Beetle
4. Review of current Beetle
5. Basic Facts
6. Changes Year-to-Year
7. Option Installment Rate
8. Sales History
9. Awards and Commendations Earned
10. Other Reviews
11. Price of Spare Parts

1. Pre-Owned Vehicle Evaluation — 1999 Beetle GLS
Likes: style, refinement, handling
Dislikes: small back seats, small storage capacity
Competitors: Chrysler PT Cruiser, Mini Cooper, Mazda Miata
Miles: 27,900
Condition: A+
Price when new: $18,250 (est.)
Current Estimated Value: $12,400 (Dec. 2002)
There’s no denying that driving a New Beetle is a positive experience. There aren’t many everyday cars that elicit such a response from other drivers and even pedestrians.
I have been fortunate enough to drive four or five different varieties of New Beetles during the past four years. Each time I have found that the car helps lift one’s spirit – if a car can do such a thing. As one owner so rightly said "it’s a happy car."
The car I tested was a three year old that was owned by a woman in her fifties. She had fond memories of owning an original bug so it was not surprising that she was eager to buy one soon after they came out.
Naturally she had kept the car in good condition and even placed a more eloquent flower in the vase than one normally sees. Yes, remember that this car has a small vase on the dashboard just to the right of the steering wheel. It’s quirky touches such as this that endears the car to so many people.
The Beetle is based on the same floorpan and utilizes the same engine and drivetrain combinations as the proven Golf and Jetta models so the car is a competent performer that handles well and has decent performance. The interior has lots of quality touches and the dashboard is particularly pleasant at night as it is lit with a cool blue color.
The most unusual aspect of the car is the driving position. As a direct result of its rounded shape the driver sits well back from the windshield. It reminds me of driving one of those old Pontiac Trans Sport minivans that were affectionately know as dust busters. Once you get used to it the driving position is actually quite sporty as you get the impression you’re sitting down low. In reality you’re not. Indeed all round vision is good as the windows are tall and the roofline is high. The only drawback is that as the A-pillar is so far forward it acts as a blind spot in conjunction with the door mirror. It seems to affect short-waisted people the most.
As one would expect in a German car the seating position is excellent with fully supportive bucket seats. The ergonomics are reasonable although some buttons are awkward to use. Even the small instrument pod works just fine in this car. Rear seat passengers have acceptable legroom if the front seats are pushed forward. However, head room in the back is not that good as the rear window curves down sharply over the occupants. It’s really more of a 2+2 coupe than a regular two-door sedan. Getting in and out of the rear seats is not as difficult as it looks as the front seats tip forward and rise up leaving a generous amount of room to get in the back.
Trunk space with the rear seat in place is lacking due to the curved shape of the body and the high lip makes it difficult to lift heavy items into the back. However with the seat back lowered there is a decent amount of storage space.
If you dream of owning a sports car such as a Mazda Miata but reality dictates you need a more practical car the Beetle could be just right. It offers head turning looks with a decent amount of interior space and good performance, especially if you get one with the turbo engine. On the other hand if you don’t really care for a head turning car and need even more space the VW Golf delivers the same driving experience with a highly practical hatchback configuration.

2. Summing it Up — Owners' Views
"It’s a happy car"
"I love the dashboard at night"
"Good sound system"
"No problems"
"Great air conditioning"
"People still wave at me, after three years"
"I expected better gas mileage"
"Bad blind spot caused by door mirror"
"High lip on trunk"

3. History of New Beetle
The original air-cooled rear-engine Beetle is one of the icons in the history of the automobile. It was first conceived before the second world war by Dr. Porsche as the "people’s car." Production started in the 1940s and it was first exported to the U.S. in 1949. It caught on like crazy during the 1960s and became a top selling car worldwide especially in the U.S. Sales fell off in the early 1970s as more modern Toyotas and Datsuns (Nissan) attracted buyers. VW stopped selling the Beetle sedan in the U.S. in 1975, although the convertible continued for a few more years. Amazingly, more than half a century after it first appeared, the original Beetle is still being made in Mexico in a factory alongside the New Beetle. However it is only sold in Central and South America as well as Mexico nowadays.
In 1994 Volkswagen of America surprised the auto world when it unveiled Concept One at the Detroit Auto Show. It was a nostalgic redesign of the original Beetle and was a big hit with the Americans. The skeptical German management was persuaded to turn it into a production car. The New Beetle has been a success in the US but elsewhere in the world, where the original Beetle was considered a strictly utilitarian car, the New Beetle has not sold as well.
Once the initial enthusiasm for the car waned in the US sales started to drop as well. At the end of 2002 VW launched a convertible version of the New Beetle, which it hopes will renew interest in the car and attract some more buyers. The original Beetle convertible was popular for a long time and the Golf Cabriolet that followed it was also a good seller for many years. There’s no reason why the New Beetle Convertible should not also be a strong seller.

4. Review of Current Beetle
VW introduced two new variations of the Beetle during 2002. The first was the Turbo S, which has a tuned version of the 1.8-liter engine producing 180 horsepower compared to 150 hp in the regular 1.8T model. It is only available with a six speed manual gearbox, which turns it into a fairly quick vehicle. It’s still not as sporty as the Audi TT, which is another derivation off the same platform.
The other new New Beetle is the Convertible, which first started appearing in showrooms in January 2003. It was a long time coming but the wait was worthwhile for fans of convertible VWs. It is very nicely finished with an electrically operated top that folds down on top of the body rather than down into the body. This gives the car the classic look of the original Beetle convertible and also allows the already small trunk to retain some storage capacity. It also means that space for the rear seat passengers remains much the same as in the regular car. Indeed with the top lowered headroom is unlimited!

5. Basic Facts: 1998 – 2003 Beetle
Vehicle Type: Sporty Coupe
No. Passengers: four (2+2)
Origin of assembly: Pueblo, Mexico
Engine: (standard): 2.0-liter 115 hp SOHC I-4
(optional): 1.8-liter 150 hp turbo DOHC I-4; 1.9-liter 90 hp turbo diesel DOHC I-4; 1.8-liter 180 hp turbo DOHC I-4 (’02 on)
Transmission: 5-speed manual, 6-speed manual (’02 on), 4-speed automatic; front-drive
Length: 161 inches
Wheelbase: 99 inches
Width: 68 inches
Height: 60 inches
Curb weight: 2700 lbs. (approx.)
Cargo volume: 12 cu. ft.
Fuel tank capacity: 14 gals.
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway): 24/31 (2.0-liter, 5-spd manual); 42/49 (1.9-liter turbo diesel, 5-spd manual); 24/31 (1.8T, 5-spd manual); 23/29 (2.0-liter, auto); 34/45 (1.9-liter, auto); 23/29 (1.8T, auto); 23/30 (1.8 Turbo S, 6-spd manual)
Safety and Recall information can be obtained from a variety of sources including elsewhere on

6. Changes in the Beetle line 1998 – 2003
1998 Model Year (first year of model)
All-new car based on Golf platform
Designed to look like an original Beetle
1999 Model Year
Turbo 1.8-liter engine available as option
Improved interior ergonomics
2000 Model Year
Traction control (ASR) available on 1.8T models
2001 Model Year
Optional 17-inch wheels available on GLS and GLX models
Larger side view mirrors
2002 Model Year
Turbo S model with 180-hp engine joins lineup
2003 Model Year
Convertible model available
More comfortable rear seat.
Clock/temperature display on the rearview mirror.
Turn signals mounted on outside mirrors.

7. Option Installment Rate
Generally, when you order a new car you have a choice of factory-installed options. When you buy a pre-owned vehicle the choice is limited to what was actually installed on vehicles sold in that model year. Use this option installment rate as a guide to the chances of finding particular options on a pre-owned vehicle. Source: Ward's Automotive Yearbooks
Standard on all models: Air Conditioning, Side Airbags, ABS, Remote Keyless/Entry
1998 Model Year
Installment Rate
Engine: 2.0-liter 91%; Turbo 1.8-liter 0%; Turbo Diesel 9%
Transmission: Auto 39%; Manual 61%
Traction Control: 0%
Cruise Control: 89%
Power Windows: 98%
Leather Seats: 1%
1999 Model Year
Installment Rate
Engine: 2.0-liter 90%; Turbo 1.8-liter 5%; Turbo Diesel 5%
Transmission: Auto 48%; Manual 52%
Traction Control: 0.2%
Cruise Control: 89%
Power Windows: 89%
Leather Seats: 11%
2000 Model Year
Installment Rate
Engine: 2.0-liter 67%; Turbo 1.8-liter 25%; Turbo Diesel 8%
Transmission: Auto 52%; Manual 48%
Traction Control: 37%
Cruise Control: 89%
Power Windows: 89%
Leather Seats: 32%
2001 Model Year
Installment Rate
Engine: 2.0-liter 57%; Turbo 1.8-liter 33%; Turbo Diesel 10%
Transmission: Auto 55%; Manual 45%
Traction Control: 43%
Cruise Control: 84%
Power Windows: 84%
Leather Seats: 40%

8. Production/Sales Volume History
Normally a model year runs from October to September. Often though, when a new version is introduced it hits the market before October. Legally, a model year can start as early as January of the preceding year. Accurate model year sales counts are almost impossible to collect as different model year vehicles are regularly sold side-by-side for several months. Production figures, when listed, often include vehicles made for export to Canada, Mexico and overseas. Source: manufacturers/Ward's Automotive Yearbooks
1998 Model Year (first year of model)
Production run: Oct. 1997 through Sept. 1998
Total number produced: 38,995
Total no. sold in U.S.: 36,037
1999 Model Year
Production run: Oct. 1998 through Sept. 1999
Total number produced: 83,420
Total no. sold in U.S.: 82,036
2000 Model Year
Production run: Oct. 1999 through Sept. 2000
Total number produced: 90,719
Total no. sold in U.S.: 84,623
2001 Model Year
Production run: Oct. 2000 through Sept. 2001
Total number produced: 72,375
Total no. sold in U.S.: 69,149
2002 Model Year
Production run: Oct. 2001 through Sept. 2002
Total number produced: n/a
Total no. sold in U.S.: 52,369

9. Awards and Commendations
"Most Appealing Compact Car" - J.D. Power and Associates
"Grand Prix Winner" – European Car magazine
"North American Car of the Year" – Jury of 49 US and Canadian journalists
"Import Car of the Year" – Motor Trend
"Automobile of the Year" – Automobile
"Most Appealing Compact Car" - J.D. Power and Associates
"Best Buy in Segment" – Consumer Guide
"Most Appealing Compact Car" - J.D. Power and Associates
"Total Value award -- Small Specialty Car" – Strategic Vision
"Best Buy in Segment" – Consumer Guide
"Most Appealing Compact Car" - J.D. Power and Associates
"Total Quality award -- Small Specialty Car" – Strategic Vision
"Total Value award -- Small Specialty Car" – Strategic Vision
"Best Buy in Segment" – Consumer Guide
"Best Buy in Segment" – Consumer Guide

"Despite all the nostalgia, Volkswagen engineers recognized they couldn't get away with making the New Beetle an old car. Buyers might have some fond memories of the Bugs they drove in their youth, but with so many other great products on the market, they want performance and looks. The good news is that this is precisely what the New Beetle delivers. It's cute, but it's competitive. It's a no-excuses automobile that you'll be proud to show off and drive." –, 1999
"Clearly, this New Beetle wasn't perfect, but was it worth it? The chicks say yes--for its peppy engine, easy drivability, cachet, and yes, cuteness. The guys just don't get it." – Car and Driver, June 2001

11. Cost of Parts (relative to other vehicles)
Headlight unit: $311 (average)
Side marker lamp: $26 (below average)
Door (left front): $367 (below average)
Fender (left front): $200 (below average)
Note: these are estimated retail prices for commonly replaced body parts on a 1999 model. Prices are current as of 2002 but will vary from region to region and are subject to change at any time. Source: ADP Collision Repair Services
The Rettie Report and Pre-owned Profiles contain objective information from a variety of sources. The subjective comments are those of John Rettie.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Pre-Owned Profile: 1998 - 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle - Autotrader