Nostalgia is running rampant in the 21st century, and clever car manufacturers are cashing in. The New Beetle is the 4th “Retro” vehicle I’ve had the opportunity of Road Testing this past year (the others being Dodge Charger, Chrysler PT Cruiser and Ford Mustang). Each car/manufacturer/designer has been unique in their representation of the roots of the particular vehicle they’ve set out to reproduce, and Volkswagen’s New Beetle is no different. Although it’s more modern looking than the original, it has plenty of original Beetle charm and a few new interesting quirks thrown into the mix.
Even though the New Beetle has been around for several years now, it still brings a smile to people’s faces whenever you drive by. Older people seem to have the same fondness for the Beetle that gear heads have for the Mustang or the Charger. After picking up the New Beetle, I had to stop by my mother-in-law’s and later her friends’ house, to pick something up, and you should have seen the big smiles on their faces! Memories of jamming 11 people (2 adults and 9 kids) into a 1960’s “Bug” came rushing back – aah the days when safety only applied to some quack by the name of Ralph Nader! (Oddly enough this is still legal in Ontario, Canada. As long as all the seatbelts are being used, you can wedge as many people into a car as is humanly possible).
When I first saw the “Salsa Red” Beetle I thought Yuck! A boring red car, but when we had to take pictures of it for this article we were surprised by how the car changes color in different lighting conditions! It varies from a very bright red to an almost burgundy red with all kinds of variations in between.
Opening the very large door, I was surprised to find such a large drop down to the seat – I expected it to be higher. That can be corrected if you wish by using a lever on the left to crank up the seat height with no fear of getting close to the roof. The headroom is as you’d expect it to be from looking at the Beetle – you sit right under the apex of the curved body, and it’s cavernous. A very “retro” effect is the painted door edge making it look like the Beetles of old with the exterior color of the car running along the door sill. Obviously, in the 21st century it couldn’t be metal, but it looks just as good in plastic.
Immediately in front is the single round instrument pod with a huge speedometer (just like the original Beetle), with the small fuel and tachometer gauges at the bottom. Around the outside of the speedometer are the idiot lights, making it a very pleasant and compact information centre. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is small and thick, offering not only tilt, but telescopic adjustments.
Because of the shape of the Beetle, there‘s a huge table-like dashboard – perfect for Britney Spears to place her children on for that trip to the Gap. But seriously, I measured the top of the dashboard – it’s 25“ x 51” – that’s more than enough room for a couple of small kids!
When VW announced the New Beetle was going into production, I thought the perfect way to make it sound like the original air-cooled engine would be to stick a clattery diesel in the rear – that would really make it authentic! Well VW put a diesel into it, but sadly it’s in the front and not the rear. The other engine choice available is the 2.5 litre in-line 5-cylinder which was in this week’s Road Test vehicle. You may remember this engine from the review I did on the Golf/Jetta and it’s one of my favourite engine/transmission combinations. The engine is very responsive and it’s hard to believe it only has 150 horsepower. When you put your right foot down, it sets off like a scared rabbit with the feeling you’re driving a turbo-charged vehicle instead of a naturally aspirated one.
Along with the 150 hp 4-valves per cylinder engine, is the very usable 170-lb/ft torque (it’s available from 1,750 – 5125 rpm) which is perfectly mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. (A 6-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission is available as an option). The close spacing of the 5-speed, along with the effortless and smooth clutch helped propel the Beetle to over-the-limit speeds very quickly. Although it is the same set-up as the Jetta I’d tested earlier this year, it was better mannered when launching from first gear, and is as silky-smooth as a Honda gearbox through all 5 gears -the highest compliment one can give. Perhaps the Beetle was more “broken in” than the Jetta – that may have accounted for the discrepancy.
The seat/steering set up in the Beetle was a little awkward for me. Even though the steering does telescope, I always found I was either too close or too far away from the pedals. The seat cushion bolster sits right behind my knees and made it a little bit difficult to find my sweet spot. All that may be required is an additional locking point in the slider – just a ¼ of an inch would have made it perfect for me. I loved the dial system for the seat-back tilt/recline. To me, dials offer the best means to fine-tune the seat adjustment. Add to this the smart quick-release lever that pushes the seat forward and out of the way to allow access to the back seat – returning the seatback to it’s upright position, it locks back in the exact place you had set the seat.
The single-disc AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system is excellent, and is curved to fit the shape of the centre dashboard and looks nice and tidy. The head unit itself was small and the lettering difficult to read while driving, and I found the buttons to be very small and it took a lot of staring and squinting to find the CD eject button. Despite the size of the unit and its buttons, the sound quality was extremely good through the 10 speakers.
The moonroof operation was a little different too. Instead of the usual button operation, VW use a dial on the ceiling. You rotate the dial to whichever setting you want and forget about it. If you want it fully open, rotate it and forget it. If it’s in the vent option and you want the roof fully open just dial in the fully open notch and it takes care of it for you – no need to close it and then open it all the way – very handy.
Rear seat accommodation is reasonably generous and comfortable for two. There are only two seat belts back there, so the New Beetle is definitely only a four-seater. Entry and exit is effortless. Once in the back, two passengers have good leg, knee, and hip room while foot space is a little tight for those with big feet. Those of average height won’t have a problem with the sharp drop of the roof right behind their head, but those with big heads or long necks won’t appreciate it – although they could just lean a little to the center of the car to stop their noggin banging against the rear glass. The seat cushion is comfortable, but the seatback is a little too upright for me. It may be quite uncomfortable for longer journeys if you’re taller than 5’9” but for kids, no sweat. Trunk space is so-so, again because of the Beetle’s shape. It’s a hatch, not a trunk, so it is a little more adaptable in that respect. The rear seat folds down as one unit and requires that the headrests to be removed for this maneuver. Cargo space in the Beetle could be improved if VW had the rear seat cushion flip forward first, and then the seatback, this would allow for more flat storage space. As it is, the seatback folds forward, but it just barely makes more storage space because it sits at a 45 degree angle.
Noise levels are very good in the Beetle. While traveling at much higher-than-posted speed limits it was quiet and hushed. The steering is quite responsive and communicative, while the suspension although not quite up to GTI standards, is more geared to North American roads than European ones. Even with the moonroof open it was very quiet inside the cabin.
Volkswagen has made the base model a 2.5 litre in-line 5-cylinder model and the up-level version is a 100 hp diesel (although VW is not offering a diesel version for the 2007 model year, it will return for 2008). Standard features include: leatherette seats, cruise control, alarm/anti-theft immobilizer, a folding key with a built-in FOB (the panic button is on the side – not the usual spot other manufacturers put it so you can accidentally set off the alarm), automatic door locks, dual vanity mirrors with lights, heated front seats, rear split-folding seat, tilt and telescopic steering, one-touch driver and passenger power window (up and down). The heated outside mirrors have turn signals incorporated into them – something that comes standard and is usually only found on much more expensive vehicles. There are 2 optional packages and they are almost identical in the U.S. and Canada. One difference is that the 17” rims are only available in the U.S. package.
Package #1 (Luxury Package in Canada) costs $1,291 [$1,650 Cdn] and includes: power sunroof (with tilt/slide/pre-select), including pinch protection, premium sound system, cold weather package, heated front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles
Package #2 (Luxury Leather Package in Canada) costs $2,920 [$2,910 Cdn] and includes: (Package #1) Plus: perforated leather seats, leather shift knob and leather handbrake grip, 3-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, 17” Alloy wheels with P225/45R17 tires, fog lights, automatic rain-sensing wipers, self-dimming rearview mirror and HomeLink.
A 6-Speed Automatic with Tiptronic is an additional $1,073 [$1,400 Cdn].
Unlike the original Beetle, the New Beetle is loaded with safety features. Among them are: side door beams, automatic lock/unlock doors, dual-stage airbags, front seat-mounted side-impact airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters, Traction Control, HBA (Electronic Stability Control) with brake assist, ABS with EBA (Electronic Brake Assist), EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) and an alarm/anti-theft immobilizer system.
The New Beetle is a terrific car – but definitely a “Chick Car.” It’s fun to drive and puts lots of smiles on people’s faces even after all these years. My wife wanted to stick big black dots on our red test vehicle to make it look like a ladybug, but I managed to restrain her. I did however let her put a rose in the vase that comes with the car, so that made her happy. This is one more retro car that she loved to drive, and I had to pry the keys out of her hands to take it back.
Volkswagen has done a great job of making the New Beetle modern and retro at the same time. Retro items like the shape, the speedometer and the steering wheel are combined with very modern touches like the vase, folding rear seat, bum warmers and moonroof make it a useful and fun car to own. Also, the plastic body helps combat the rust, while the sound deadening and water-cooled engine tame the racket that used to be the hallmark of the original.
All Volkswagens come with a comprehensive 4 year 48,000 miles [80,000 kms] Bumper to Bumper warranty, a 5 year/60,000 miles [100,000 kms] powertrain warranty and 4 years unlimited Roadside Assistance.
Pricing for the New Beetle:
As tested: $19,101 [$27,900 Cdn]
Base price starts at: $17,810 [$24,490 Cdn]
Fuel Consumption: [Regular Fuel]
The Inline 5 with a manual transmission is rated at 23.4 mpg City [10.4 L/100 kms] and 34.2 mpg Highway [7.1 L/100 kms]
I averaged just over 26 mpg [9.3 L/100 kms] combined driving.
Superb fuel economy
Plenty of zip and loads of fun to drive
Loaded with safety features
Limited uses because of the configuration of the rear folding seat
Canadians are paying a 46% price premium over U.S. prices to drive it
Would I Spend My Money On It?
No. It’s a great car, but it’s a “Chick Car.” It’s fun to drive, but I couldn’t see myself owning one. I’d buy the Jetta for the same money.
Back Seat Driver Test: 7 out of 10
“Wow, it’s comfortable back here, though the upright seat might be a little uncomfortable after a while.” “Plenty of room
Back here.” “Entry and exit is very easy, you wouldn’t think it by looking at it!”
Chrysler PT Cruiser, Honda Civic Coupe, Ford Focus ZX3, Hyundai Tiburon, MINI, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Pontiac G6 Coupe, Smart Fortwo, VW Rabbit/GTI.
By The Numbers:
Horsepower: 150 @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 170 @ 3,750 rpm
0 – 60 mph 8.4 seconds (it feels faster than that)
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
7 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
9 – Special Features (Heated Seats/ Sunroof etc)
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
9 – Front Roominess
7 – Rear Roominess
8 – Driving Position/Controls
8 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish
10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
9 – Ride & Handling
7 – Bang for the $$
10 – Fuel Economy
134 Total / 150
Copyright © 2007 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Gail Shankland
Also Published at: PaddockTalk