Introduced back in 1998, the New Beetle was penned by automotive designer Jay Mays who later did retro designs for Ford including the 2002 Thunderbird and the 2005 Mustang. All three designs sharing yesteryear DNA, they offered up a modern edge to a familiar shape.
The New Beetle rode a wave of love and flowers when it made its debut, offering a much needed injection of warmth into the Volkswagen range. It went through 2005 before a mild facelift and new engines were added.
The New Beetle was built on the Volkswagen Golf IV chassis which meant front-wheel drive and the need to move the cab forward to make it all fit. The rounded roof is artistic and almost cartoonish, creating a silhouette that is famous the world over.
Up front is a handsome face that makes people smile with large eyes that seem to look at you. The rear sloped roofline and tail view gives a sense of movement. The shape offers up a large reach hatch the original Beetle only dreamed of.
The shape gives ample interior space, a full four-feet from the driver to the base of the windshield. The feel is strange to first time drivers, but the cavernous effect gives a sense of roominess and safety. The rear seat only seats two across however and headroom can be limited for taller passengers by that sloping roofline.
The dash and interior are made of very high quality materials. This means you can find examples well over 10 years old with 100,000 plus miles that still look like new inside. The dash wears particularly well over time, rarely fading or cracking.
Some of the watch items for interiors on used New Beetles are worn switch gear and door panels that de-laminate and lose their shape. In both cases replacements are easily found online. The center console armrest on earlier models can be fragile as well.
Leather seats come with heaters and wear well, though the cloth seat materials tend to be more resilient over time. If you can get a New Beetle with the optional Monsoon stereo system you won’t be disappointed as it still has excellent sound quality even by today’s standards.
On the road the New Beetle drives pretty much like the Golf IV on which its based. With front-wheel drive you get good traction in wet weather, but this car is no German Autobahn burner.
In our 2014 Beetle Turbo review, I referred to the handling of the New Beetle as like an aluminum fishing boat with an outboard motor. The steering in this car is the culprit, slow and lifeless off center and with little roll stiffness it becomes boaty.
Our 2.0 liter tester averages about 28-30 mpg. The 2.0 liter engine that was standard in the New Beetle has 115 horsepower and with only 8-valves is pretty old school. In fact, this engine’s architecture dates back to the 1970’s. That said, it’s reliable and bullet proof.
If you opt for the base 2.0 liter engine I recommend you choose an automatic transmission over the manual. The slow sloppy shifter combined with the low revving engine that has little power makes for chores rather than fun.
Popular with a large following is the 1.9 liter TDI Diesel. These can achieve easily 40-45 mpg on average, and well over 50 mpg with a manual transmission. They cost quite a bit more than gas models even with 150,000-200,000 miles on the clock as they are extremely durable.
When looking at a TDI Beetle, the most important item to look at is service records. The timing belt must be changed at intervals. If you cannot confirm this has been done, budget for one immediately upon purchase.
Also, avoid the 4-speed automatic transmission with TDI’s if you can as they are notoriously troublesome and expensive to fix.
Lastly, the 1.8 liter Turbo is the performance engine offers 150 horsepower. When buying one be sure to have it well checked and see to it that maintenance has been done during its life. These are good engines, but can be very costly to fix if they break.
When shopping Beetles know a few common issues. Many have foggy eye, meaning the headlamps are clouded and faded. They can be replaced, but tend to be pricey. Lower grilles are often broken, but can be easily replaced.
Also, the lower rocker panels are part of the frame. Often you will find cars with dented or creased rockers. Know that replacing or repairing them is not a bolt-on process, but an intensive body shop experience.
The ownership experience is the gift that keeps on giving however. No other car on the planet lights up the eyes of children and adults alike as they see it cruising down the road. Even the toughest of guys have a soft spot for it that makes them smile until their girlfriend shuts them down with a jealous frown.