The original Beetle didn’t change much from year to year, and in that vein, the 2005 New Beetle isn’t much different from the 2004 version. A six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic is now available on all models, along with an MP3 playback connector. On the convertible, there’s also a new sliding front centre armrest with storage.

The New Beetle, based on the Golf chassis, is available as a coupe or convertible. Both start with a 2.0-litre gasoline engine; the coupe can also be ordered with a 1.9-litre diesel engine. The convertible runs strictly on gasoline, with the base 2.0-litre or a 1.8-litre turbocharged gasoline engine.

The single trim line on both the gasoline and diesel New Beetle coupe is the GLS, which comes with air conditioning, heated power mirrors, 16-inch wheels, cruise control, power locks with keyless entry, CD player with ten speakers, heated seats and yes, there’s a vase, but you have to supply your own flower.

The convertible comes in two trim lines, with the 2.0-litre-equipped GLS carrying the same features as on the coupe, except for moisture-friendlier leatherette seats. The turbocharged GLX adds 17-inch alloy wheels, electronic stability program, rain-sensing automatic wipers, an auto-dimming interior mirror, Monsoon sound system, leather-wrapped wheel, and leather seats. A nice touch is a fifth window button that simultaneously lowers all four windows for instant open-air motoring.

In a world of conventional cars, the unmistakable “Bug” stands alone. It borrows very heavily on its predecessor’s styling, but that’s where the similarities end – unlike the old, this new one accelerates, and it heats. It also handles very nicely, with the same surefootedness and instant steering response of the Golf upon which it is based.

Diesel engines have never gained the popularity they enjoy in Europe; North Americans still associate them with giant trucks. New Beetle coupe’s diesel is throaty rather than clattery, and returns excellent mileage; VW simply does diesel engines right, and it should be a consideration.

The round design means exceptional room in the front seat, but very tall rear passengers will smack their heads on the rear window. It seems the obvious place for small children, but be sure they’re old enough to fasten their seat belts – it’s a long and difficult reach to the back seat, even with the “easy entry system” that allows the front seats to slide ahead, and it will be tough for parents to put an infant into a baby seat, or fasten a youngster’s seatbelt.

The convertible doubles the fun; the semi-automatic power roof drops down and while it doesn’t slip out of sight, it doesn’t present too much of a problem for rear visibility.

All of the so-called “retro cars” – New Beetle, Mini, PT Cruiser, Chevrolet SSR and the Thunderbird, which disappears for good at the end of 2005 – come in convertibles. Only PT Cruiser is cheaper, and certainly doesn’t have New Beetle’s cachet. At $27,995, the two-seater Mazda MX-5 Miata starts at $2,165 less than the Bug, but you’ll have to leave a couple of friends behind.

The New Beetle is built in Puebla, Mexico.

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