Turbocharged motor adds to fun-to-drive quotient
When introduced in 1998, the New Beetle had a lot of things going for it: familiar retro-chic styling, an innovative interior which included a flower bud vase, better-than-average handling courtesy of a suspension and platform borrowed from the VW Golf, and a reasonable asking price of $21,500.
The standard 115 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine had adequate power for everyday commuting, but it wasn’t powerful enough to compete with high-performance competitors like the Honda Civic SiR and Nissan Sentra SE-R.
So in 1999, VW added the New Beetle 1.8T to the lineup – virtually the same car but with a new 150 horsepower turbocharged 1.8 litre DOHC 20 valve four cylinder engine. This is the same engine now used in the Golf 1.8T, Jetta 1.8T, Passat GLS, and the Audi A4 1.8T.
The turbocharged performance of the 1.8 litre engine transformed the New Beetle from a peppy, around-town commuter car to a serious, fun-to-drive performance car.
However, there was, and is a significant price premium. The 2001 New Beetle 1.8T GLS model starts at $26,575, $3,800 more than the New Beetle 2.0 GLS model. My test car, a top-of-the-line New Beetle GLX 1.8T model, is priced just over $32,000.
Turbo model looks like non-turbo model
If you were hoping to impress your friends and associates with the 150 horsepower New Beetle 1.8T, you might be disappointed. The 1.8T is virtually indistinguishable from the standard New Beetle model with the 115 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine. There are no 1.8T badges anywhere on the body – and while the 1.8T has some standard features that the base 2.0 litre model does not, such as alloy wheels, front fog lamps, perforated leather seats and a sport steering wheel – all of these can be ordered as options on the 2.0 litre model. The only exterior difference is the 1.8T’s speed-activated rear spoiler just ahead of the rear window – it pops up automatically at speeds over 80 km/h. But at rest, the spoiler integrates so well with the body, you wouldn’t know it’s there.
Personally, I’d be tempted to buy an aftermarket badge or decal that says ‘Turbo’. If I was spending $5,000 more (with options) for a 1.8T, I’d want the car to look a little different from the standard New Beetle!
This year, the New Beetle 1.8T is available with 17-inch low-profile radials and 17-inch alloy wheels, and they give the New Beetle Turbo a lower, sportier look – but they’re also available on the standard New Beetle.
For its size, the 1.8 litre engine develops a lot of horsepower, and more importantly, a lot of torque. With 150 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque from 2200 to 4200 rpm, the engine gives you a kick in the pants all the way from about 2000 rpm right through its rev range. 0 to 100 km/h goes by in about 9 seconds with the automatic transmission, and about a second faster with the manual transmission. On the highway, the engine turns over a comfortable 2800 rpm at a steady 100 km/h, a bit higher than average but not noticeably noisy or growly.
It’s worth pointing out that some of the New Beetle 1.8T’s competitors have small four cylinder engines with more horsepower than the 1.8T – however, they offer very little torque, so the result is poor throttle response at lower speeds.
The New Beetle’s turbocharged 1.8 litre engine’s fuel consumption is 10.7 l/100 km (22 mpg) in the city and 7.8 l/100 km (28 mpg) on the highway, according to Transport Canada’s published figures. It uses Premium grade gasoline.
For comparison, the New Beetle with the standard 2.0 litre four cylinder engine has 115 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 122 lb-ft. torque at 2,600 rpm. 0 to 100 mph with the automatic transmission takes 11.2 seconds, and with the manual transmission, it’s 10.2 seconds. Despite having 23 percent less horsepower, the non-turbocharged 2.0 litre engine offers only slightly better fuel consumption. However, it does use less-expensive Regular fuel.
My test car had the optional 4-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift points that adapt to the driver’s style, whether it’s gentle or aggressive. This transmission changes with a gentle bump, just enough to be sporty but not enough to be jerky. I have previously driven a New Beetle with the manual transmission, and I have one criticism – the protruding centre control panel is close to the shift lever, and I struck my hand on the panel a few times when groping for the shift lever.
The New Beetle 1.8T’s suspension is similar to the Golf – an independent front MacPherson strut suspension, and a rear semi-independent torsion-beam with separate coil springs and gas shocks. The New Beetle exhibits very flat cornering, excellent damping characteristics, a comfortable ride, and a high level of grip – more than you’d expect from such a ‘cute-looking’ car. 205/55R-16 all-season tires are standard on 1.8T models, but my test car had the optional Michelin Pilot 225/45R-17 low-profile radials – these offer more grip but a slightly stiffer ride.
Like all New Beetles, the Beetle 1.8T has standard four wheel disc brakes with ABS (anti-lock brakes). I was impressed with the power of these brakes and the added safety of standard ABS.
A safety feature offered on the New Beetle 1.8T but not on the standard New Beetle is EDL (electronic differential lock) low-speed traction control, and ASR (anti-slip regulation) high-speed traction control. These automatically prevent the front driving wheels from spinning in slippery conditions. For those who don’t want this computerized intrusion into their driving style, the ASR can be turned on and off with a button on the dashboard.
I found the steering effort of the standard rack and pinion power steering a little firmer than average, but the turn-in response very quick. With a tight turning circle of just 10.0 metres (32.8 feet), the New Beetle 1.8T is highly maneuverable in tight parking lots and U-turns.
Overall, I found the New Beetle 1.8T fun to drive around town and very comfortable on the highway. The extra power of the turbocharged engine helps when changing lanes, accelerating onto the freeway, and passing slower automobiles, and it makes the whole driving experience more enjoyable. Still, if I actually had to plunk down the extra cash for the turbocharged New Beetle, I’d think seriously about the cost/benefit ratio.
Unique, retro interior
Click image to enlarge
The interior of the New Beetle 1.8T is also very similar to the standard New Beetle. The upper part of the door matches the exterior colour of the car, and there’s a single round instrument ahead of the driver with a speedo, tachometer and auxillary gauges. At night, the instruments are lit up in an attractive blue/purple colour and the controls are backlit in red.
My 1.8T GLX model had a sporty three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel with aluminum wheel spokes, a leather-wrapped shift knob, and a ‘leatherette’ hand-brake grip. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes and the seat is height-adjustable, so it’s easy to find a good driving position.
The interior’s most unusual feature is a long dash top which looks to be about three feet long – you could have a picnic up there!
The centre dash area protrudes into the cabin, making it easy for the driver to reach the stereo on top, the heater and A/C controls in the middle, and controls for the seat heaters, rear defogger, hazard flashers, and ASR Off button at the bottom.
New for 2001 is a Monsoon sound system with AM/FM/single CD player, amplifier, and eight speakers (optional on GLS/standard on GLX). An optional 6-disc CD changer for the trunk is also available. The standard sound system is an AM/FM/cassette system with six speakers.
There are three cupholders under the dashboard and one at the rear of the centre console for rear passengers – call me a rebel, but I wondered if it would make more sense to have two cupholders in the front and two in the back. Another thing – a medium size pop drink with a straw won’t fit in the front cupholders because the dashboard is too low.
I found the optional perforated leather seats to be very comfortable and supportive, and height-adjustable with a ratchet handle. The seats also include 5-position, variable-temperature seat heaters for cold mornings.
Between the seats is a folding armrest and a small storage bin, and there are also door pockets with elastic mesh for grip. To keep your cell phone charged, there’s a 12 volt power outlet under the armrest and another on in the lower dash area. One unusual feature: a sunglasses holder on the roof the left of the driver.
Above the rearview mirror is a digital clock and outside temperature gauge. My car had the optional sliding glass sunroof with sunshade which is available only on the 1.8T model.
To access the rear seat, both front seats tilt up and forwards – a great solution. The rear seat is designed for two, and both rear passengers have adequate legroom and hiproom. However, the New Beetle’s sloping roofline limits rear headroom and it’s possible to bump your head on the bulky hatch perimeter.
The rear seatback will fold down, but it’s a single-piece design – split folding rear seats are not available. The 12.0 cubic foot trunk is small by hatchback standards, but it can be enlarged by folding down the rear seat. There is a cargo cover to hide the contents of the trunk.
All four seats have ‘donut-shaped’ height-adjustable head restraints – I liked the design because it helps visibility when lane-changing or backing up. New Beetle’s also have standard front and side airbags – the are latter built into the side of the front seats – and height-adjustable front shoulder belts, and rear child tether anchors for child seats.
Prices and features
2001 New Beetle GLS 1.8T models with a manual transmission start at $26,575 and models with the automatic transmission are $27,675. New Beetle GLX 1.8T models start at $29,195 and my New Beetle 1.8T GLX with a four-speed automatic transmission was priced at $30,295, plus installed options of 17 inch tires and alloy wheels ($600) and the Monsoon sound system ($470) – bringing the total to $31,365. The only other options are a dealer-installed 6-disc CD player in the trunk and new-for-2001 High Intensity Discharge headlamps.
Standard equipment on the 1.8T GLS model includes the turbocharged 1.8 litre four cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, four wheel disc brakes with ABS, power steering, ASR and EDL, body-coloured bumpers, plastic front and rear fenders, tinted green glass, front fog lamps, power heated mirrors, pop-up rear spoiler, full-size spare tire, and 205/55R-16 inch tires with steel wheels and wheel covers.
Also standard on the GLS are power windows with front one-touch down feature, speed-sensitive wipers, air conditioning, alarm and immobilizer, cruise control, tachometer, folding key with remote, central door locking, height-adjustable front seats, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, pollen filters, and rear reading lights.
The 1.8T GLX adds the leather seats, Monsoon sound system, sunroof, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated windshield washer nozzles, and self-dimming rearview mirror.
The New Beetle 1.8T comes with Volkswagen’s 2 year/40,000 km warranty – wear and tear items like brake pads are included for the first 12 months. A 5 year/80,000 km transferrable powertrain warranty is also standard. For comparison, most other import automobile manufacturer and some domestic companies offer a 3 yr/60,000 km warranty and a 5 yr/100,000 km powertrain warranty.
Interestingly, U.S. VW owners get a much longer powertrain warranty. 2001 VW’s are offered with a standard 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty for first owners and their family members. If it is transferred to a new owner, it becomes a 5 year/80,000 km warranty.
Look for more info on the VW New Beetle on www.vw.com and www.turbonium.com.
|2001 VW New Beetle 1.8T GLX|
|Base price (GLS)||$26,575|
|Excise tax on A/C||$100|
|Price as tested||$32,010|
|Type||2-door, 4 passenger hatchback|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||1.8 litre four cylinder, DOHC, 20V, turbocharged|
|Horsepower||150 @ 5800 rpm|
|Torque||162 lb-ft. @ 2200 – 4200 rpm|
|Transmission||4-speed auto (5-speed manual)|
|Tires||Michelin Pilot 225/45R-17 M+S|
|Curb weight||1342 kg (3008 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2512 mm (98.9 in.)|
|Length||4092 (161.1 in.)|
|Width||1725 mm (67.9 in.)|
|Height||1511 mm (59.5 in.)|
|Trunk space||300 litres (12.0 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 10.7 l/100 km (26 mpg)|
|Hwy: 7.8 l/100 km (36 mpg)|
|Warranty||2 years/40,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/80,000 km|