Review by Bob McHugh

I’m fairly sure the top people at Volkswagen, back in Germany, were taken aback by the sales and market impact of the new-age Beetle in North American. The New Beetle sparked the resurgence of VW in Canada and record sales numbers have been posted over the past four years.

To be honest, I was never a big fan of the noisy, gutless old air-cooled engine or the heat-deprived, narrow passenger cabin in the old VW Beetle. So the New Beetle didn’t come with a sentimental attachment, when it was launched as a ’98 model year vehicle. The ‘cute’ image and that bud vase on the dash were wasted on this grumpy old car reviewer – until I got to drive one!

First, here are a few facts about the New Beetle. Unlike its predecessor it has a conventional liquid cooled four-cylinder engine up front. Drive is to the front wheels and it’s a hatchback with a half-decent trunk and fold-down rear seats. The heating system works, air conditioning is standard and it comes with some excellent safety features.

Let’s face it, people buy this car for the “look” – a Golf (on which it’s based) is more practical and better value. Although the New Beetle’s design resembles the original Bug’s timeless shape, its stubbier nose gives it a cheekier look. Fenders are made of a dent resistant plastic and there’s not a speck of chrome on the entire body. Projector beam lights hide behind the familiar oval headlamp lens and the rear hatch release handle is cleverly hidden behind the VW emblem.

Mercifully the defogger system works effectively, as you’d never reach the windshield with the “defogger towel”, that old bug drivers always kept close to hand. Inside front seat space is another surprise, however, headroom in the back is limited. A round retro-style instrument pod looks right and it even goes psychedelic (yeah, man!) with turquoise and amber, instrument lighting. And let us not forget the famous bud vase!

A 1.9 litre turbo diesel version of the Beetle was a late model year addition in ’98. A little noisier than the gas engine its performance is surprisingly good and the fuel consumption figures are incredibly good – 5.6 L/100 km in the city and 4.4 L/100 km on the highway, with a manual transmission. The standard gasoline engine uses 10.1 and 7.3 (city/highway) L/100 km. with a manual transmission

2000 VW New Beetle 1.8T
2000 VW New Beetle 1.8T

2001 VW New Beetle GLX
2001 VW New Beetle GLX

2001 VW New Beetle GLX
2001 VW New Beetle GLX
Click image to enlarge

In ’99 the Beetle was offered in GL, GLS and GLX trim levels. An anti-lock braking system was also made a standard feature, an A-pillar turn signal light was added and it got a new shifter linkage. The GLX trim came with a new 150-horsepower turbo-charged version of the 1.8 litre gas version. This is a super-slick low-pressure turbo with little or no lag and the equipment package comes with a speed-activated spoiler on the rear.

The ’98 Beetle was recalled for an electrical wiring short at the battery tray that may cause the fuel pump to malfunction or a fire in the engine compartment. Another short-circuit, this time within the electronic control unit of the anti-lock braking system (ABS) can also result in a fire in 2000 and 2001 Beetles. Dealers will replace the control unit.

On the safety-plus side the Beetle comes with side air bags as a standard feature which is unique in this price range of vehicle. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated it a “best pick”, based on its best-in-class performance in an offset crash test.

You can certainly buy a more practical small used coupe or hatchback and probably for less money, if you don’t mind looking like everybody else. Volkswagen Beetle owners like to be different – and they love their “Bug”.


Current Red Book Pricing (avg. retail) October 2002:

Year Model Price today Price new
2002 Beetle GL $20,900 $21,950
2001 Beetle GL $18,700 $21,950
2000 Beetle GL $16,950 $21,950
1999 Beetle $14,975 $21,500
1998 Beetle $13,150 $19,940

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

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