Car Test   R0353
August 2003
First Drive Volkswagen Beetle
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 1.6 Cabriolet
South of the border down Mexico way, they’ve just said hasta la vista, baby to the old Beetle. The so-called Final Edition rolled off the line to create a production record of 21.5 million models – a tough act to follow. But life goes on at the Puebla factory, only this time with the new Beetle (saloon and cabriolet) – a characature of the original maybe, but an affectionate and a very much up-to-date one. Beneath that retro styling lie good old Golf underpinnings, plus a quartet of familiar engines.
   However, fans of the original Beetle Cabriolet expecting a nostalgia trip in this latest model will be disappointed. The only resemblance between the two is in the way the folded hood lies on top of the bodywork, to preserve boot space. It’s electrically operated on all but the 1.4, and within 13sec it provides a snug, windproof roof. There’s no breezy backdraught with the hood down, either, if you click the optional extra wind deflector into place.
   This foldaway device precludes rear passengers being carried. However, even when they can be, they’re unlikely to want to go too far because, although knee and headroom are tight but tolerable, the backrests are horribly upright. Getting to and from the back seats is aided by the tilt-and-slide front seats, but it helps if you’re spry.
   Conversely, those up front have plenty of room in all directions, when installed in the firm but shapely front seats. These and the fully adjustable wheel give a very good driving position, with a big and clear (by day) speedo. The fuel gauge and tacho are small, though, but minor switches are instantly to hand. Rear quarter vision is seriously hampered by the wide hood, however, which when stowed, halves the view in the interior mirror.
   The 102bhp 1.6 engine is a compromise between the sluggish 1.4 and the thirstier 2.0, although if you’re a diesel fan, the 1.9TDI gives the best of both worlds. This Cabriolet is more about posing than performance, yet this smooth-revving, quiet-cruising eight-valver provides quite lively acceleration when needed and is usefully tractable in town. It tends to flag on up-gradients, and for the briskest overtaking it’s often best to snick straight from fifth to third. The gearchange is excellent.
   Luridly over-steering Beetles are a thing of the past. The new model (with front-wheel drive, of course) could hardly be safer, thanks to a set of electronic traction and braking aids. But, should the worst happen, there are front and side airbags up front and a pop-up roll-over protection system.
   The suspension cushions road faults rather well, to give a generally comfortable ride, with deft steering and tenacious tyre grip. Also, VW has introduced considerable body stiffening to quell the infamous soft-top scuttle shake. It works, too – there’s just the merest trace of tremor now and then.
   A downside to this stiffening is that (unlike the saloon’s), the back seats can’t be folded forwards to increase luggage space. Mind you, we managed to shoehorn three supermarket shopping boxes in side by side, so the awkward-to-load boot is slightly bigger than it first appears -–until you stow the hood cover and wind deflector!
  considering size, price and rivals
Overtaking Ability
Fuel Economy
  • both front seats adjustable for height
  • extra switch opens all windows for al fresco feel
  • lockable storage areas and release triggers
  • additional turn indicators in door mirrors
  • tilt/slide front seats 'remember' their original settings
  • seatbelts awkward to reach; almost slide off your shoulder
  • handbrake lever heavy
  • blue dial lighting turns numerals fuzzy and indistinct
  • sun visors useless when swung to the side
  • air con warning light hard to see in daylight
Well, we could ramble on about the Beetle Cabriolet being safe and durable…its well-proven mechanicals…advanced technology…restrictions and impracticalities…blah, blah, blah. But forget all that; this is the same sort of car as the Chrysler PT Cruiser – they’re nostalgic reactionaries that make capital out of being old-fashioned. The Beetle is a buxomly stylish, fun-in-the-sun soft-top that’s guaranteed to put a grin on your face while wafting wind in your hair. An acquired taste maybe, but a ‘cool’, class act that takes some beating.

engine 1595cc, 4 cylinder petrol; belt-driven single overhead camshaft with 8 valves; variable intake geometry. 102bhp at 5600rpm, 109lb ft at 3800rpm
drive front-wheel drive; five-speed manual. 19.8mph/1000rpm in 5th. Traction control and electronic differential lock
suspension front: independent by MacPherson coil spring/damper struts, anti-roll bar
rear: torsion beam axle with trailing arms, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
wheels/tyres 6.5in steel (optional alloy on test car) with 205/55R16 tyres; full-size steel spare
brakes ventilated discs front, solid discs rear with electronic ABS, brake force distribution and stabilisation programme
0-62mph* 12.3sec
official mpg§ 26.6/46.3/36.2
maximum speed* 110mph
AA mpg range 23-46
AA typical mpg 35miles
CO2 emissions 187g/km
* maker's figures  § urban/extra urban/combined

size and type two-door, lower-medium saloon and cabriolet - mid priced   trim levels according to engine size
engines petrol: 4 cylinder/ 1.4 litre/75bhp, 4/1.6/102, 4/2.0/115
diesel: 4/1.9/100
  drive front-wheel drive; five-speed manual (six-speed Tiptronic with sequential manual override available on 2.0)
notable features available flower vase, electric power hood (not 1.4), hood cover, roll-over protection system, electric/heated door mirrors with integrated indicators, rain sensor, automatic dimming interior mirror; optional wind deflector and heated leather seats

  in centimetres (2-door cabriolet)
  length 408
  width - including mirrors 190
    - mirrors folded 178
  height 150
  load sill height (inside/outside) 23/70
  turns lock-to-lock 3.1
  turning circle (metres) 10.4
  easy to park/garage?
  front - legroom 84-111
    - headroom 97-104
  rear - typical legroom 91
    - typical kneeroom 69
    - headroom 90
    - hiproom 115
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
  load length 56
  load length to facia No
  load width 101
  load height (to shelf) 47
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