VW Beetle is a peppy ride that can cruise all day in the 80s

Published: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 12:08 p.m.



MSRP: $25,310 EPA Mileage: 22 mpg city, 30 highway Performance/ Power: 2.5 Liter in-line 5-cylinder engine producing 150 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque; front wheel drive; 6-speed automatic transmission; power rack and pinion steering; independent strut front suspension; independent track correcting torsion beam rear axel; electronic stability program; anti-slip regulation; electronic differential lock; anti-lock braking system; daytime running lights; driver and front passenger front, head/thorax and side airbags; automatic rollover supports; front and rear power assisted disc brakes; 16-inch alloy wheels.
Interior/ Comfort: AM/FM and XM Satellite radio; single in-dash CD player and MP3 player connector; tilt and telescope steering wheel; power windows; power, heated outside mirrors; front and rear power outlets; rear cargo pass-through sleeve; dashboard flower holder.

Amemory of the 1960s would not be complete without a Volkswagen Bug rolling through it.
In my college days, a VW Bug was a necessity on campus, though few people wanted to own up to it. In those days, four students could each plunk down a quarter, buy four gallons of gas, and roll all over the state with gas to spare. The Beetle, it seemed, could run forever on little more than fumes.
That was a good thing, because the little car didn't have much in the way of power. If there was a steep hill, it was not unusual for three of the guys to get out of the cramped seats, walk to the top and then jump back in. And it was the opposite of cool. The little Bug was considered ugly, a runt which could fit in the trunk of the Cadillac Hogs and stretched Buicks that dominated American roads. So it was often painted with psychedelic colors or fields of flowers that somehow matched the little flower holder on the dashboard.
But while the Hogs have come and gone, the VW Beetle has become a cute Disney star and a fixture on the roads, adding refinements as time went on. And with the new century comes the New Beetle, in two flavors: hard top and convertible.
The Bug has grown up. It lost its ugly duckling image years ago, though it still has the distinctive rolling Beetle shape and still has the trademark flower holder attached to the dash next to the steering column. But the changes inside are many. The Beetle of my youth was a bucket of bolts, but this new Beetle is another vehicle entirely.
The car is wider and the seats bigger and more padded than I remember from my college days. But then, so am I, so the upgrade to leather seats that can be heated on cold days was appreciated. The roof of the convertible is covered with a thick, taut cloth so there are no unsightly cross-beams and bolts from the drop top, giving the interior a wide, clean appearance.
In both the convertible and hard top, the roof arches above the cabin, leaving enough room for the average NBA forward in the front seats, and the average adult in the back.
The thin door posts and extremely wide windows give drivers in both cars an airy, open feeling, even with the convertible top up. Oddly, the top of the dash is about a yard long before it hits the windshield, and the sun visors are, therefore, set so far forward that when opened they barely reach the steering wheel and are useless if the sun is coming in from the side.
In the old days, there would have been a scratchy AM radio which, on a clear night, could pick up WCLK, the legendary rhythm and blues station out of Cincinnati. The new Beetle has advanced its entertainment system, too, and the Bug has AM/FM and XM Satellite Radio, a single CD player and MP3 player capability. The newest innovation is, of course, the hatless Bug, a sight that draws smiles from passersby and other motorists. The convertible top folds down easily, though it does not disappear. It sits on the trunk like a bulky hood on a sweatshirt. There is a leather cover for the roof, and the combination sits up high on the trunk and actually interferes with the rear view. It might have been better if the drop top could have been folded further into the trunk - except that the Bug doesn't have much of a trunk. The rear seats do fold down, however, which makes for adequate storage if there aren't any rear passengers.
The Beetle is also different under the hood. Over the years, the engine has migrated to the front. The four-cylinder engines churn out 150 horsepower, which is more than enough to make the Bug a peppy ride that is quick and nimble in traffic and can cruise all day in the 80s.
Roger Witherspoon writes a syndicated automotive column from New Jersey. He may be reached at Roger6T6@aol.com.

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