2004 Volkswagen New Beetle Review
Happy driving, smile after smile.
If the Volkswagen New Beetle is a smile on wheels, then the Beetle Convertible is an ear-to-ear grin, looking at once more whimsical, and more like its vintage ancestor, than the Beetle hardtop. Both are back for 2004, with new safety features, new colors, and new options. Plus, an even more modern and efficient diesel engine is available for the coupe.
The New Beetle isn't just smart and stylish. Because it's a Volkswagen, it is refined. It combines German engineering and performance with exceptional fit and finish, and it represents a good value. As in other retro-mobiles, however, driver and passengers must make some concessions for style. Interior ergonomics are not as good those in a more traditional car, such as VW's own Golf. Nor is there a lot of trunk space.
Furthermore, the New Beetle no longer enjoys exclusive status in the retro-car market, now that the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Mini Cooper, Ford Thunderbird, Mustang and other retrospective designs are stealing headlines. And when the PT Cruiser convertible arrives early in 2004, followed by the Mini convertible, the New Beetle won't even be the only low-priced retro to offer open-top motoring.
Still, the New Beetle does offer a good measure of distinctive charm. And once you drop the top, the New Beetle convertible is good fun. It's also tight. Volkswagen has engineered a winning chassis with none of the cowl shake common on most convertibles.
The standard Beetle is still cool. It comes in an assortment of bright, happy colors. Its exterior and interior design details are fun and creative. It now offers OnStar telematics as an option. On the road, the Beetle is smooth and sophisticated and handles well. It's considered a safe car. Beetle earned top scores in the federal government's crash tests and comes with Volkswagen's excellent safety features. Just don't expect to see people looking, smiling and waving at you every time you come around a corner as much as they did when the New Beetle first hit the streets. After all, the Beetle is now a familiar face in America.
New Beetle is available as a coupe or convertible, and with an assortment of gasoline and diesel-fueled four-cylinder engines. For 2004, the coupe is offered in GL ($16,330), GLS ($18,520), GLS 1.8T ($20,480), and Turbo S ($23,850) trim. The convertible is offered in GL ($20,900), GLS ($22,640), and GLS 1.8T ($24,820) trim only.
The standard engine in the GL and GLS is a 2.0-liter inline-4 rated 115 horsepower. GLS 1.8T is powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged four rated 150 horsepower. With both engines, a five-speed manual transmission is standard. The coupe offers an optional four-speed automatic ($875), while the convertible offers a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic control ($1175). In the Turbo S model, the 1.8-liter turbo four is tuned to 180 horsepower. The only transmission available is a six-speed manual.
Volkswagen also builds diesel-powered versions of the GL and GLS coupe. At the beginning of the model year these still used a 1.9-liter Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) inline-4 rated 90 horsepower, mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic ($875) transmission. However, during the 2004 model year VW plans to replace this engine with a more advanced 1.9-liter turbo-diesel using high-pressure injection technology. The new TDI-PD diesel will produce 100 horsepower and run quieter than the current unit. Volkswagen anticipates a highway fuel economy rating of 46 mpg. A five-speed manual will be standard, and an all-new six-speed automatic with Tiptronic control will be optional ($1075). The new models will be designated GL 1.9 TDI-PD ($17,630) and GLS 1.9TDI-PD ($19,760).
All Beetles are well equipped. Base GL models come with air conditioning with an integrated pollen filter; a six-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo (ten-speaker on convertibles); central locking with keyless remote; anti-theft system; four-wheel disc brakes with ABS; tilt/telescoping steering column; clear-lens halogen projector headlamps; heated power exterior mirrors; cruise control; power windows; and 205/55 all-season tires on 16-inch steel wheels. Options include a six-disc CD changer and electronic stability program (ESP). Leatherette upholstery is available as a no-cost option on coupes, and is standard on the convertible.
GLS adds front fog lamps, 16-inch aluminum wheels, power sunroof, eight-speaker AM/FM/cassette Monsoon audio system, and a center armrest with storage box. And the option list expands to include leather-trimmed seating surfaces; heated front seats; a three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel; leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake grip; heated windshield washer nozzles; and Xenon HID headlamps.
GLS 1.8T adds a speed-activated spoiler at the top of the rear window, an electronic locking differential, traction control and, on the convertible, ESP. Seventeen-inch aluminum wheels with 225/45 all-season tires are optional.
Turbo S comes with all the same luxury and go-fast goodies as the GLS 1.8T, plus leather, sport seats with heaters, and a Cold Weather package. ESP and 225/45 tires on 17-inch alloys are also standard.
The convertible is available with a manual or semi-automatic cloth-lined top that features three layers to ensure excellent insulation and appearance. Volkswagen's standard Automatic Rollover Supports deploy automatically behind the rear seats to provide added protection in the unlikely event of a rollover, whether the convertible top is up or down. The exclusive system works in conjunction with the New Beetle's active head restraints.
Standard safety equipment on all New Beetles includes driver and front passenger airbags, side-impact airbags mounted in the seatbacks, a safety-belt tensioning and load-limiting system, and rear-seat tether anchorage points (LATCH system) for securing a child safety seat. The side-impact airbags have been enhanced for 2004; Volkswagen says the New Beetle is one of the few small cars with side-impact bags designed to protect the driver's and front-seat passenger's head and thorax. Dual-stage frontal airbags will be phased in during the '04 model year.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2004 Volkswagen New Beetle, click here: 2004 Volkswagen New Beetle.