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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Overview

One Bug You Won't Want to Squish

The introduction of the New Beetle in 1998 kicked off the industry-wide retro craze that is still rolling along today (witness the success of the new Mini Cooper). With its innovative design and strong public support, VW knew that the New Beetle would sell well, but they also knew that it would be a challenge to keep those sales figures high 5 years into production. Cars like the Beetle usually lose their appeal once the "newness" has worn off. Armed with this knowledge, Volkswagen has continued to expand and improve the New Beetle so that it is constantly reinventing itself with the public. This metamorphosis began almost immediately with the addition of the TDI diesel, which was followed by the 1.8 Turbo gasoline engine and most recently, by the high-powered Turbo S. This year, the Beetle continues to expand with the addition of a new convertible model due in showrooms later this year.

Because it's based on the Golf platform, the Beetle exhibits most of the same safety, ride and handling attributes of its sister car. On the road, the Beetle offers an extremely smooth ride and handles fairly well under normal driving conditions. Push the Beetle a little harder and its soft suspension and 16-inch all-season tires begin to show their limitations. If you plan to drive aggressively, look to the sport-tuned suspension of the Turbo S to satisfy your racecar driving impulses. If you desire better handling without the high Turbo S price tag, your VW dealer can upgrade your car to optional 17-inch alloy wheels and stiffer springs designed by VW.

The Beetle comes in many flavors, each tailored to suit the differing needs of the individual buyer. For those on a budget, the entry level GL model comes nicely equipped and still offers all the Beetle basics—like the flower vase and indigo blue dash lights. This year, VW has increased the GL's list of standard goodies to include power windows and cruise control; new options for the GL include the TDI engine, new cloth seats, the Monsoon sound system and the Cold Weather package. Considering all the standard features the GL comes with (a/c, tilt-wheel, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, AM/FM cassette stereo, side airbags) its base price of just $16,525 is pretty remarkable.

Next up the ladder are the GLS and GLX models. These two are probably the most popular Beetle trims and come very well equipped. The two models build on the already lengthy GL standard equipment list by adding such luxury items as a power sunroof and 16 inch-alloy wheels. The top-of-the-line Turbo S comes with practically everything but the kitchen sink, and if you really want that, VW will probably wrap it in leather and toss it in as a dealer add-on!

Engine choices for these models also vary greatly. If you choose the base GL or GLS, your Beetle will come equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 115 horsepower and can be ordered with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic. In both the performance and fuel economy arena, the 2.0-liter earns passing, but not exceptional marks, though it does earn green points for its ULEV status. If you are seeking more power, you may want to opt for the 1.8 T, which pumps out 150 horsepower and has been called one of the best four-cylinder engines in production today. This engine transforms the mild-mannered Beetle into a speed demon, yet still earns a respectable 31 miles per gallon on the highway (5-speed manual).

If higher fuel mileage and a bit more torque are your aims, the TDI (turbo direct injection) is just the ticket. The TDI is an amazing little engine that produces more torque than the standard 2.0-liter gas engine and earns an EPA highway mileage rating of 49 miles per gallon; it is also the only diesel-powered passenger car currently being sold in the U.S. Whatever preconceived thoughts you have about diesel cars, forget them; the TDI represents a whole-new generation of quiet, clean and fast diesel engines.

The fastest and most aggressive of the Beetles is the new Turbo S. Though it uses the same 1.8-liter engine as the 1.8T, the Turbo S is equipped with a high-pressure turbo that boosts 180 horsepower. Turbo S models also come fully equipped and include larger wheels and tires, a 6-speed manual transmission and thickly bolstered sport seats.

VW designers made sure that the Beetle interior was every bit as unique as its exterior. There is nothing like the Beetle's dash in any other car we've seen. In order to create the Beetle's now familiar shape, the windshield and dashboard were partially extended over the engine compartment, creating a tremendously deep dash; the design also creates a large blind spot where the front pillar meets the side mirror. All of the Beetle's instruments are housed in a small half-dome shaped binnacle that includes the speedometer, tachometer and fuel gauges. The radio and HVAC controls (heat, ventilation and air conditioning) protrude slightly from the center dash stack and rest just below two large circular vents. It takes some time to adjust to the Beetle's layout, especially since the long dash and short rear end leave you feeling as though you are driving from a point directly midway in the car. But in short time, you'll learn where the front and rear of the car is, and come to find it just as easy to park as any other compact car.

We really love the Beetle. It's fun, safe and efficient—and it still draws a crowd. The design does have a few shortcomings, but they really are minor and can be easily tolerated. The Beetle's trademark domed shape creates a huge reserve of front seat headroom but severely curtails it in the rear. The cup holder consists of three rings clustered together at the end of the console; unfortunately, they are positioned partially beneath the HVAC controls, preventing them from being used by anything taller than a 12-ounce soda can. On the plus side, the Beetle's front-bucket seats are some of the most comfortable we've experienced, with excellent back, side and thigh support for both driver and passenger; the seats are also height adjustable.

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