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There’s a saying in the fine spirits community; “All cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac.” Similarly, but in a converse fashion; all Volkswagen Beetles are Porsches, but not all Porsches are Volkswagen Beetles. This is because Ferdinand Porsche, the man for whom one of the greatest sports car companies on earth is named, was also the father of the original Volkswagen Beetle.
Yes, there are rumors the Beetle was Adolf Hitler’s idea. And it’s true, Hitler absolutely announced a desire for a car with attributes like the Beetle; a simple, affordable design—one attainable by the vast majority of the German population—a “people’s car”. Thing is, Ferdinand Porsche had already created that exact sort of car and it just happened to fit within Hitler’s vision. So yes, Hitler had something to do with the emergence of the Volkswagen Beetle, but he did not invent it.
Hitler association aside, there’s no denying it was a darn good idea.
That basic original Beetle configuration was in production from 1939 to 2003, easily making it the longest running automotive design ever. However, while the air-cooled, rear-engined original Beetle remained in production in Mexico until 2003, by 1994, the car has ceased to be sold everywhere else in the world. However, that year, a creation of VW’s Simi Valley, California design studio called Concept 1 was shown at the Detroit Auto Show. With a shape clearly derived from the original Beetle and thus playing heavily on the vast reserves of nostalgia surrounding the iconic little car, the Volkswagen Concept 1 was an immediate sensation.
The decision was made to build and market a version of the vehicle.
So, in 1998, a different kind of Beetle began to emerge from the Puebla Mexico plant— even while the original Beetle was still in its last five years of production there. The result, known as the Volkswagen New Beetle, entered the marketplace to an enthusiastic reception, and sold, just like its predecessor, largely unchanged from 1998 until 2010. That year, it was officially discontinued in favor of its replacement, the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle. As a result, Volkswagen did not produce a 2011 New Beetle.
As we stated earlier, Volkswagen made no truly significant changes to the New Beetle during its 13-year production run. Thus, there is really but one generation of the Concept 1–based Volkswagen New Beetle. Yes, incremental improvements were made to the car over its life cycle. And yes, as emerging technological advancements became affordable for a car in the New Beetle’s class they were added to the car. But overall, if you’re looking to buy a pre-owned New Beetle and you’re wondering if any one particular year is better than another, our best advice is to buy the newest one you can comfortably afford.
They’re all pretty much alike.
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1998 – 2010 Volkswagen New Beetle
Based largely on the contemporary Volkswagen Golf of its day that first New Beetle was powered by a 115-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Also available that year was a 1.9-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel powerplant, which produced 90 horsepower and 149 ft-lbs of torque. Both engines were inherited from the 1998 Volkswagen Golf. Transmission choices for the front-drive New Beetle included a five-speed manual as standard equipment; a four-speed automatic was an option.
Standard features included A/C, a remote trunk release, intermittent windshield wipers, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, four cup holders, a remote locking system—which incorporated an anti-theft alarm, a passenger assist handle above the glove compartment (in a nod to the original Beetle’s interior styling), height adjustable seats for the driver and passenger, and a bud vase for a flower on the dash. Key options included a CD changer, a leather shift knob, heated seats (front only), cruise control, ABS, and Volkswagen’s leatherette upholstery for the seats. A power-operated moonroof was available for the diesel version of the New Beetle.
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1999 Volkswagen New Beetle
In an effort to make the Beetle a bit sportier, Volkswagen added the 150-horsepower, turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine to the Beetle for 1999. Inherited from the larger Passat and producing 156 ft-lbs of torque from as low as 2200 rpm, the turbocharged engine injected a bit more get-up-and-go into the New Beetle’s game. If you’re shopping New Beetles and want to be able to spot the 1.8T quickly, look for the spoiler above the rear window. Along with the turbocharged engine, Volkswagen unveiled formal trim designations for the New Beetle for 1999 as well. In keeping with the overall nomenclature of all its cars, the base model was labeled GL; the next step up was GLS, which was offered with the base 2.0-liter four, or the 1.8-liter Turbo. The top-line New Beetle was the GLX, available only with the turbocharged engine. As you might imagine, the GLX was the fully loaded version, with all the bells and whistles. The New Beetle TDI (diesel) was only offered in GLS trim.
2000 Volkswagen New Beetle
Volkswagen added a brake-wear indicator, improved the theft protection system, installed a sliding sun-visor extender, and offered an optional cold-weather package for GLS models. The 1.8T GLS and GLX versions got Anti-Slip Regulation (skid control) as standard equipment that year.
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2001 Volkswagen New Beetle
Though Mattel didn’t make it, the upper-level Volkswagen New Beetle GLS, and GLX turbo models got a big wheel for 2001—in the form of a new 17-inch tire and wheel set. The cup holders were redone for 2001, an inside trunk release was added to the rear hatch in case somebody got locked in the trunk. The ultra-luxe GLX New Beetle also got rain sensing wipers, a Monsoon audio system, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
2002 Volkswagen New Beetle
VW got serious about upping the performance ante of the New Beetle in 2002, with the debut of the New Beetle Turbo S. Essentially borrowing the powertrain from the then-current iteration of the Audi TT (also based on the VW Golf) the New Beetle Turbo S ran a 180-horsepower version of the 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The six-speed manual transmission from the TT made the trip over to the New Beetle Turbo S as well. No automatic transmission was ever offered for the New Beetle Turbo S.
Along with more power, came more chassis controls; Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP), a stiffer suspension system, and a specific-to-the-Turbo S 17-inch "Delta X" alloy wheel, helped the New Beetle cope with the additional power output. Visual differentiators from “normal” New Beetles included revised turn signals and foglights, a front spoiler, a redesigned rear bumper with Turbo S badging, and a number of brushed alloy interior accents. Just like its Porsche Turbo distant relative, the New Beetle Turbo S had a rear spoiler that deployed when its speed reached 45 miles per hour.
VW also offered a “Sport” model of the New Beetle for the first time that year. To concoct it, VW’s product planners took the GLS 1.8T model and laced it with a five-speed manual transmission, 17-inch wheels, leather upholstery for the seats, and a “Sport” badge on the New Beetle’s deck lid.
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2003 Volkswagen New Beetle
For 2003, the trickle-down effect made the 150-horsepower 1.8T engine available in GL model New Beetles. Similarly, the TDI engine was also offered in GL trim. This coincided with the GL models getting a higher level of standard equipment.
For the first time in 2003, power windows and cruise control were offered in GL-trimmed New Beetles. The upmarket Monsoon audio system, heated seats, and stability control were made optional for all New Beetles, including the GL. Sunroofs were mandated for all New Beetles (except the GL) and the sport model was discontinued.
The biggest news for 2003 was the long-awaited introduction of the New Beetle Convertible. Featuring a power actuated folding top, and VW’s first application of the six-speed automatic transmission to a New Beetle, teen-aged girls all over the world immediately lost their minds…(OK, that was harsh, but the New Beetle Convertible was extremely popular with young women.) Resisting the temptation to make the New Beetle Convertible an ultra-expensive high-end car, the Convertible was offered in GL, GLS, and GLX trim, just as was the rest of the New Beetle lineup.
2004 Volkswagen New Beetle
For 2004, the GLX trim designation was dropped. The diesel-fired TDI engine was reworked to produce more power. Output increased from 90 to 100 horsepower and from 149 to 177 ft-lbs of torque.
Additionally, Volkswagen’s six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) was paired with the diesel engine. The DSG is in essence a six-speed manual transmission whose clutch action and gear shifting are electronically controlled.
Head curtain airbags and a revised headrest configuration were specified for all New Beetles. The Monsoon audio system was made standard equipment for GLS models and a CD player with MP3 capability was specified as well.
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2005 Volkswagen New Beetle
Model Year 2005 brought a new six-speed automatic transmission as an option for the gasoline engines (except the Turbo S), in addition to an MP3 connection for the audio system and satellite radio. Buyers could choose between Sirius and XM (as this was before the two companies merged).
2006 Volkswagen New Beetle
A styling update, along with a new engine, debuted with the New Beetle for 2006, while turbo engines fell by the wayside, sounding the death knell of the New Beetle Turbo S.
For 2006, the New Beetle’s trim designations were 2.5 and TDI. The GL, and GLS nomenclatures were no longer employed. Volkswagen went to its 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine for the New Beetle for 2006, although the TDI’s 1.9-liter, fresh off a redesign in 2004, continued unchanged.
Standard features included: 16-inch wheels; A/C; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; seat-height adjusters; a tilt and telescoping steering wheel; and a manually folding top on convertibles. Options included 17-inch wheels, leather upholstery, a trunk-mounted CD changer, satellite radio, a sunroof on hatchbacks, and a power top on convertibles. The standard safety kit incorporated; four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability control, side airbags for front occupants, full-length head curtain airbags and active front head restraints.
The 2.5’s five-cylinder engine made 150 horsepower and 170 ft-lbs of torque. A five-speed manual transmission was the standard offering, a six-speed automatic was the optional choice. The convertible made the turbo-less transition as well, while continuing to offer gasoline-only power as before. Thus, the 2006 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible was known as the “New Beetle Convertible 2.5”.
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2007 Volkswagen New Beetle
The diesel was discontinued for 2007. Other than that, coming off a redesign from the year before, the ’07 New Beetle, wasn’t really all that new.
2008 Volkswagen New Beetle
For 2008, new trim levels appeared, “S” and “SE”. The 2008 New Beetle S came with 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, heated outside mirrors, power windows and locks, cruise control, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, V-Tex leatherette seat trim, satellite radio, and a CD/MP3 stereo with an auxiliary input jack.
Upgrading to the SE added 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats and windshield washer nozzles, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a premium audio system, and a sunroof. Those designations carried over to the Convertible as well—with the exception being the “S” top folded manually, while the “SE” top was electric.
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2009 Volkswagen New Beetle
The “S” and “SE” designations were dropped for 2009. In so doing, the New Beetle’s product planners decreed a lot of the previously optional stuff become incorporated as standard fare. This made for a nicely equipped New Beetle.
For 2009, New Beetle standard features included; 16-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, full power accessories, air-conditioning, heated front seats, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel; and a premium audio system with a CD/MP3 player, auxiliary audio jack, and satellite radio.
A power-operated sunroof was the only factory option.
Leaving room for its dealers to mint some coin, VW made 17-inch wheels, a rear spoiler and a trunk-mounted six-CD changer available from the dealer. However, on the 2009 New Beetle Convertible a unique-to-it 17-inch wheel was a factory option.
2010 Volkswagen New Beetle
The last year of production for the Volkswagen New Beetle, the 2010 Final Edition model, available on both coupe and convertible body styles, included special Aquarius Blue paint (with a white two-tone on 2010 New Beetle Convertible and a black-painted roof on the coupe). The wheels were a set of specially designed 17-inch alloys. Foglamps were part of the package, as was a special white interior on the 2010 New Beetle Convertible.
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Volkswagen New Beetle: Summary
Volkswagen New Beetle: Summary
Debuting on America’s roads to smiles, waves and legions of thumbs-up gestures, the 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle also ignited a styling trend. Suddenly car manufacturers realized their old, iconic designs still had traction. Cars like the current Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang and MINI Cooper, whose current designs recall the most significant cars from their past, all owe a debt of gratitude to the 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle.
And while everyone agrees Volkswagen went way too long with the New Beetle before refreshing it, the 2012 VW Beetle is quite handsome and a logical follow-up for the iconic model. However, it remains to be seen if the buying public will take to the new design they did to the 1998 New Beetle.
Of course, that’ll be fodder for the follow-up to this article some 10 years from now. At any rate, as a used car, the New Beetle should be pretty reliable and certainly distinctive, if ironically, somewhat common in said distinction these days.
Recalls have been issued for the car over the years, so you’ll want to run a search to see which apply to the model attracting your interest. Also, you’ll want to subject any pre-owned car you’re considering to a thorough pre-purchase inspection by a trusted professional mechanic, one well versed in the ways of Volkswagen’s New Beetle.
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