This Is Not The Answer
Letters On The Concept One
From TKM Automotive Australia
A Response to TKM’s Edward Rowe
New Beetle Secrets Revealed
Think Small Again
No Beatles for the New Beetle
A Perspective of the New Beetle
New Beetle RSi
Driving the RSi Beetle
New Beetle Convertible
On the road with APU
VW Ragster concept
VW New Beetle 2000-2004
An owner’s response
New Beetle facelift
By Richard Bremner
We love its style, but the Concept 1 show car is an ill-conceived distraction that won’t solve VW's small-car woes.
Volkswagen is going to build this car, or something all too like it. In March 1994 Ferdinand Piech, Volkswagen's autocratic chairman, formally signed off the full development program, committing his company to a launch date sometime in 1999. It is an expensive decision, for not only is the company committed to developing this car, but it has also washed down the drain the $400 million investment it has already made in the Chico, the modem, rational baby hatchback that has been killed off to make way for this cuddly Beetle parody.
J. Mays, the Concept 1's American creator reported at the Detroit Show, "Piech really liked the car." Evidently. This was in sharp contrast to the views of VW's research and development director Ulrich Seiffert, whose feeling for the Concept 1 was about as cool as the bright yellow paint was warm. Seiffert unveiled the car at the show but was unable to disguise his lack of enthusiasm for a vehicle whose frivolous nature runs counter to the iced logic that conceived the Chico. Now that it has got the go-ahead, Seiffert will doubtless dislike the gussied-up Beetle facsimile even more.
He may be right to hate it. Appealing, amusing, cute, chic and cheerful the Concept 1 may be, but is this really the car that Volkswagen, one of Europe's deepest-thinking manufacturers, should be building as the car for the dawn of a new millennium? We think not. We love its look, we love its cheek, but this is a car in the mould of Nissan's famous Pike Cars, the Be-1, the S-Cargo, the Pao and the Figaro. They were all fun and wonderful, they were all small and retro, but they were also limited editions keenly trained on a clientele chasing novelty and frivolity in the midst of an eco-boom of the monetary kind.
As we ride the road to eco-bust of the economic variety, what we don't need is a car that provides no new answers to the private transport problem.
Yes, yes, as presented the Concept 1 comes with a choice of conscience-assuaging powertrains - a diesel, an electric and a hybrid - but these are merely motors hijacked from VW's ongoing development program. They were not engines around which the car was conceived - they were merely stuffed in to make yesterday's idea look like tomorrow's solution. In fact, they weren't stuffed in at all, because the prototype is mobilised by the electric motor of a golf cart.
No doubt each of the power units would fit below the Concept 1's snub-nosed snout, but it would be a tight fit. So will accommodation for the crania of rear-seat passengers, for any luggage they might wish to carry and, indeed, for the Concept 1's suspension, because there doesn't appear to be much room for that beneath its curvy wings.
No, this is no exemplar of packaging to compare with the Mini or the Cinquecento or the Twingo, and that's no surprise because the similarly shaped Beetle was equally deficient. It was also a no-hoper aerodynamically, and as J Mays admits, although front-engined for improved stability, the Concept 1 will be no arrow through the air, either.
In the end, the Concept 1 looks like what it is: a toy. It was conceived by VW's American studio as a limited edition boutique car, and that is how we would love to see it emerge. But it is not the answer to VW's difficulty in designing a desirable small car. This car would be wantable for 15 minutes. In the end, all it does is remind us that VW is staring at the same terrible problem it faced when it was trying to replace the Beetle - the need for something bold, original and progressive, which, after much pain and many a wrong turn, it got - in the Golf. Something bold, original and progressive is exactly what VW needs again.
The Concept 1 is not it.
By Phil Matthews
VW's Concept One vehicle has caused tremendous response since its debut at the 1994 Detroit Auto Show, and VW used the Tokyo Motor Show in 1995 to unveil the latest form of this Beetle-like model.
Although the basic shape received little change from the original version, this model now has what appear to be production-ready bumpers, trim and interior. Now based on the upcoming Golf 4 platform, it's also 240mm longer and 70mm wider than the first Concept One. Dressed in black and graced with a simple yet attractive dash panel, VW's ‘retro’ concept car got plenty of attention at the show. Expected to arrive before the turn of the century, it will be produced at the Puebla plant in Mexico.
However, not all VW enthusiasts are keen on this thing, particularly when VW announced that the Concept One would now be called the ‘New Beetle.’ Sure it looks like a Beetle, but with a front engine and front wheel drive, IS it a Beetle?
My own opinion is that the Concept One prototype is vastly overrated – it’s NOT a ‘Beetle’ and never will be, being a claustrophobic, underpowered golf cart that only vaguely resembles a Beetle from some angles. It is not a patch technically or aesthetically on the VW Chico it ‘replaced’ – in fact I believe the Concept One is more a VW-made Mazda 121 than a Beetle, and will be far too dear if or when we ever see it on sale. Why buy some cutesy Beetle parody for $30,000+ when you could buy a modern Polo for under $20K, or a Golf for a little more? But you might feel differently.
Zeitschrift is inviting all comments from readers, and we will give away a case of beer to the writer of the best argument either for or against this machine, as decided by Club VW committee. You can be as outspoken or controversial as you like. Tell us how you feel - would you buy one? Would you think better of the thing if it weren’t called the ‘New Beetle?’ We've already had a few pieces come in, and we've extended the deadline to Christmas.
So write to us and tell us what you think about the Concept One (‘New Beetle’). Is it a good idea? Is it not? Is it a Beetle? Pick up a pen and drop us a note. Here's what we've seen so far:
Letter in ‘Street Volkswagens, No 1’ (1995)
I've heard that the Concept One VW is about to go into production. The question is, does this represent good news for VW enthusiasts? Consider that the prototype has had little or no input from Wolfsburg and that it is in no way created in the spirit of the original Beetles. The Type 1 was meant to be a ‘folks’ car that was simple in design, austere in appointments, yet reliable and easy to work on. Above all it was affordable. The new car is just a California-designed, high tech Japanese-style machine with a VW badge. I wonder if the inflated price tag will mean the Concept One is not so much a people's car, as a yuppie mobile?
Andrew Harris, Wards Hill NSW
Reply in ‘Street Volkswagens, No 1’ (1995)
For starters, the Concept One is not about to go into production. As I've said in previous issues of Volkswagen Australia magazine, the car's production is under consideration for perhaps a 1998 release. At the moment Volkswagen are considering reactions and opinions such as yours. If you or any reader feels strongly about Concept One and has some constructive comments to make on the car, then write to Volkswagen Australia, Private Bag 59, Smithfield 2164 with your comments and request they be passed on to the Product Planning department in Wolfsburg.
Geoff Paradise, Editor
Letter in ‘Street VWs No 1’ (1996)
I keep reading about the Concept One car and I don't reckon it's a proper VW, much less a replacement for the Beetle. It's not air-cooled and it looks like one of those stupid Japanese retro cars they have at the Tokyo Motor Show. What do you reckon?
Jason Gordon, Homsby NSW
Reply in ‘Street VWs No 1’ (1996)
Jas' old son, I reckon everyone's entitled to their opinion but I also reckon you're up yourself. Firstly, it was the German TUV (their RTA) that stopped the old Beetle from continuing because it couldn't meet noise levels. Secondly, the age-old battle between air-cooled fans and the water pumper brigade is obviously not going to abate with this car. Thirdly, from what I've seen of the car, and that's only press information, photos and the vision on the Internet, I reckon it leaves those gawky Jap show cars for dead! I've placed my order for a black-painted, leather trimmed 150-bhp version, and by you not wanting one gets me one car closer and a little less time to wait. Roll on '98!
Geoff Paradise, Editor
By Lance Plahn
There is no doubt in anyone's mind regarding the success of the Volkswagen Beetle over the years. Just look at the records. So what was Volkswagen doing when they displayed Concept One at the 1994 Detroit Motor Show? Were they really simply showing a concept vehicle or testing the water? As we know, this vehicle created real interest and stirred the imagination. Or was it an over-active media that did the work?
We should not lose sight of the fact that Volkswagen still make the Beetle today, in Mexico. Let's face it, we last saw the Beetle on sale in Australia in 1976, with the vehicle being unable to meet 1977 ADRs. Or was it due to poor sales that it was uneconomic to conform? After all, the USA with their stricter laws had the Beetle until 1979.
Being a Volkswagen enthusiast in the 1970s, I remember buying the overseas magazines. In particular I noticed the hate mail and the arguments published over the new water-cooled Volkswagen models. Even today, for some reason or another, you pick up any Volkswagen magazine and it is predominantly Beetle.
I remember showing my Kombi at VW events. You always felt like a poor cousin; the only people to check out the Buses were VW enthusiasts or Kombi owners. Note that Beetle enthusiasts are not necessarily VW enthusiasts, but Beetle enthusiasts. That is, being not interested in the other aspects like, for example, the history, vintage or modified VWs, collectables or other models. Their view is hard to understand, because many Buses are of a standard equal to the Beetles. I mean to say, why do people buy an early Beetle and spend a truckload of money doing improvements, just to bring their vehicle up to the standard of say, a standard Golf?
The press reports that the doors of Volkswagen are being beaten down by people wanting to buy a Concept One, or the New Beetle as it is now called, with its water cooled front engine and front wheel drive. Strange considering that some details are a little fuzzy, like price, final engine options and will the seventeen-inch wheels remain. After all Volkswagen have not produced too many lemons over the years. Or is it a case of good publicity and aggressive marketing? We all ‘know’ the best Beetles have a torsion bar front end, because MacPherson struts are not as good. Yet most passenger cars today have Macpherson struts, including modern cars like the Golf and Passat, and World Rally Championship cars.
People approach me and tell me things like, “I used to own a Beetle, best vehicle I ever owned.” Strange, they don't have a Volkswagen now. Or, “When did they stop making the Beetle?” The average person in the street finds it difficult to believe that Volkswagen is currently the number four manufacturer in the world, considering their lowly position in Australia. Since the late '80s, VW Australia has been telling us it is on the comeback trail. Yet the list of VW dealers is still shrinking, and country areas have had no VW dealers for over 15 years.
One would imagine that a few things will have to change is VW is going to make any inroads in Australia. A good comprehensive network of dealers would be a start. Take my hometown, Rockhampton. I could go out to a local dealer and buy a Hyundai or a Daewoo, but the closest VW or SEAT dealer is an 8-hour drive away. With no VW dealership in the immediate area, imagine the problems incurred with warranty or servicing. Late model VW owners in this area tell me they love their VWs, but would not own another unless they lived in a capital city because of parts and servicing problems.
When working on late model VWs in this area, I find it hard to get information on the VWs. That is, authorised dealers have invested a lot of money, and owners should use only authorised dealers. Nissan Australia a little time ago changed from that same stance, recognising that Nissan owners had the right to take their vehicle to their preferred repairer. Now, if an unauthorised repairer is working on a Nissan, they can ring Nissan and the required information will be sent to the repairer. The vehicle is then fixed properly and the owner is happy, hopefully enough to purchase another Nissan when update time arrives. It also means that dealers have to improve their customer service if they want better repeat business and customer loyalty. Admittedly dealerships and franchised repairers are usually better equipped when it comes to training and equipment.
I guess some enthusiasts will and can understand what is being said, but some with other views will not. Such is the nature of free speech in Australia; some other countries are not so lucky. That is to say, let's not confuse opinion with negativity. I believe we should listen too, and care about people, and not succumb to the pressure of the big money-making machines.
By Edward Rowe, Public Affairs Manager
Oh Dear. It would appear that Concept One, or the New Beetle as it is now called, has rather got under the skin of your editor, Phil Matthews.
While not wishing to run the risk of having us surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of irate water-cooled Volkswagen owners, may I come to the defence of our new car?
Because I am sure there is a risk - if not a certainty - of me being labelled a know-nothing PR flack, I should also explain that my earliest memories are of being driven around the Australian bush in my mother's Beetle; my first car was a Beetle, I have only ever owned Volkswagens and I have worked for the company in Germany, the UK and, most recently, Australia. I have been in the two original Concept One cars and the newer one, which is totally different, is now called the New Beetle. So I have a reasonable grasp of the issues concerned!
Leaving aside the fact that Phil's comments are remarkably similar to the comments made about the Golf when it first appeared, the launch of the New Beetle neither diminishes the original Beetle, nor detracts from the name, especially as the original car was never officially called the Beetle. To say that is like saying that the original Golf is diminished by the fact that there are a second and third generation Golfs.
But let's deal with some facts:
* “It is claustrophobic”. Well, only if you find a Golf claustrophobic. The New Beetle is based on the new A-class platform, as used by the Audi A3 and the next generation Golf. I put my six foot four inch tall UK colleague, Paul Bucket, in the back seat and I got in the front seat and we both had plenty of room. The only thing that is smallish is the boot, because of the shape of the car. Overall it is bigger than the present Golf.
* “It is an underpowered golf cart.” All I can say is that where Phil lives, Golf carts must be pretty potent vehicles! The launch range of engines will be topped by a 128kW VR6 engine, mated to four-wheel-drive with a choice of five speed manual or five speed automatic gearboxes. There will be electric and electric-hybrid versions, but these will only be sold where there is a legal or environmental requirement, such as California or Switzerland.
* “Replace the Chico.” Who says the Chico has been replaced? It is no great secret that Volkswagen will launch a new small car below the Polo and that there will be matching models from SEAT, Skoda and Audi, all offering 3 L/100 km fuel consumption. Volkswagen has also made it clear that a two-seat city car is not the way to improve the environment, as it encourages people to have two cars instead of one. Building a car creates far more pollution than it will ever produce in its life - and it is unlikely to be better, or any more economical, than a compact four seater.
* “Not a patch technically”. VR6, VR5, five valve, direct injection turbo diesel engines, side impact air bags, four wheel drive, electric and electro diesel hybrids, the Group's newest and most advanced platform. Excuse me, but, er, where is the shortfall in technology? And that's only what I am allowed to tell you about!
* “It'll be far too dear.” Target price in the US is $13,000. That puts it line-ball on price with the Spanish and Korean compacts. And the New Beetle, as already mentioned, ain't compact! Also, you may like to check our Beetle pricing in Australia when it was sold here. It was not a cheap car.
I cannot help thinking that Phil is in a rather bad ‘cake and eat it too’ situation. Like many Volkswagen fans, he has been calling for years, “Bring back the Beetle.” Well, we have.
Things have moved on considerably since the original car was sold here. We have to meet a myriad of safety, environmental and legal rules, as well as the vastly changed demands of what the market wants in a car. The new Beetle meets all of these requirements. It is not a replacement for any model in the range; it is a supplement to the existing Volkswagen family to provide character, diversity and choice and, as such, should be welcomed!
Brickbats should be addressed to me via Zeitschrift!
By Phil Matthews
I was rather stoked to receive a response from the Australian VW importers, TKM Automotive, on the Concept One debate. Edward seems to be a VW enthusiast as well and, as he says, he does seem to have a grasp of the issues involved, even if his position as a TKM employee is slightly biased.
I wasn't going have another say just yet, because I wanted to leave the floor open to our readers to tell us what they think of the Concept One. However, because Edward has referred to me personally and made a number of erroneous assumptions on my behalf, I feel obliged to reply and restate my position for his benefit.
He's right, the so-called New Beetle has gotten under my skin, like an irritating splinter. It's time to extract it and cleanse the wound!
Edward makes a connection of my criticism of the Concept One with some of the nasty things said about the Golf on its debut in 1974. This is the first issue I want to clarify. There are many differences between then and now; the Golf was replacing the Beetle in '74, but the Concept One is not replacing the Golf now. VW was going broke in 1974 and the Golf was its saviour; you can hardly say the same about the current situation. The Golf was an innovative, trend-setting design that was much copied; the Concept One is a backward-looking reflection that superficially copies the Beetle.
Apparently in England and the USA there is some considerable tension between the 'air-cooled' and 'water-cooled' fraternities, but there is no such thing here. Naturally some enthusiasts favour one or the other, but Australians accept both. We have two of each in our family, for example.
The Golf and Passat were (and are) fine cars that VW enthusiasts embraced warmly at the time. Both won Wheels Car of the Year. The Passat out-sold the Beetle and Superbug combined in 1974 and 1975. The Golf appeared here in March 1976, by which time the Beetle was almost dead (and it ended loacl production in July 1976). The Golf and Passat later died in Australia only because they were priced off the market, not because air cooled VW owners might have hated them. They did not.
Overall, Edward confuses the issue by raising the 'air vs water' argument. It is not relevant to this discussion, and even if it exists it has nothing to do with why I dislike the Concept One in any case.
Edward is also wrong to claim that VW never called the Beetle by that name officially. Certainly, before 1971 the model was officially called the ‘Volkswagen 1200’ or the ‘Volkswagen 1300’ around the world, including here in Australia. But the later ‘Volkswagen 1500’ could refer to either the Beetle or the Type 3! In 1971 the new MacPherson strut 1600 WAS officially called the ‘VW Superbug S’ in Australia, and the ‘VW Super Beetle’ in the UK and the USA. In 1973 the curved screen 1600 WAS officially called the ‘VW Superbug L’ in Australia. In 1975 the Superbug was discontinued, and the remaining torsion bar Beetle WAS officially called the Beetle in all English-speaking markets. In Australia it WAS officially sold as the ‘VW Beetle’ in 1976. In Germany it was officially called the ‘VW Käfer’ after 1975, which is simply German for ‘Beetle’. Today, all official Volkswagen parts fiche and computer databases, such as ETKA, refer to either the ‘Beetle’ or the ‘Käfer’ for Type 1 components.
In any case, whether or not the Beetle was called the ‘Beetle’ officially is no excuse now to call the Concept One the ‘New Beetle’, because it simply isn't.
His next argument is closer to the truth. Is the Golf 1 diminished by the fact that there was later a Golf 2, Golf 3 and soon a Golf 4? Of course not. Each Golf generation is a logical and evolutionary improvement on the previous one, each one related to and better than the one before. The continuing huge sales success of the Golf around the world proves this is right. However, I argue that the original air-cooled Beetle IS very much diminished by now calling the Concept One the ‘New Beetle’, because I maintain that it is nothing of the sort.
Just as we have the logical Golf 1, Golf 2 etc, Edward seems to imply that the Concept One is now actually ‘Beetle 2’, and here rests my main objection to the whole idea.
Readers might remember five or so years ago that Toyota announced sales of the Corolla had passed the 15 million or so of the Model T, and would soon then top the Beetle (21 million) to become the biggest selling car model of all time.
We defended the Beetle at the time by pointing out that the Corolla was not the same model. The Beetle had stayed basically the same over its long production life, but the Corolla has been redesigned from the ground up not once but five, six or seven times; even transforming from a inline to transverse engine design, and from rear to front-wheel drive in the process. The only thing the same was the name on the badge, so it wasn't the same car. The Guinness Book of Records took the same stance, and would not recognise the Corolla as the top seller.
We pointed out that VW could easily have taken the same route by saying the Golf (Type 17) could still be a VW ‘Type 1’, in the same way as the Beetle (Type 11), Superbug (Type 13) or Cabriolet (Type 15), so really they were the same model. The two cars even shared a few parts. But VW didn't. The Type 17 Golf was NOT a ‘Type 1 Beetle’; in fact, nowadays Volkswagen no longer refers to model ‘types’ at all. They are now ‘platforms’ or ‘models’. The Golf 2 is actually a ‘Model 1G’, and the Golf 3 is a ‘Model 1H’ – you can check these on the vehicle VIN.
But isn't the shoe on the other foot now! Here we are, with a thing based on a Golf/Audi platform, with a water-cooled, front drive engine, and we're expected to believe that it's a 'Beetle'! Calling the Concept One a ‘Beetle’ doesn't make it one.
I accept Edward's information that as a unit, the ‘New Beetle’ is much improved over the original J.Mays Concept One prototype I was referring to. Certainly now basing it on the most recent Golf platform, rather than the Polo platform of before, and adding the latest and greatest bits from the Group parts bin, you could easily build a half-decent car. But that just means it’s a Golf with a different body, not a ‘Beetle.’ The SEAT Ibiza and Toledo are also based on the same Golf platform – are they Beetles too, by Edward’s logic?
Edward’s argument about interior room also does not stack up. Just because it's based on the Golf platform doesn't mean it's as roomy as a Golf. There are other factors, such as the shape and width of the body and roof, and the position of the seats, that affect interior room. And anecdotal evidence about 6'4" mates is not good enough.
Consider that the Beetle and Karmann Ghia share almost the same chassis, but one is a lot roomier inside than the other – the Ghia’s platform, in fact, is slightly wider than the Beetle’s at the front corners. The Type 3 is roomier again, with a wider and squarer floorpan, but remember it still has the same wheelbase as the Beetle, 2400mm. The T1 and T2 Kombis also have the same 2400mm wheelbase, but with vastly more room inside. Sorry, but roominess is determined by the body shape, not the platform. The pictures I’ve seen show a Concept One with a cramped rear seat and a vast wasted dashboard space, owing to the constraints of trying to fit a rear-engined body shape on a front-drive Golf. I maintain that the Concept One is far more cramped than a Golf, and I'll have to see one before I change my mind.
And price? If you can sell the thing here ‘line-ball’ with the Korean compacts (ie. under $20,000), I'll run naked up Pitt St (it later debuted at $37,000 - Ed). Over-pricing of Volkswagens has always been a problem in Australia, particularly since 1977 when all VWs have been fully imported. And yes, the Beetle was not cheap in its day; the Deluxe 1200 sold for around £950 in the early 1960s, quite a bit more than the Mini 850 and several other small British and French cars on our market. But don’t forget VW Australia introduced a stripped-down Standard model for £799 in 1962, but it did not sell anywhere near as well as the more expensive Deluxe. And look at the utter failure of the cheap, crude Country Buggy on the market. Australians have always been happy to pay a bit more for deluxe touches – it is value, not price alone, that is the factor. I am convinced that, if a Golf and a ‘New Beetle’ are available for the same price, the Golf will win the sales race hands down as it is better value. If TKM has to resort to ‘discounting’ to sell the New Beetle, then there goes your argument about the car’s worth.
No matter how good the Concept One is now as a design, however, remember that we are expected to think of it not as just another new VW model (such as the ‘VW Concept’, which I could probably tolerate), but as the VW ‘New Beetle’, which I cannot. For you to call it a Beetle it must by definition be everything that the original Beetle was, just as the Golf 2 and 3 are everything Golf 1 was (and more!) Plainly it is not.
How can we measure the Concept One against the real Beetle? We have to define what a ‘Beetle’ is, and what makes it so. A good way is to recall what defined the Beetle in its day and see if it applies to the Concept One. Is it really a ‘Beetle’, with all that follows from the original Type 1 Beetle? If not, then it’s just a Golf with a different body. Be very clear that we only have to do this because we're being told that this is the NEW Beetle.
Is it rear-engined? NO. Is the engine a boxer, or flat, layout? NO. Is it air-cooled? NO. Does it have a rear transmission and transaxle? NO. Is it rear wheel drive? NO. Is it based on a back-boned platform chassis? NO. Does it have a removable body? NO. Does it have torsion bar suspension? NO. Does it have two luggage areas? NO. Does it have a front fuel tank? NO. Is it made in Germany or Australia? NO. Will any parts from a real Beetle fit it? NO. Is it actually a ‘Type 1’? NO.
And those are just the ones I thought up on the train to work; readers could probably rattle off a few more.
Edward says, ‘who says the VW Chico has been replaced?’ Well - I do, because it HAS been. The Chico project has been terminated, as he well knows. The Concept One will not be a ‘sub-Polo model’ as it is based on the larger Golf platform.
In summary, I accept that Concept One is probably a reasonable design now that more work has been done on it. Whether it's the most efficient use of a Golf platform is doubtful.
But to name the car ‘New Beetle’ is misleading. It is NOT a ‘Beetle’ – it is a Golf with a different, inefficient and rather silly-looking body. We are proud that VW builds modern, efficient and popular cars like the Golf, Polo, Vento and Passat, and is revealing new designs for the challenges of the 21st century. I've never said, "Bring back the Beetle!" because its time has passed and we have VW's modern range at our disposal. I would actually say ‘bring out the Corrado G60!’ – but of course you won’t, Edward, will you?
The Concept One should be allowed to live or die on its own merits, not by tying it to the coattails of the most popular car ever built.
By Glen Willets
Volkswagen has revealed more secrets of one of the most eagerly awaited cars ever produced: the new Volkswagen New Beetle.
It is now clear that the New Beetle will be every bit as advanced and trend setting as its world-beating forbear, the original Beetle, was when it launched.
While it is clearly a Volkswagen Beetle, both in overall shape and detail design - such as the famous loop straps on the 'B' pillars - the new Beetle is thoroughly modern. It will be based on the same platform as the yet-to-be-launched fourth generation Volkswagen Golf.
That means it will be front-engined and front wheel drive, with the possibility of a four wheel drive performance version. But since the original Beetle was designed, the motivation for placing the engine at the rear, for space, traction and suspension reasons, have been negated. Huge improvements in suspension and tyre design, while development of long life anti-freeze and noise restriction laws mean that an air-cooled engine is no longer required or even legally possible in many markets.
Since the first prototypes were displayed - the bright yellow Concept One sedan and the red Concept One Cabriolet - the car has changed entirely. This is because those first two cars were ‘ground-up’ styling exercises. They had no relationship to any model in the present Volkswagen range, although some of the proposed drive-trains did feature parts from existing cars.
The two pre-production cars, the black car and then the Cyber Green metallic car, had to be different. Firstly they had to meet all the safety, design and construction rules that control how every production car is built around the world. As well as features under the skin, these defined where the New Beetle's bumpers will be and how high they are off the ground, where the lights will go and what lights will be displayed, plus a myriad of other design elements that had to be changed to meet legal requirements.
Then, the New Beetle had to sit on one of Volkswagen's existing or planned platforms. Originally it was planned that the New Beetle would rest on the platform of the Polo, but this proved too small once the curvy body was adapted to fir. Then the existing Volkswagen Vento (Golf 3) platform was considered, but a policy decision within Volkswagen that new products would always use the newest platform. So, the New Beetle was built on the new 'A' Class platform, as used by the next Golf and Bora, which made the new car significantly bigger than the Concept One.
There was also a clear recognition within Volkswagen that a key reason for the unique success of the original Beetle was that it was a very advanced car for its time on launch, and that aided its longevity over several decades. If the New Beetle is to recreate that success, it, too, must be a very advanced car for its period.
When will it come to Australia? This is the question everyone wants an answer to! The official word from Volkswagen’s Australian importers, TKM, is "before the end of the decade,” for its world launch. But what about for Australia?
Volkswagen has made no secret of two things: the new Beetle will be made at its Mexican factory, which supplies the North American market with its Golf, Vento and Golf Cabrios, as well as the original Beetle and the second generation Transporter for the home market. This factory has never produced right hand drive cars before, but it has gained an excellent record for build quality - it is the only factory outside their own that Karmann have ever allowed to build a Volkswagen Cabriolet - Beetle or Golf - and it is gearing up for full New Volkswagen Beetle production for every market.
However Volkswagen has also said that its first priority with the new Beetle is the US market. Volkswagen is the only European mass market car company still selling in the world's largest single national car market, although much smaller now than in the air-cooled days of the 1960s and ‘70s. VW is keen to get back towards its glory days with the original Beetle and the first generation Golf, sold as the Rabbit in the US, when sales topped a half a million cars a year. The Beetle is also seen as a major means by which Volkswagen can meet its legal requirements to sell Zero Emission Vehicles and Ultra Low Emission Vehicles in the US.
Which still begs the question: When will it be introduced in Australia?
Australian TKM executives are pressing hard to be one of the first cabs off the rank with the new Beetle, and their case is made all the stronger by the fact that two other RHD markets, the UK and Japan, where Volkswagen took 44,000 names in ten days for the New Beetle, are also pressing very hard for Right Hand Drive production to start very early.
Although it is too early to say which engines will come to Australia, Volkswagen has revealed some of the range of engines from which the Australian specification vehicle will be chosen.
The range opening engine will be the new 2.0-litre five valve per cylinder engine that debuted in the Audi A3, is now in the new Volkswagen Passat and which will eventually feature right across the Volkswagen Group range. The mid range and range topping petrol engines are Volkswagen’s unique narrow angle V engines, a five cylinder VR5 engine with 110 kW and, as a high performance range topper, a 2.9 litre 142 kW VR6 engine.
These petrol engines will be supplemented by Volkswagen's world leading diesel engines: a 1.9 direct injection Turbo Diesel with 66 kW and the new version of the same engine with a variable turbocharger that takes the power up to a remarkable 81 kW.
These engines will be matched to a choice of the usual five speed manual gearboxes and a choice of automatic units. There will be the new five speed Dynamic Shift Program 'fuzzy logic' automatic gearbox and, reminiscent of the old semi automatic from the Beetle, a Tiptronic version that will allow clutchless manual gear changing as well as fully automatic self shifting.
Most Beetles will be front wheel drive, though Volkswagen has hinted that the range topper will have four wheel drive using Volkswagen's maintenance free and fully automatic Syncro four wheel drive system. This relies on a clever, yet simple viscous coupling which engages four-wheel drive when needed, is the power transfer device and which acts as the centre differential.
Suspension will be, of course fully independent, and it will wear wheels and tyres much larger -16 and 17 inch - than typical for today's cars.
Volkswagen has also displayed Concept One with a number of possible alternative drivetrains that will be targeted at markets that have legal or market requirements for the ultra-clean or zero emission level vehicles. An all-electric version is proposed. Also displayed was an electro-diesel hybrid, designed so that the electric engine is used around town and the diesel on the open road, and an Ecomatic version with Volkswagen stop-start system. This switches the engine off when it is not required, at traffic lights or going down hill for example, and re-starts it immediately when it is required.
Is it a real ‘Beetle’? How do you define real? No, it does not have a flat four, air-cooled engine driving the rear wheels. But that was just one aspect of what combined to make the Beetle magic.
What made - and makes - the original Beetle special, if not unique, is that it has character in spade-fulls and that for its owners it became more than a car: it was a reliable, dependable friend, that looked after its owners in tough times and gave fun in good times.
The New Beetle is no different. Firstly, take the styling. Like the original Beetle, it will never be confused for anything else. And the new car retains many of the 'styling cues' from the original car. For example, take the side view. It is very simple. Three arcs, one for each wheel and the roof line, plus two straight lines, the lower window line and the sill line. In the new car, these lines, thanks to modern car production methods, are much stronger and more clearly defined. Steel stamping methods, bonded glass, flush headlights and tight shut lines mean that the new Beetle has a smoother finish and a more clearly defined shape.
Front on, the same styling trends continue: smoother and more refined, but still clearly a Beetle. It's not just the overall shape, the details that are also uniquely Beetle-based shine through in the new car, from the loop straps on the B pillars to the single instrument binnacle and the centrally positioned and simply designed controls. You could even argue that, although it is now accessible from the outside, the boot space behind the rear seats is remarkably similar to that on the original Beetle!
But character is, as they say, more than skin deep. What endeared the Volkswagen Beetle to millions of people around the world was that it was a durable and reliable friend. It cost less to buy, less to run, was reliable and it enjoyed a remarkably long life. Take a look around Australia's road's today and see how many Beetles are still on the road. Then look for cars of a similar vintage from other carmakers...
The Beetles are still around because they are reliable and because people love
And of course, Volkswagen has built its reputation on that standard for reliable, durable transport and it applies to all its vehicles, so the New Beetle will be no different.
So there you have it: A unique shape, with unique style inside and out, a car that is chock full of character, which is a reliable and durable friend that will be fun to own. Either way, it's a Beetle or a New Beetle!
By John Phillips, Car and Driver
"When I was nine, I drove my father's Beetle 100 metres," recalls Volkswagen chairman Dr. Ferdinand Piech. "The second time I drove it, I caught the front bumper on the garage door. It took a year of my pocket money to pay for the repair.” Piech seems never to smile, but at that moment, the man emanated golden sunbeams.
Virtually every driver over 40 has a similar tale, told with the same reverence and dreamy nostalgia. The difference is that Piech is in a position to do something about it – to re-create a past that his own grandfather, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, contrived in the late 1930s. Back then, the car – "a hat on wheels," Piech calls it – was known as the KdF-Wagen, short for Kraft durch Freude or "strength through joy car."
The first Beetles arrived on American soil in 1949. Only two were sold. For $1280 each. By 1960, VW was building 4000 Beetles a day, exported worldwide via 68 VW-owned cargo ships. In 1968, VW sold 399,674 Beetles in the USA alone. The boom ended in 1977.
Amazingly, the old rear-engined Beetle is still manufactured today for Third World countries, and later this year, the 21,000,000th Beetle will roll off the assembly line at VWs huge plant in Pueblo, Mexico. That same plant will simultaneously be producing der neue Kafer – the New Beetle, as it will officially be known. It may look like a 30-year-old anachronism, but hiding under those lovable fenders – they're now plastic – is 80 percent of a thoroughly revised 1998 two-door Golf.
"The New Beetle was first and foremost an American venture," says Piech. Thus, the car will arrive in US showrooms in late March 1998, six months before the rest of the world gets a crack at it. A base Beetle will cost about $16,500, about 13 times the price of the original.
For that sum, you'll get a lot. Standard fare includes air conditioning, a six-speaker stereo, side airbags, an anti-theft system, central locking, locking, and of course, an insanely cute vase. The only notable options: anti-lock brakes, a power sunroof (it’s glass, not canvas), cruise control, leather seats, and a four-speed automatic.
Climb inside the new VW New Beetle and what you notice first is how far away the windscreen resides. The top of the dash is a black plastic flight deck that wouldn't look out of place in a minivan. The New Beetle's A-pillars are thick, flaring at the base to a width of almost 25 cm. They obstruct vision during turns and even obliterate a slice of the already-small side-view mirrors.
What you notice next is the unique instrument binnacle, a lone pod embracing the largest speedometer in recent memory, flanked at the lower corners by the smallest fuel gauge and tacho seen in years. (Be thankful; old Beetles did not come equipped with fuel gauges until 1962.)
The interior windowsills are draped in body-coloured plastic, a garish but entertaining flourish, particularly in the bright-yellow and red models. The three spokes of the steering wheel - adjustable for both rake and reach - are brushed-aluminium tubes. They're cold to the touch, but again, they're a visual delight. In fact, the whole cockpit, including the loop-style grab handles on the inner B-pillars, is faithful to the Concept 1 show car and constitutes a clever covey of retro cues and high-tech textures. The interior of this car recalls no other on earth, including the original Bug's.
Not all the surfaces are harmonious, however. For instance, the cheap-looking-plastic inner door panels wobble and boom, then flare into rock-hard armrests that lack even the meanest cloth upholstery.
In true VW style, the seats are downright firm with nicely sculpted cushions, although the seatbacks are too flat and bolsterless for a car having some handling pretensions. By merely pulling one lever, each front seat rises, then slides forward, affording a generous passageway to the rear bench. Back there, two adults can survive short trips, but their scalps will abrade the headliner. Compared with the show car, the Beetle's roofline has slumped by 4 cm.
Beneath the hatchback is a modest boot, capable of swallowing two garment bags or four bags of groceries. If you flop the rear bench forward, you'll create a flat cargo bay deep enough to handle golf clubs.
Two engines will initially be offered in the U.S. market. There's the base 2.0-litre, two-valve, 86 kW four from the Golf - a somewhat uninspired, though durable, powerplant. It offers moderately brisk step-off and a broad power band, although it becomes thrashy as it approaches 5000 rpm.
Or for an extra $800 or so, you can opt for the 67 kW turbo-diesel - a slow-to-rev miser whose appearance here is a mystery. By late summer, however, a third engine will arrive: the stunning 1.8-litre five-valve turbo (identical to the base powerplant in the Passat, Golf GTI and Audi A4), producing 112 kW at 5700 rpm. In the New Beetle, it's a knockout. It barks the front tires, lights up the unloaded wheel during hard cornering, pulls the unaerodynamic Beetle to 203 km/h according to Volkswagen, and remains satiny from idle to redline. This engine may carry with it the GTI moniker; the package will cost less than $20,000 US.
Among the New Beetle's many endearing traits is its steering. It is quick and light, with more power assist than we recall in previous Golfs. Meanwhile, at 110 km/h the cockpit is remarkably hushed; wind noise over those Buick-size side windows is negligible. The shift linkage - standard VW Golf fare - remains slightly clunky and is mismatched with the light clutch. Throttle tip-in is good. The wiper and signal stalks are the silkiest VW has ever produced, almost in Camry country.
Pitched hard, the New Beetle feels as composed as any two-door Golf, which, of course, it is. There's more body roll than we'd prefer, although New Beetles fitted with the 1.8-litre turbo will likely also be fitted with 17-inch tires and firmer dampers, per the good Doctor's prescription - another reason to wait five months for this specific drive-train. Understeer manifests early but progressively. We could uncover no way (short of yanking the parking brake) that would reliably rotate the tail.
Unlike the original Beetle's, the ride is terrific. Most of the high frequency harshness and general ‘road grittiness’ that afflicts current Golfs has been eliminated. In fact, vibration levels throughout are admirably low, even in the nattering diesel.
In the U.S. and Canada, VW hopes to sell 60,000 New Beetles (versus about 85,000 Jettas, the company's bestselling model) during the car's first 12 months. For the world's fourth-largest automaker, this is not an overly ambitious goal. In the small domain of boutique and fashion cars - everything from the Nissan Figaro to the Plymouth Prowler - the New Beetle is peculiar. At $16,500 US, it's not only affordable but also useable 365 days a year. What's more, it makes everyone smile.
By Phil Matthews
The surviving Beatles have thankfully refused VW permission to use old Beatles' songs to help sell the New Beetle. Volkswagen wanted George, Paul and Ringo to join the massive promotional blitz planned for the New Beetle.
“Both the Beatles and the Beetle have 'cult status'”, said the company. Original plans called for use of Mersey tunes like Baby You Can Drive My Car, The Long and Winding Road and Magical Mystery Tour.
VW offered $15 million for the songs, which would have made them the most expensive advertising jingles in history. However, they have run into opposition from the three surviving Beatles, who have killed the idea.
In the 1960s the Fab Four turned down a multi-million dollar deal with Coca-Cola, and not one song has been allowed any advertising use since.
Complicating matters is that the three Beatles no longer have the rights to most of their old music. When the Beatles' record company Apple went bust, the rights for their back catalogue passed to a consortium co-owned by Michael Jackson. He in turn sold a share to Sony, who is a key figure in the negotiations. Paul, George and Ringo are convinced that Jackson would give VW permission to use the old songs.
George Harrison was quoted as saying, “Unless we do something about it, every Beatles song is going to end up advertising bras and pork pies.”
The Beatles have already turned down millions of dollars to help promote a special Beatles version of the New Beetle, and to appear at the vehicle's launch party. This was held at the Roxy Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, with a '60s theme. Produced by the staid German company, the party produced the inevitable sight of VW executives wearing psychedelic T-shirts, daisy chains and flowers in their hair.
“This is to prove that we Germans do have a sense of humour,” said one executive, instantly proving the opposite.
Thank goodness for the surviving Beatles' integrity as the New Beetle promotion reaches new heights of absurdity. The only one of the four to ever own a VW Beetle was John Lennon, who owned one for a short period in the late '60s when other stars like Peter Sellers and Sean Connery also did. However, John was more famous for his wildly painted Rolls Royce. John died in December 1980.
None of the other Beatles ever owned a VW. A white '68 model did appear on the cover of the Abbey Road album of September 1969, their last, albeit in the background. This car contributed to the 'Paul is Dead' rumour that swept the world then. The VW's number plate was LMW-28IF - Paul would have been 28 next birthday IF he'd lived. LMC was supposed to stand for ‘Linda McCartney Weeps’, at his ‘death’ obviously. A resident of the nearby apartments owned the VW and it often had the number plate stolen over the years following. It was sold at auction for £23,000 in 1986 and is now on display in the VW museum in Wolfsburg (incorrectly assigned to John Lennon's ownership).
It would be far more suitable for the Beatles to be promoting the new BMW Mini, rather than a ‘New Beetle’. All the Beatles owned Minis at one stage, John a wildly painted one and Paul a customised, souped up Mini Cooper. By comparison, there is minimal historical connection between the VW Beetle and the Beatles of Liverpool. My own opinion of the New Beetle is that if VW DID use Beatles songs to try to sell it, they should use ‘I’m a Loser’, from the Beatles For Sale album, which says, "I'm a loser...and I'm not what I appear to be…"
By Ray Thursby
Editor's note: We've (or, rather, I've) been writing sceptical articles on the Concept One / New Beetle since 1995, when it first appeared. We were just about the first in the world to do this, with everyone else falling over themselves to shower it with praise. Now, since its actual release more and more writers are starting to see beyond its bubblegum lines and notice its many faults and shortcomings. Here's another one...
A message to the purchaser of the light-blue New Beetle carrying a VIN ending in 15986: Your shiny new toy was personally tested on the roads around Puebla, Mexico, prior to its arrival at your local VW showroom by the ace European Car magazine team of James Sly and this writer. I don't know whether this should be a cause for celebration - this is, after all, now a car with a ‘History’ (of sorts), or for alarm (for obvious reasons), but I thought that you should know.
Puebla is not my idea of the ideal vacation destination. Close enough to Mexico City to be blanketed by the capital's infamous smog - as bad as anything I remember from growing up in 1950s Los Angeles - and possessed of the beauty and decay, the riches and terrible poverty that exist side by side throughout Mexico, it is a town where a three-day visit seems enough.
But it also is where Volkswagen Beetles are built, and thus an appropriate place to go when trying to assess the New Beetle's niche in the automotive world. In the middle of an arid Mexican plateau, away from the hype and glamour attendant upon its U.S. introduction, the reincarnation of a classic and much-loved design has to stand on its own merits, and must face direct comparison with its ancestor, examples of which fill the streets of Puebla. As well they should, for VW's Mexican factory still turns out old Beetles at the rate of some 150 per day, in addition to New Beetles, Jettas and Golf Cabrios for domestic and import markets.
This is a situation unique to VW: Imagine Ford, for example, building Model Ts and Tauruses in adjacent buildings. The contrast between Very Old and Very New was a strange element in what turned out to be a deeply weird trip. I feel compelled to draw a veil of merciful secrecy over the more bizarre twists and turns, consumption of exotic beverages and harrowing bus rides of our stay south of the border. What the heck, you folks are only interested in cars, right?
First, the Old Beetle. Although modernized in many ways, including fitment of fuel injection (using a throttle body that looks amazingly like a one-barrel Solex carburetor) and a catalyzer to the 44-bhp engine, and of course disc brakes in front, it remains the simple, clever and in some respects crude machine of fond memory. Neither the car itself, nor the labor-intensive assembly line on which it is built, would hold any surprises for anyone who saw it 50 years ago. Currently available in two forms - plain Clasico and plainer City - its primary attractions are bulletproof mechanicals and a price low enough (in the $8,000 range) to undercut any other new car available in Mexico. Given those attributes, its future seems assured.
We, of course, can't buy a new Old Beetle (legally anyway) but are encouraged, if so inclined, to sign on the dotted line for a New Beetle. I, for one, find its attractions, beyond the enormous amount of publicity its gestation and introduction have generated for VW, rather harder to define.
Let it be said right away that the New Beetle’s underpinnings are virtually beyond reproach. The fourth-generation Golf platform is a vast improvement on what was already one of the best front-drive chassis available. Ride, handling and refinement all rate superlatives; even when supplied with the basic eight-valve engine, the Golf IV will be sure to please when it arrives here later this year.
Now comes the difficult part. I would be tempted to brand the New Beetle nothing more than a Lava Lamp on four wheels, except that the car is less faithful to its original design that is the reincarnated decorative light. To me, it seems a clever toy, a momentary attention-gutter of only short-term interest. Harsh words? Consider the following questions used to make this assessment: Is the New Beetle a ground-breaking design? The original was, of course. It stood out from the mainstream shapes common it its day, making do without excessive chrome trim and other needless ornamentation. Looking like nothing else on the road, it could be picked out of a crowded parking lot even by people who knew little about cars. And at a time when aerodynamics were paid little attention, Dr. Porsche's design was an early mass-production attempt to improve both performance and fuel economy by presenting a smaller and smoother face to the wind.
In contrast, the new version is distinctive, but entirely derivative, depending on nostalgia for its appeal. It is no doubt wind tunnel-friendly as well, but so are hordes of other cars. Personally, I don't think that the design comes off all that well when seen on the road, lacking the balance between masses (front, cabin and rear) characteristic of the original. Cute perhaps, in a roly-poly way, but destined in my view to wear out its welcome in a short time.
Is the New Beetle a functional design? No. Its body shape exists for one purpose only: Marketing. It is not easy to look at a re-skinned two-door Golf and find any other compelling reason for its existence. And then there's packaging efficiency, one of the originals strengths. Hardly a millimetre-square area can be found in a 1948 or '68 or '98-Beetle that was not used for something. The New Beetle contains more wasted space than equivalent Golf, particularly the interior. A prime example is the huge panel separating the dashboard and windshield. Senor Sly and I felt installation of a diorama (I suggested something along the lines of Disneyland's ‘Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln,’ while James opted for the less exciting but more educational ‘How a Bill Becomes a Law’) might relieve the monotony and give that expanse of plastic a purpose.
Is the New Beetle faithful to the original? Hardly. Though space exists for a rear mounted engine - and I'd be sorely tempted to chuck a Porsche powerplant in a New Beetle's bustle, just for laughs - the newcomer, like the vast majority of cars on the road today has its motive power up front. Conceptually, it reminds me of some of the cheesier fibreglass kit cars which purported to replicate Bugattis and SSK Mercedes-Benzes while being based on VW Beetle chassis pans.
Which brings us to another major difference between old and new: Anyone tiring of the Old Beetle's looks could transform it into a sports car by replacing the sheet metal with a plastic body. Alterations to the New Beetle will consist mainly of sills, flares, spoilers and wings, many of which are sure to enhance individuality at the expense of good taste.
In a word, the New Beetle is a fake. It's a way for the company - and buyers - to revisit the past without suffering the inconveniences and depravations a realistic rebirth of the original would necessarily include. It seems to have been created with the same mindset many people adopt when buying a classic home: That charming little Cape Cod is just what they want, but wouldn't it be nicer if remodelled to include a modern kitchen and bathrooms? Drywall is so much easier to deal with than nasty old plaster, and where are we going to put the media room?
My view: If you want to go back in time , buy an Old Beetle and restore it.
Being a realist, I'm prepared to be trampled in the rush of customers flocking to buy New Beetles as fast as they come off the trucks. I expect it to be a rousing success. For a couple of years, anyway. But the initial furore will die out - sustained, for a time, by the TDI, 1.8 turbo, VR6 (VW says no, I say yes), and cabrio variations. But the New Beetle leads Volkswagen down a tricky path; like the original, the new car will be difficult, if not impossible, to update. As will be necessary.
If retro-mania is to become a fixture at VW, may I suggest a revival of interest in the minivan? Once upon a time, the people-mover market was VW's playground; Microbuses and later Vanagons were dominant in this lucrative area, even if the final T4 Eurovan, underpowered and overpriced, was a flop in the U.S. Remedies for all of the Eurovan's shortcomings exist, and are applied to the Caravelle version that sells well in Europe.
But looking ahead is ultimately more important than dwelling on the past. Golfs, Jettas, Passats and future additions to the lineup must have far more to do with VW's long-term survival than a warmed-over KDF-Wagen. Any company that places its bets on a car being judged primarily as an icon is taking a terrible risk.
By Phil Matthews
For anyone with even the slightest interest in Volkswagens, the launch of the ‘New’ Beetle on sale in Australia has been one of the most anticipated events in recent history. After several years of media hype and hysterics, it's finally here.
The Golf-based Beetle parody originally went on sale in the USA nearly three years ago, and has been selling quite well since then. Last year it also debuted in Europe, where the reception has been considerably cooler. How will it fare in Australia?
Inchcape Ltd, the VW importers and distributors in Australia, pulled out all stops to give the New Beetle a razzle-dazzle launch that won't be forgotten in a long while. A number of Club VeeDub members were involved, and this is our story of those fabulous couple of days.
Friday evening of 28th January was the launch preview VIP cocktail party, put on by Inchcape at the Darling Harbour Convention Centre in Sydney. A black-tie affair. I rolled up at 7:30 pm dressed in my best suit and was greeted at the door by Amity Woodbury, the lovely young organiser and overseer of the occasion. Having the special ID badge attached to my lapel, I then entered the large hall and took my first frosty glass of beer from a passing waiter.
New Beetles were strategically parked around the inside of the room, festooned with balloons, streamers and expensive-looking props. Laughing patrons lined up eagerly to be photographed in the cars, while others wandered around poking, prodding, gazing, stroking and fiddling with the VWs. One bright-yellow New Beetle sat near the entrance with people crammed around it, all busily writing messages on its paintwork in thick texta. I took the opportunity to write a short comment near the rear hatch, to the effect of "Where’s the bloody engine??" Some other familiar names from Club VeeDub and Flat Four could also be spotted on the bodywork. Who knows what will happen to this car? By the end of the show, the paintwork was thick with scrawled texta markings, as well as on the roof lining, seats, dashboard and carpets!
I soon spotted the group of other Club VeeDub members, front-row centre as usual, and it was time for another beer. I saw many other familiar faces in the crowd as I wandered around: our mates from Flat 4; Inchcape executives, VW workshop and parts store people, official VW dealers, motoring writers, media types, and countless other hangers-on. I had time for a quick chat with quite a number of them, as well as another couple of beers, before the lights dimmed and the show began.
The evening's host was George Smilovich, who you might remember as a comedy stage act from the mid-80's - "I'm so tough I don't need a car jack - I lay under the car and read Playboy! And that's just the editorial! I'm tough!" You remember him, I'm sure. His car story banter was quite funny but I was amazed by how old he's looking now. Good one, George!
Inchcape PR rep Oliver Mann was introduced and he said a few words about old and new Beetles, mentioned some of the VIP guests and even thanked we humble Club VeeDub people for helping with the launch. He finished up by describing the short film competition. We had an entry starring Steve Carter, Dave Birchall and Leigh Harris, which you saw at the last meeting, and it made the top five. However only the top three were shown on the big screen, including the third-placed entry by Jason Van Genderen, an artist who once drew cartoons for Zeitschrift. Film no 2 was rather funky, and also very good, but the winning entry was, in my opinion, too arty and rubbish. Done by some professional agency, it proved you need a VW enthusiast to make a decent VW film!
There was a break at this juncture, and the wonderful Beatles cover band The Beatels came on stage to play a set of old Beatles songs, dressed in the buttoned suits from the Hard Days Night era. Great old tunes, very accurately and tightly played on original Rickenbacker and Hofner guitars and Ludwig drums, and complete with fake Liverpool accents, ahuh yeah! There are a few Beatles cover bands going around but the Beatels are the best. Fantastic! They have their own Beatels website at www.beatels.com and naturally Ed Garcia was the first onto the dance floor to show everyone how it should be done.
Then came the stage show, a dazzling display of music, dance, costume and pyrotechnics. With a backdrop of two old Beetles (one belonging to club members Paul & Liz), two New ones were driven on stage amid flashing lights, smoke, strobes and pounding music – Real Wild Child by Iggy Pop. The silver one on the left drew a gasp from the audience, as it appeared to be the Turbo Beetle show car seen in the USA with its large chrome wheels, body kit and whale tail. Unfortunately it wasn't, but the lookalike had nearly everyone fooled.
More dazzling entertainment followed as the Beatels did another set, this time dressed in the colourful uniforms of Sgt. Pepper. The dancing, and carousing continued as the music played on, George Smilovich did a few more jokes, the waiters provided more beers and the Beatels played yet another set. Finally the evening drew to a close, the lights came on and people slowly began filing out. It proved impossible to get another beer, so we reluctantly headed to the car park and Sue Birchall drove us home, being the only one of us even remotely sober. Thanks again Sue !
How quickly 7:00 am rolled around and it was time to rendezvous at the Birchall residence in our VWs for the drive back in to Darling Harbour. With Dave's '56 leading, it was a quick trip into town in the sparse Saturday morning traffic, but we still found an idiot or two. One moron in a Mitsubishi van tried to change lanes into the side of Leigh's Beetle, but luckily he missed. We eventually all arrived in one piece, and Amity directed us onto the forecourt of Darling Harbour, just in front of the Convention Centre. We spaced ourselves around the fountains in neat rows, and the effect was rather stunning.
About 60 Beetles were there in total, mostly from Club VeeDub, Flat 4 and the VW Classic and Vintage Club, all gleaming in the early morning light, and looking fantastic with the Sydney skyline in the background. A large inflated New Beetle stood nearby, but we learned that it was being flown to Singapore a few days later and would not be available for the Nationals - pity.
After a few photos and a walk around, we sat in the sunshine as the crowds built up - and up -and up. By lunchtime it was very crowded as onlookers moved with amazement among our gleaming VWs. A few New Beetles were on hand too but most people seemed more interested in our real Beetles. Steve set up a little table between our cars, and we laid out Nationals flyers and club membership forms. By the end of the day more than 600 of them had been taken.
The afternoon wore on. The crowds moved amongst us and the sun beat down. Leigh turned a bright shade of pink, as did Richard (maybe those modelling girls in the carbon fibre costumes helped?) Inchcape replayed last night's spectacular in the convention hall, the Beatels played their sets again and some collectable goodies were snapped up. Inchcape even had the rest of the VW range on display, a Polo, Golf, Bora and Passat.
Eventually 6:00 pm came and it was time to go. We carefully drove our VWs back out through the thinning crowds and back onto the streets. Manx thanks must go to Inchcape Distributors for such a fantastic day, and their generosity was boundless. Particular thanks to Oliver and Amity for all their hard work. We look forward to working with you again at the VW Nationals 2000.
By Steve Carter
At the Geneva Motor Show 2000 Volkswagen is presenting a realistic sports car design study based on the New Beetle - the New Beetle RSi. Last year at the motor shows in Detroit and Geneva, Volkswagen already unveiled a more radical design for a sports version of the New Beetle. In the new concept presented at Geneva 2000, this first design idea has been developed a stage further.
The New Beetle RSi shows how the emotional appeal of the New Beetle design provides creative potential. The striking powerful elegance of the metallic silver-grey design study comes mainly thanks to its 80-mm wider body with impressive front and rear styling. The front and rear wings are more pronounced and linked by a wide sill panel. The large front spoiler and air scoops are borrowed from the racing versions used in the New Beetle Cup. The rear view is dominated by the mighty spoilers on the roof and rear and two chromed tailpipes protruding from the rear apron alongside ventilation grilles. This range of styling features makes the New Beetle RSi a superior quality sports car for the road.
A sports car concept must have a suitably powerful engine. The 3.2-litre V6 engine is based on the 2.8-litre V6 unit used in the New Beetle Cup. A starter button on the centre console brings the high-torque six to life. With the increased capacity, the four-valve engine in the New Beetle RSi delivers 165 kW and accelerates the sports car to a maximum speed of 225 km/h. 0 to 100 km/h can be achieved in 6.4 seconds.
The six-speed gearbox is operated by an aluminium stick on the raised centre console and transmits the power via Volkswagen's 4Motion system with Haldex coupling to its generously large wheels. An impressive gritty engine note coming from the large tailpipes accompanies the agile power delivery.
The New Beetle RSi's sports suspension has been tuned to the car's performance with special springs and dampers. The 18-inch spoked aluminium wheels are reminiscent of those on the vehicles competing in the New Beetle Cup. The 235/40 ZR 18 wide tyres provide excellent road holding.
The interior displays elegance and sporting intent and is dominated by the colours black, tropical orange and aluminium-silver - shades which represent luxury materials. The sports seats in the front and the two rear seats have luxurious tropical orange leather upholstery. The headliner and the boot lining both feature anthracite-coloured Alcantara.
Aluminium features heavily from the pedals, driver and passenger footrests, grab handles, window lift handles and dashboard styling to the heating and ventilation controls.
The Recaro sports seats with silver painted backs provide effective support in high-speed cornering. The newly designed controls and additional instruments on the centre console have aluminium surrounds. The control panel for the radio is positioned in the headliner and the radio itself is located in the rear.
A carbon fibre cross-strut behind the rear seat provides the necessary rigidity.
Volkswagen's New Beetle RSi as unveiled in Geneva demonstrates the New Beetle theme's potential for diversity in technology and design.
Volkswagen is currently looking into the option of producing a limited series of this impressive road-going sports car.
By Chris Riley
My time in heaven was sadly limited. Just four, short bittersweet days behind the wheel of Volkswagen's piping hot, V6-powered RSi Beetle.
Bitter, because I had to give the bloody thing back. Sweet, because for any VW fanatic the RSi is surely the ultimate Volkswagen and any self-respecting fan would gladly crawl over broken glass just to spend five minutes in one.
At this point I should perhaps confess that I had 'the Bug' really badly when I was younger, and like any addict I am still in recovery, taking life one car at a time. I learned to drive in a Beetle and for more than a decade was the proud owner of a wattle-coloured ‘76 with the goods, the last of its kind to be sold in Australia.
I poured more money into that car than I care to remember in the elusive quest to go faster and when I was finally forced to sell (it was either that or divorce) the Bug was on its third engine and looked and went pretty damn well - even if I say so myself.
It's all behind me now, I reflect, as I sit and ponder the exceptional lines and performance of the curvaceous RSi. I've driven left-hand drive cars before so that wasn't really a problem, apart from a couple of embarrassing missed gear changes. But nothing short of a Porsche could prepare any old Beetle owner for the raw power and acceleration of this new car.
With a race bred 165 kW, 3.2-litre narrow angle V6 under bonnet (that's the front bonnet by the way), delivering power to all four wheels through a Haldex coupling, and a close ratio six-speed gearbox, together with a good set of brakes and 18 x 9 inch wheels and rubber, the RSi has all the right gear. And it would want to, with a $125,000 price tag that will take any aspiring owner's breath away.
How could a Beetle possibly cost that much? Well, apart from a couple of minor differences, the RSi is pretty much identical to the ones they race, with an engine checked and hand built by VW Racing. They're the guys that know just about everything about making cars go faster.
The 3.2-litre 24 valve V6 delivers 165 kW of power at 6200 rpm and 317 Nm of torque at 3200 rpm, with a deep, purposeful growl that sounds like no Beetle you've ever heard before. To all intents and purposes it’s a Golf VR6 but with a New Beetle body.
The suspension is rock hard and two large tailpipes protrude from the rear air dam, signalling this is no tarted up pretender. Other equipment includes ABS with electronic brake force distribution, electronic stability control cruise control, and a full set of gauges to keep track of the car.
Is it worth it? Volkswagen Australia's managing director Peter Nochar seems to think so and I've got to say after my weekend odyssey behind the wheel I'm inclined to agree with him. Nochar has imported two of these rare, tasty little beasts, with no plans to sell either one. In fact, only 250 RSi's have been produced world wide and they've all got the steering wheel on the wrong side - which kind of puts a dampener on sales here.
So what is it like? It's hard to miss, that's for sure. It was foundation day in my homeport the weekend we had the car and I'm sure many people we were part of the parade. At least there was a lot of waving and pointing going on in our direction.
With an 80mm wider track than your average New Beetle, the RSi gets a full aero kit with big, tyre-hugging guards, ultra low front and rear air dams, with a large whale tail-style rear wing and another smaller spoiler over the rear window.
Inside, it's simply stunning - all leather, polished metal and carbon fibre to keep the weight down to a minimum. The result is a car that roars from standing to 100 km/h in about 6.4 seconds. A series of LEDs give a clear and early warning when the engine is about to top out.
The RSi is by no means the fastest car I've ever driven but it's mighty quick and handles better than anything I can remember - better than a WRX, possibly even as good as the earth-shattering Mitsubishi Evo.
I’ll qualify this statement by saying we went head to head with a Ducati motorcycle on a certain, secluded stretch of highway. Although the Ducati had a slight edge coming away from corners, the motorcycle was actually holding us up going into and through bends.
That's a true story. The RSi would just not let go, not matter how hard we pushed. The bloke on the Ducati was so amazed he pulled over for a chat he wanting to know if were going back again?
Alas, we were headed home and in the opposite direction - back to reality.
VW Press Release
There is a bright start to 2003 in store for convertible drivers, with the Volkswagen New Beetle convertible due on the European market in the first quarter. Volkswagen's new model continues its tradition of four-seater open-air bestsellers. The New Beetle follows in the footsteps of two of the highest-selling cabriolets in the world, the Golf convertible and Beetle convertible. Its design is absolutely distinct and symbolises status-free fun. The New Beetle convertible is refreshing and progressive in the way it interprets the positive character of the classic Beetle convertible, which made history as the first ‘classless’ Volkswagen. The new convertible's emotional values and technical features reflect open travel as an attitude to life in general.
The concept of the New Beetle convertible combining extremely high torsional rigidity with fully fledged rear seating, featuring a through loading facility, a rollover protection system that deploys automatically in an accident, the all-season top including heated glass rear window and an optional six-speed automatic demonstrates how very safe, comfortable and suitable for everyday use a lifestyle-oriented vehicle can be.
Special paint finishes developed for the New Beetle convertible adds a new splash of colour to everyday motoring. With Aquarius Blue, Mellow Yellow und Harvest Moon to list just a few, it is clear from the names alone that a positive and appealing character is an essential feature of this car.
The New Beetle convertible will be available in Germany with a choice of four engines - three petrol engines and one TDI - ranging in power output from 55 kW to 85 kW. The top engine can be combined with the new six-speed (Tiptronic) gearbox.
The technical highlights of the convertible design are in the body engineering and the operation of the cloth-lined three-layered top. Just like the former Beetle convertible, the open soft-top rests on the area of the imaginary C pillar. This design is deliberately reminiscent of the classic Beetle Convertible. However, when folded down the top lies much lower thanks to an elaborate folding system.
The top is opened using a one-hand release mechanism. It can then be put into its resting position. In the case of the electro hydraulic system the convertible top opens and closes at the press of a button, taking only 13 seconds each way. A luxury trim strip traces the elegant unbroken line formed by the window lines and the transition between the top and body.
The automatically deploying roll over protection has been harmoniously integrated into the silhouette of the open convertible. The system is located behind the rear seat back. A rollover and crash sensor detects when the car is in danger of rolling and triggers the protection system. When this happens two profiled supports spring out and together with the windscreen frame these protect the passenger compartment. The passive safety items, including effective front and side airbags and energy-absorbing side panels designed especially for the convertible, are combined with proven active safety equipment. In Germany the New Beetle convertible is equipped with side airbags, ABS, and ESP as standard.
By Steve Carter
I recently attended the Volkswagen Spectacular at Nambucca Heads. As I'm between cars at the moment, I asked Volkswagen (our VW Nationals major sponsor), if could borrow a car from them. They said Yes! So the Wednesday prior to the Volkswagen Spectacular, I picked up a beautiful new New Beetle Cabriolet with black leather upholstery, which coincidentally is the same one we had at the VW Nationals earlier this year. At the VW headquarters in Botany they have a RSI New Beetle to greet you in foyer; what a beautiful car.
Volkswagen has now dropped the Golf Cabrio from their range and the New Beetle Cabriolet is VWs sole open-top car in their line-up. With the Golf and New Beetle Cabrio running the same engines on the same platforms, I guess it just didn't work for VW, hence the New Beetle Cabrio's presence. The New Beetle’s solid roof gets replaced by a nice rag roof, that I feel actually improves its looks of over that of its fixed roofed cousin.
When Concept 1 was first designed, Volkswagen had two prototypes - one of the sedan, and one of the convertible. While the sedan quickly became a reality, seen on the streets of cities worldwide, the convertible just sat around in the design studio.
New Beetle is a modern-looking replica of the old Beetle, and carries its ancestors distinct curvy shape, the retracted roof lies right on the top of the boot lid, much like the older cars. It all leads to a very retro-ish looking vehicle state. Modern day standards of fit and finish with plastic mudguards and cute alloy wheels, it's built in the very same place as the last of the originals was, in Puebla, Mexico. I couldn't help but feel chuffed by the Beetle Cabrios bold looks and delightful appearance. The roof is electrically operated and once folded in place you need to fit a weather cover over the folded roof. This really makes it look like the beetle of old; having the top fold outside the body would also save on boot space, which is pretty small. With the small amount of boot space it does limit the car’s use to a two-seater on a trip away, or if you need to pick up a lot of groceries. Having said this, this not the sort of car that you would buy for a family runabout or to go away camping. Its great fun car to drive and I had the roof down every chance I got.
As the base for the Cabrio is very much your typical run of the mill New Beetle, the components underneath are more or less the same. This means a stock Golf platform, front wheel drive. But it's not quite the same to drive as the hardtop version of the same car. The hardtop New Beetle weighs in at 1263 kg and does the 0-100 km/h dash in 10.9 seconds, while the Cabrio version gains some kilos to weigh in at 1324 kg and takes a little longer for the 0-100, coming in at 11.7 seconds. The 2-litre motor is not going to win many traffic light Grand Prix but it provided excellent flexibility right down to about 40 km/h in 5th gear and very good economy.
I'm a cruise control junky, I even had it fitted to my 1972 Superbug, and the same unit will also be refitted to my new 1973 Superbug. I even use cruise control to go to the shops; I have such an addiction. The cruise control on the Cabrio was delight to use and was able to maintain speeds downhill without having to touch the brakes, thanks to good retardation from the 10.3:1 compression motor. The cruise control didn't over speed the set speed at all when resuming from a low speed, unlike my 2 year old Toyota Prado which whizzes past the set speed when used in the same manner and will not back off until its about 10-15 km/h above the set speed.
The New Beetle has sharp steering and good handling for its intended use, although the soft ride can get a bit see-saw-like until you get used to the feather light clutch and accelerator. The only time it really got upset on our trip was when exiting the F3 at Wahroonga; as the road is really chopped there from all the trucks.
With convertibles, there are always a few issues that people may have - how noisy is it compared to the hardtop version; will the roof leak; what happens if I roll the car? I was asked all of these questions. When Volkswagen decided to build a New Beetle Cabrio version it went to the experts, Karmann to have the roof worked out. In the end, it worked out rather well. With the roof down, you certainly get your dose of fresh air.
To address safety concerns it has Driver and front passenger side airbags; Door side impact protection; Rigid safety cell with front and rear crumple zones; Roll over protection system; Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution (EBD); Front seat belts with pre-tensioners and belt force limiters; and 3-point seat belts for all passengers.
The Beetle's less than aerodynamically perfect body shape leads to a whole lot of turbulence within the cabin. Even at speeds of just 50 km/h, with the windows rolled down, any loose bits of paper, hats or expensive hairdos will simply cease to exist. That's why it's best to use the wind-buffeting device that fits nicely over the rear seats when they aren't being used. When the roof and windows are up, the New Beetle Cabrio insulates you from the elements but does limit rearward vision. The fabric roof is really easy to wash and chamoised up almost as easily as painted bodywork. I feel that you could hear a little more of the surrounding traffic even with roof up than you would from a hardtop car. Driving with the roof down on the glorious sunny winter days we had over the VWs Spectacular weekend was a real treat. You felt you were really connected to the local area that you were driving through, sometimes a little too well connected to some farmer's cow-patted paddocks. The neat seat warmers helped when it got a little chilly.
The inside controls were very easy to use, except for a few times when I hit my hand on the dash while changing gear, and the speedo needle would block out the trip meter and odometer at highway speeds. I like to keep a mental calculation going so that when my son would say how far is it to Valla I could give him an intelligent answer, roughly 100 km = 1 hour travelling.
The Cabrio also included some nice features such as Digital clock and outside temperature display, mounted on the windscreen frame; Interior lighting mounted in rear-view mirror housing with time delay, which switches on when the car was unlocked; AM/FM Cassette player stereo, 6 disc CD changer, mounted in centre console; 10 speakers, 6 front / 4 rear; Vanity mirrors illuminated on driver and passenger's side with cover and pocket.
While the original Beetle convertible was not imported into this country, I think every VW enthusiast would go weak at the knees just thinking about owning an original aircooled example. Well here is your chance to own something as nice and a lot more practical. It was with regret that I handed APUs keys back on Monday.
Thanks very much to VW for the use of the Cabrio.
Engine: 1984 cc SOHC 8v Inline 4
Max Power: 85 kW @ 5400 rpm
Max Torque: 172 Nm @ 3200 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front wheel drive
Performance: 0-100 km/h in 11.7 seconds, top speed 185 km/h.
Economy: 11 litres per 100 km
By Steve Carter
The VW Ragster concept car is tipped to give a strong indication of the facelift in mind for Volkswagen's New Beetle and could even point in the direction of a ‘super Beetle’ to refresh the tired image of the Mexican-built retro-look model.
The name is a combination of ‘ragtop’ and ‘speedster’, the ragtop tag referring to the car's wide-opening, fabric sunroof, while the speedster has its origins in the designs of Ferdinand Porsche, designer of the original VW Beetle, whose lightweight early Porsche 356 open cars with lowered windscreens were called speedsters.
Volkswagen refers to the body as being a “reinforced convertible.” The windscreen of the Ragster has pillars 90 mm shorter than those of the standard car, lowering the roof line and giving the vehicle a cheeky, street rod appearance.
While the lowered roof and the opening panel are the most striking features of the car, there are styling cues that give a strong indication of the design direction of the next New Beetle. The lights are the most obvious, especially when the Ragster is lined up against the production Beetle. The headlights are more oval and include projector beams, and the rear lights are much the same shape.
While superficially the Ragster appears to be pretty much the same as the production car, it has been subtly upgraded, with different mudguards and bumpers, the mudguards incorporating a crease and flattened edges that follow and define the shape of the wheel arches.
There are wider, flat turn indicators at the front, and beneath the front bumper are three large cooling air intakes, significantly larger than those of the production car.
Major parts of the bodywork are the same as in the production car, and the way in which the Ragster modifications have been done is very much in the style of the way the original Beetle was subtly upgraded. The bonnet, mudguard profiles, rear hatch and the doors (an expensive item to change) are identical to those of the production car.
VW tantalisingly says it is still to be determined if a production car will be based on the Ragster, but if it were, it would have a powerful petrol engine or a high-torque turbocharged direct-injection diesel. The engine of the latest Golf GTI comes to mind.
Volkswagen has a history of revealing design studies in Detroit that make it into production. These include the Concept 1 which led to the New Beetle, the AAC concept which led to the four-wheel-drive Touareg, jointly developed with Porsche, and the Microbus, an avant-garde study with its styling based on the much-loved old Kombi and which is also slated for production.
Thus the Ragster is being considered by industry insiders as giving strong clues to a future model and to the design direction of the New Beetle.
There's a line of thought that considers the next generation of the New Beetle will be built on the recently introduced Golf 5 chassis. The VW Bora, also based on the Golf 5 chassis, is to be built exclusively in Mexico, at the same plant as the New Beetle, and it would make economic sense to have them both built on the same platform, rather than manufacture vehicles on the old Golf 4 platform and the new Golf 5.
This could mean that the next New Beetle will grow a little; the Golf 5 is on a 25mm longer wheelbase than the Golf 4, and this would allow more rear passenger space, a source of complaint with the present car.
The Ragster has some attractive features. There are brushed aluminium roof rails on either side of the sunroof opening, while the side windows are frameless and completely retractable.
VW says that in a serial model the rear window would also be removable, further indicating the production potential of the vehicle, which makes the Ragster one of the show's most significant vehicles in terms of the future.
From the Sydney Morning Herald
• Visually engaging.
• Turbo model gives good performance.
• Modern convenience features.
• Body shape compromises packaging.
• Unfaithful to the original.
• Minimalist rear-seat accommodation.
• The Golf, on which this car is based, is a more sensible car.
Score: 2 stars out of 5
Given the way the motoring world has embraced the retro concept, was there any doubt Volkswagen would resurrect the Beetle badge? If the Mini could be reborn under the ownership of BMW, surely the legendary VW Beetle deserved another crack at the big time?
By 1997, that theory had borne fruit in the USA in the form of the New Beetle, which used styling cues from the original, mixed up with modern drivetrains and technology. Although the reborn Mini stayed true to the design elements that made the original such a success (front-wheel-drive and clever packaging), the New Beetle was possessed of a different philosophy to the original Volksy.
The problem with retro designs is that it costs as much to develop and engineer a car that might sell a few hundred thousand units in its life as it does to develop a mass-market car that might sell a million units a year.
The solution is to spin the retro car off an existing platform and thereby drastically reduce costs so that the finished product has a fighting chance of being financially viable. In VW's case, that meant basing the New Beetle on the Golf platform, and that's where the philosophical compromises began.
Consider the conflicting design parameters between the old and New Beetle. The original car was rear-drive and used an air-cooled, flat-four-cylinder engine in the rear. It was plain inside but beautifully built and was an economical car for the masses. It was those elements that gave the thing its essential character.
The New Beetle, thanks to its Golf underpinnings, was a front-wheel-drive design and used an in-line engine, with liquid cooling, mounted transversely in the nose of the car like most other modern small cars. Its equipment levels were on a par with the rest of the pack. But VW's Mexican quality standards were no better than the rest. And thanks to its niche-market positioning, the New Beetle was anything but a budget car.
The base-model cost nearly $37,000 when it was launched here at the start of 2000, and in that form you got the normally aspirated 2.0-litre engine with just two valves per cylinder and a fairly ordinary 85 kW.
But the standard kit was all right, including dual front airbags, front-side airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners, air-conditioning, remote central locking, an immobiliser, full electrics and anti-lock brakes.
In 2001, the Beetle Turbo introduced the low-pressure version of the turbocharged four-cylinder engine from previous incarnations of the Golf GTI and Audi A4. With 110 kW, it offered more convincing performance and a high-tech, five-valve-per-cylinder motor that begs to be revved hard. As such, the five-speed manual is the more rewarding gearbox.
The Turbo also brought with it 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, heated front seats, leather trim and VW's electronic stability program.
By 2002, a more stripped-out version of the Beetle had been launched - called the Ikon - sporting a 1.6-litre engine and 75 fairly meagre kilowatts. It lost some of the 2.0-litre's standard equipment. Inevitably, a convertible version followed, the Cabriolet making its debut in 2003. The big change in the Cabriolet was a six-speed Tiptronic-style automatic, although the conventional five-speed manual was also an option.
The big problem with the Beetle in any of its variations was that the body was sort of fitted backwards on the platform. The original Beetle's styling was a result of its rear-engine layout, but giving the new Beetle the same overall proportions in a front-engine vehicle meant interior space was compromised.
The front seats are forced well back into the cabin by the engine and gearbox, so the dashboard is a long stretch away. The rear seat is very small, as is the luggage space under the hatch. The Golf stablemate is a vastly more usable package. The New Beetle is a slave to the style that made the original such a success. And that, in a nutshell, is its downfall.
The New Beetle's stable mate, the Golf, is a VW staple and thoroughly logical. The opposite of the Beetle, but the better for it.
What you need to know:
• Make sure turbo versions haven't been thrashed half to death.
• Timing belt on turbo engine needs to be changed at proper interval or engine can be destroyed.
• Some early turbo motors can have dud ignition coil-packs.
• Purge-can in fuel system can crack and sensors in the fuel system can fail.
2000 Beetle 2.0-litre $36,790 when new
2001 Beetle Turbo 1.8-litre $41,500 when new
By Ken Davis
I would like to respond to the article in the March issue of Zeitschrift, reviewing the New Beetle. My wife, Wendy and I are owners of a 2001 Sunshine Beetle that we purchased second hand in Sept 2004. We also own a 1972 Superbeetle and a Holden Commodore wagon (a what?! - Ed). Our motoring journey involves 65,000 km annually. Living in a place like The Oaks means nowhere is close but at least every trip is fun.
I believe the New Beetle to be an emotional statement. It is a proper car but not a practical one. The New Beetle is a car you buy with your heart not your head. Surveys in the States revealed that when respondents were asked to think of VW, they thought overwhelmingly of the Beetle. (But the Europeans don't – Ed.)
It was not economically possible to build an affordable, modern, rear-engined Beetle, let alone one with air cooling but it was possible to build a car based on a modern, existing platform that captured the emotion of earlier times by taking styling cues from the old Beetle.
I will now address the issues raised in the March article that reviewed the New Beetle.
The anonymous person who wrote that article for the Sydney Morning Herald is obviously a person driven by his head not his heart, poor fellow. Practicality is their game. He obviously drives a Golf.
‘The Body Shape Compromises Packaging’ - It sure does but does it beautifully. The New Beetle is a 2+2 style of car, just like the original Beetle. The New Beetle, though, is much more accommodating, with more space for the front passengers and more luggage capacity. Accessibility for all passengers and luggage is also much better. Rear seat legroom is much greater in the New Beetle but headroom is a little less. In the New Beetle one wears the rear glass hatch whereas in the old car one wears the headlining. Shoulder width for both front and back seats is much greater in the New Beetle.
‘Unfaithful to the Original’ - Of course, yes. I will leave it to the reader to decide if that is good or bad.
‘The Golf, on which the New Beetle is based, is a More Sensible Car’ - The Golf and all of its competitive clones are very sensible and practical, just like their owners. The New Beetle has flair and style, just like its owners (Golf owners ALSO have flair and style – Ed).
‘The Old Beetle was plain inside but was Beautifully Built and was an Economical Car for the Masses’ - The old car was an elegant statement of minimalism, even though it wasn’t cheap in Australia when new – a mid-‘60s Deluxe Beetle cost almost as much as a basic Holden. The New Beetle is not plain inside nor is it a car for the masses. We have moved on from that era.
‘The Front Seats of the New Beetle are Forced Well Back into the Cabin by the Engine and Gearbox’ - Not so. The very deep dash comes about because the front windscreen has been dragged forward over the engine. The brake fluid reservoir is indeed under the dash shelf, making top ups a little difficult. The New Beetle and Golf share the same platform and the front seats are mounted in exactly the same position, although the seats themselves are different.
Competitors: The author of the March article lists the Golf as a competitor to the New Beetle. I doubt that VW has lost one Golf sale to the Beetle. Buyers seeking a car that stands out from the crowd may very well consider a New Mini and even a Megane but not a Golf. (Not true. If that was important, you would choose the Golf GTI or R32 – Ed).
Wendy and Ken's Opinion of the New Beetle: We bought the Beetle to supplement our Commodore wagon. The Commodore is roomy and practical and tows our caravan with ease, a car we bought with our heads (What?! – Ed). When considering the purchase of a second car, two seats and space for shopping was all that was needed. The New Beetle was attractive to us and fitted in with our car club life style. We did consider a cheap new small car but found, for example that a $14,000 Getz soon became a $20,000 drive away deal once auto, air, ABS and dealer charges were added. It was at this point that we started to look at new Polos and second hand New Beetles.
The New Beetle is a great drive for short trips. Engine and tyre noise is a little fatiguing and seat comfort could be better. It is a fun car. Other drivers wave and smile as they pass and when parking, people come up to you and say, “I wish I was game to drive a car like that.” Park it outside a pre-school and passing children drag their mothers over to pat it. The attention is trivial, panders to one's vanity, but is nice. It's an experience you won't have with your Golf.
But there are a few significant negatives. The front windscreen pillars and high mounted wing mirrors are formidable blind spots. Many modern cars are poor in this area but the Beetle is very poor.
Whilst fuel economy is good, running costs are high due to the cost of service items and parts generally. For some reason VW supplied the car with high-speed tyres costing $420 each. Whilst we have achieved 60,000 km tyre life, tyre costs are still somewhat expensive. Indeed the Beetle is as expensive to run as our Commodore.
By Ken Miscevic
The New Beetle has received a subtle re-styling in both the hard top and the cabriolet models. In addition New Beetle also receives the option of a TDI (diesel) engine for the first time, as per the commitment made earlier in the year to offer diesel engines across the Volkswagen passenger vehicle range.
The New Beetle Miami, New Beetle TDI and New Beetle Cabriolet all have new distinguishing features that include design revisions to the headlights, tail lights, bumpers and wheel guards. These styling cues have been lifted from the New Beetle Ragster study presented at the Detroit Motorshow earlier this year.
On the outside, the wheel guards and bumper elements have been given a more sharp and dynamic treatment, with bumper strips, door handles and outside rear view mirrors coloured coded. The front turn signals have narrowed and the Halogen headlights have clear lightweight polycarbonate lenses and are more oval in shape. The taillights have also come in for some optical revisions with a white circle inside a red circle, and the VW emblems on the bonnet and tailgate have also been modified. Five vibrant exterior colours are on offer for all three models.
An impressive list of standard creature comforts pampers both driver and passengers inside the New Beetle Sedan and Cabriolet. CFC free air conditioning and tinted glass keep the occupants comfortable all year round, and a 6 speaker (10 in the Cabriolet), single CD AM/FM car stereo provides the in car audio entertainment. The equipment list continues with power steering, a height and reach adjustable 3 spoke steering wheel, electrically heated and adjustable exterior rear view mirrors with integrated indicator lights, and power windows all round with safety roll back function. Chrome surrounds have been added to the air vents and to the instrument cluster, and there is ample storage provision, both in the cabin and in the boot. To increase the load capacity of the generous boot area, the rear seat in the New Beetle folds down for a flat storage area, while in the New Beetle Cabriolet there is a lockable rear seat load access.
Safety features are impressive, with driver, side and curtain airbags (6 in total) as standard. Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution (EBD) are standard across the range, while the New Beetle TDI also has Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR) and Electronic Stabilisation Program (ESP) as standard. The New Beetle Cabriolet is fitted with the Active rollover protection system, a system that deploys 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 system works in conjunction with the New Beetle's active head restraints.
Under the bonnet there are three engines available, ranging from the 1.6 litre fuel injected engine with 75 kW in the New Beetle Miami, to the 77 kW 1.9 litre TDI engine. The New Beetle Cabriolet comes with the 2.0 litre 85 kW fuel injected engine. Transmission is via a 5-speed manual or optional 4-speed auto in the Miami, a 5-speed manual in the TDI, or the choice of a 5-speed manual or optional 6-speed tiptronic auto in the Cabriolet.
Pricing starts at $25,990 for the manual 1.6 New Beetle Miami, $28,490 for the 1.9 TDI and $36,990 for the 2.0 Cabriolet.