Volkswagen New Beetle

1998 Volkswagen New Beetle

1998 Volkswagen New Beetle (Photo: Chika Sekimoto, CA, USA)

The original Beetle was first conceived by Adolf Hitler and executed by Ferdinand Porsche. While “The People’s Car” would not approach the quickness or handling of Porsche’s later machines, the Beetle was built like a tank and was truly loved by people all around the world. Indeed, the Beetle became the best-selling car of all-time.

After more than a half-century of continuous production, Volkswagen finally came out with a modern rendition of Herbie the Love Bug. The New Beetle departs from the old by having an engine that’s located up front (instead of in the rear) that is even water-cooled (instead of air-cooled). And whereas the original struggled to reach 60 mph from a standstill in under 20 seconds, the New Beetle has more than adequate power to achieve that velocity in under 10.

Yet, the same spirit is there: the new shape is instantly recognizable as a Beetle and we actually think the New Beetle is far more aesthetically pleasing than the old one. (The shaped like an arc is also very strong—-witness the bridges shaped as such all around the world—-resulting in a structure that has earned the DOT’s highest safety rating in its class.) And despite Volkswagen’s recent upper-class aspirations, the New Beetle remains affordable. The front and rear bumpers were even designed to be identical as to reduce costs!

Nostalgic cues made it inside the cabin, too, including a speedometer smack-center above the steering column, and a flower vase recalling “flower power” of the 1960s. Other nice touches include ingenious front seats that pivot (both seat bottom and back as one unit) while simultaneously sliding forward to ease entry or exit for a rear passenger. The seats are comfortable and the ride reasonably compliant especially for such a small car.

Two additional versions of the New Beetle get special mention: the diesel option and convertible edition. The former attains a frugal 46 mpg on the highway, while the latter is even more stylish and fun than the coupe. We like them all.

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