Unpopular Opinion Time! I think the VW New Beetle (98-12?) is a great car. In fact, I like it so much I’ve been daily driving one since sophomore year of college. Before you skip to the comments to tell me I’m wrong and my mother is promiscuous, let me explain why:
Full disclosure: I liked these cars since they were introduced and convinced my mom to buy a tdi with a manual transmission in hopes it would become a hand-me down. Four years and 90k miles later, the plan came to fruition! Also, this review mostly applies to the tdi models.
The New Beetle (NB from here on out, not to be confused with the 2nd Gen. Miata) is built on the MKIV Golf platform. This means it has all the benefits (and downsides) as a similar year Golf. The driving dynamics, ergonomics, engine/transmission, and most critical components are the same. The car could be had with the 1.9L tdi and a 5 speed until 2006. These cars are not affected by #dieselgate although the 2006 model year was only sold new in 45 states due to changing diesel regulations.
Since the NB was on the MKIV platform, most performance upgrades would also fit. On the tdi, all tunes, turbos, brake kits, suspension bits, were interchangeable. There are even a few users on tdiclub that swap Audi TT suspension components. There is also a huge tdi community consisting of highly knowledgeable individuals and part suppliers. All these translate over to the NB.
However, you can swap turbos, coilovers, etc. till your heart’s content but you will still be driving an econobox. A quick econobox, mind you, but you will never have a true sports car experience (that’s what Miatas or for, anyways). Most people will say this is a pitfall but I actually think it is a feature! If you have the mindset that the NB will always be basic transportation to get your ass to work every morning, you will be rewarded. It is much more engaging than a Corolla or Prius. Like I mentioned above, my car has the tdi and manual box. Although the HP numbers are weak, it produces peak torque at 1700 RPM. This makes traffic and highway passing a breeze. You can also chip tune the car and get a very noticeable bump in power/torque (highly recommended!). Also, it has real wheels that will fit performance tires. No pizza cutters here! I used to run my 18” wheels with 225 width summer performance tires. I could even out-run my friend’s Subaru in the canyons, in my heyday. Try that in a Prius! (Actually, please don’t, for everyone’s safety). However, I recently switched to low rolling resistance all seasons to maximize fuel economy. (I have two other sporty cars, no need to go canyon carving in the NB, anymore). That brings us to the other main selling point of the tdi. I routinely get 40 MPG commuting in LA. Not too shabby if you ask me.
The interior of the NB is a nice place to be as well. I have heated leather seats, a large sunroof, a great factor stereo (with AUX input!), a ton of front seat headroom, auto down (and up!) driver/passenger windows, and factory red LED’s for ambiance. Not bad for an 11 year old car that cost under $20k new.
Lastly, we will talk about the styling. It is arguably the only reason you would purchase the NB over a Golf or Jetta. Style is 100% subjective but uniqueness is not. There is no other car on the road that looks like a NB. Hard stop. While many people dislike the style, I enjoy that the car is instantly recognized as a NB. In a sea of silver sedans, CUV’s, and hatchbacks, it is nice to have something different. It might not be elegant, but it certainly isn’t boring. It tells the world you are not a sheep being herded by the man. You are going against the grain. You are so metal. I may or may not be reading too much into this, though.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, brings us to my personal daily driver. It is the first year of the facelift finished in Gecko Green over black leather. The car has a few mild modifications including an ECU tune, H&R hub adapters to fit GTI Detroit wheels, and OEM European front turn signals. I always wanted to throw on coil-overs, a much bigger turbo, and some other performance bits to really make the car my own, but I moved on to other projects. No matter how many parts I installed I would still have the bones of a FWD economy car. This would never work if I wanted to rip donuts in a safe, controlled environment. So with that in mind, I saved the majority of my paychecks from my first internship and bought a Miata (#1 of 2). I am still very happy I modified the bug to fit my personal tastes and did not ruin the car for everyday driving. 185k miles later, it is still a comfortable, stylish (IMO) car that will eat a trip to Napa from LA without even stopping to fill up. Most importantly though, every time I hit lock on my switchblade key, I turn my head to steal one last glance of the misunderstood, bright green beetle.
I enjoy this little italicized bit at the end of real writers’ articles. I like weird cars and have the unique problem of choosing if I would rather drive a 348, New Beetle, or a NB Miata. I also do not own a real camera so my pictures are very low quality. *This article has not been fact checked in any way, shape, or form.