For 2008, little has changed for Volkswagen's New Beetle other than changes in options and the renaming of trim levels: last year's base New Beetle and 2.5L are now called the S and SE. The Beetle is a compact car that's also offered as a convertible. It competes with similar small cars, such as the Mini Cooper and Ford Focus.
Following its debut for the 1998 model year, Volkswagen's retro-themed New Beetle saw an early sales surge. Its popularity waned later, prompting Volkswagen to look for variants. A sporty Turbo S edition joined the lineup in 2002 but was dropped after 2004, and a New Beetle Convertible debuted in 2003.
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Nothing else on the road looks like the modern-day Beetle. The hatchback rides a 98.7-inch wheelbase, measures 161.1 inches long overall and stands 59 inches high, making it one of the taller compact cars on the market.
Equipped with a front-mounted engine and front-wheel drive, the New Beetle is based on the platform used for Volkswagen's Golf model. Standard alloy wheels measure 16 inches in diameter, but 17-inch wheels are available on SE Beetles. Both are new designs for 2008. A power sunroof is optional. Fog lights and rain-sensing wipers are no longer offered.
A bubble-shaped roof gives the four-passenger New Beetle a strong visual kinship to the original model, which first reached the U.S. in 1949. Unfortunately, this design also infringes on rear headroom, and backseat legroom is limited. The rear seatback folds down for additional storage space.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable front bucket seats, a CD stereo with MP3 playback capability, cruise control, remote keyless entry, heated power mirrors, and power windows and locks.
Last year's leatherette seat fabric is now called V-Tex, and leather seating surfaces are no longer offered. The Cold Weather package, which features heated front seats and heated windshield washer nozzles, is now available as an option by itself. Previously, they were lumped into a package that included a power sunroof and premium audio system.
Under the Hood
The 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder produces 150 horsepower and 170 pounds-feet of torque and works with a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic that has a manual-shift provision.
Side-impact airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system, antilock brakes and daytime running lights are standard.
Other than its tight backseat, the New Beetle coupe is a wholly appealing automobile that still draws smiles. The manual transmission is easy to operate. Steering is quick and confident, and occupants can expect a generally comfortable ride; the firm suspension soaks up most road imperfections.
New Beetle Convertible
The New Beetle Convertible's development took place at the Karmann facility in Germany. The five-layer lined top features a glass rear window. One convertible trim is offered for 2008, and the sole engine offered is a 150-hp, 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder that teams with a standard five-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic that has a manual-shift provision.
Much like the original Beetle convertibles of the 1950s to 1970s, the modern-day model has a fabric top that rests on the back of the car; it doesn't fold into the body. Designers retained the familiar curve of the hardtop New Beetle with the convertible's soft-top. For 2008, black Beetles can no longer be ordered with a beige top.
Automatic pop-up rollover supports behind the rear seats are standard, and a wind blocker is optional. Except for a slightly narrower rear seat, the four-passenger New Beetle Convertible's interior looks nearly identical to the hardtop's. Trunk capacity is a modest 5 cubic feet.
Volkswagen did a masterful job of designing the New Beetle Convertible, which is cute and appealing. The car also delivers a superior ride; the suspension absorbs plenty of road imperfections. Directional stability is top-notch, and the convertible handles expertly. Steering feel and feedback are excellent. The manual gearbox operates easily, and the clutch is light. Back to top