2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Reviews

2003 New Beetle New Car Test Drive


When it arrived in 1998, Volkswagen's New Beetle rekindled the magic of its legendary namesake and became a ray of sunshine in an all-too-serious car market. At that time, we asked: Where's the convertible? We've been asking that question every year since. Finally, it's here. 

The question now becomes: Did they wait too long? Volkswagen's New Beetle is no longer that new, having been around for about six years now. With the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Thunderbird, Mini Cooper and other retrospective designs stealing headlines, the Beetle no longer basks in the retro-fad limelight. 

Beetle remains a stylish car, however. And because it's a Volkswagen, the Beetle is a refined car. It combines German engineering and performance with exceptional fit and finish, and it represents a good value. Like other retro-mobiles, however, driver and passengers must make some concessions for style. Interior ergonomics are not as good those in a more traditional car, such as the Golf. Nor is there a lot of trunk space. 

Drop the top and all these concerns are blown away, of course. The New Beetle convertible is good fun. It's also tight. Volkswagen has engineered a winning chassis with none of the cowl shake common on most convertibles. New for 2003, Beetle convertibles are offered with a choice of trim and 2.0-liter or 1.8-liter turbo engines. Introduced for 2002, the Beetle Turbo S is fun, too, though its fun is best measured with a stopwatch. 

The standard Beetle is still cool, too. It comes in an assortment of bright, fun colors. Its exterior and interior design details are fun and creative. On the road, the Beetle is smooth and sophisticated and handles well. It's considered a safe car. Beetle earned top scores in the federal governments crash tests and comes with Volkswagen's excellent safety features. Just don't expect to see people looking, smiling and waving at you every time you come around a corner as much as they did when the New Beetle first hit the streets. After all, Beetle is now a familiar face in America. 


Beetle comes with a choice of engines: Volkswagen's 115-horsepower 2.0-liter engine comes on GL and GLS 2.0 models. TDI models are equipped with a 1.9-liter diesel engine called TDI for Turbo Direct Injection that earns an EPA-estimated 49 mpg on the highway. 1.8T models come with a 150-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-liter engine. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard; a four-speed automatic ($875) is optional. Turbo S is equipped with a free-breathing 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Convertibles offer a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic ($1175). 

Models and MSRPs: GL 2.0 ($15,950); GLS 2.0 ($17,815); GL TDI ($17,195); GLS TDI ($18,995); GLS 1.8 T ($19,855); GLX 1.8 T ($21,640); Turbo S ($23,540); Convertible GL 2.0 ($20,450); Convertible GLS 2.0 ($21,850); Convertible GLS 1.8 T ($24,100); Convertible GLX 1.8 T ($25,550). 

Beetle comes well equipped. Base GL comes with a long list of standard items: CFC-free air conditioning with an integrated pollen filter; a six-speaker AM/FM stereo/cassette; central locking with keyless remote; anti-theft system; four-wheel disc brakes with ABS; tilt/telescoping steering column; clear-lens halogen projector headlamps; heated, power exterior mirrors; cruise control; power windows. 

GLS trim level adds front fog lamps, 16-inch alloy wheels, a power sunroof and no-cost optional leatherette. Options include leather-trimmed seating surfaces, heated front seats, a three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob and hand brake grip, 17-inch alloy wheels (on 1.8 T), Monsoon Audio System, ESP and heated windshield washer nozzles. 

GLX also features 16-inch alloy wheels, a speed-activated rear spoiler (also available on GL and GLS 1.8 T), an eight-speaker Monsoon Audio System, a leather-wrapped shift knob, hand brake grip and three-spoke steering wheel, leather-trimmed seating surfaces with heatable front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, halogen fog lamps, rain-sensing wipers and a self-dimming rearview mirror. 

Turbo S remains the most powerful New Beetle with its 180-horsepower 1.8 T engine rated at 173 pounds-feet of torque. All Turbo S models come with the six-speed manual. Other unique features include 17-inch alloy wheels, brushed alloy trim and dual stainless steel exhaust tips. 

Convertibles offer a choice of standard five-speed manual or a new optional six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic. The New Beetle convertible is available with a manual or semi-automatic cloth-lined top that features three layers to ensure excellent insulation and appearance. Volkswagen's standard Automatic Rollover Supports serve to provide added overhead support in the unlikely event of a rollover. Sensors in the car indicate whether it is in a rollover situation, causing the Automatic Rollover Supports to deploy behind the rear seats, whether the convertible top is up or down. The exclusive system works in conjunction with the headrests to help provide even more protection for occupants. 

Standard safety equipment includes driver and front passenger airbags, side-impact airbags mounted in the seatbacks, a safety-belt tensioning system, a collapsible steering column, an emergency trunk release handle and rear-seat tether anchorage points for securing a child safety seat. Antilock brakes (ABS) come standard. Volkswagen's Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) is optional on the New Beetle GL, GLS and GLX, and standard on Turbo S. ESP will automatically help stabilize the vehicle in the event of a sudden emergency maneuver. 

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