Volkswagen Beetle GL (1999)

Loved it! Beetle(1999)

The Beetle has to get the award for the "most changed" vehicle of all time.The old Bug was Spartan and had some minor shortcomings--like a gas tank infront of the driver, few safety features and poor handling.

Styling

The new Bug, however, is basically a new-generation VW Golf with someawesome plastic surgery. VW did a great job designing this next-generationBug. It's actually quite amazing that they were able to make all thesechanges and still maintain the look and character of the original Bug. It'sfun to drive, and it still makes us smile even though we're now used toseeing them on the roads.

When you walk up to the new Bug, you get giddy. This car makes peoplehappy, and that alone earns it our recommendation. This car is not only ababe magnet, it's also a hunk magnet, an old-person magnet, a kid magnet, ageek magnet...you name it. When we first drove the new Bug, people werestopping us on the street, pulling up next to us and smiling. Everyone whosees it has the same experience.

Our pal Pepe got behind the wheel and started to giggle. He said, "Gee, youknow, I never owned one of these...but this car is great! I love it!" Andhe kept giggling. Last we saw, he was still out there, both hands on thewheel, chuckling to himself and looking like a raving moron.

Driving Experience

The driving experience in the new Bug is pretty good. It's surprisinglypeppy and kind of sporty. It has good power and handles and stops well.Driving a stick-shift version of the Beetle only made it that much morefun. The engine has just the right amount of power.

The '99 Beetle is quite comfortable. The front seat room is enormous for asmall car, and, as you might imagine, it's got plenty of headroom--youcould wear a 25-gallon hat and still not touch the roof.

Perhaps more than any other car on the road, this car is an absolute babemagnet. If you had a new Bug and a puppy...well, you'd need a stick to beatthe babes away. Guys who think they need to drive a Firebird or a Corvetteto pick up babes are sadly mistaken. Young lasses were constantly oglingRay and tooting their horns when he drove around Cambridge in the Bug. (Ofcourse, when they got a good look at him, their expression transformed intosomething not unlike that Munch painting "The Scream.")

Interior

We loved the interior and the styling of this car. The new Bug has somegreat touches--for example, a simple speedometer in the middle of theinstrument cluster--with neat purple lighting. (We did find that thespeedometer seemed to be very inaccurate. When Ray was keeping up with theflow of traffic around Boston on the interstate, it registered 80. And Rayhas yet to hit 80 mph in any car, not counting that police pursuit outsidethe Harvard Donut Shop in 1973.) VW has even brought back those old strapsabove the front windows, just like the original Bugs. Redd Foxx oncedescribed what those were for, but we won't get into that here.

Ergonomics

The controls are easy to understand and very simple and functional. Theswitches for the emergency flashers and the rear defroster are on a littlepod that drops down below the center console, so they are in a locationthat can be easily hit accidentally. The shifter comes close to this pod,and it's easy to bang into it while shifting. There are three cup holdersin the '99 Beetle.

By the way, we believe that Volkswagen is breaking new ground byeliminating the parking-lights switch. There are two positions on theheadlight switch: on and off. Finally someone realized that parking lightsare stupid. Thank you, VW!

Because of the Bug's unique styling, the driver and passenger are situatedright in the middle of the bubble. It's an unusual position to be in, insuch a small car. (Normally you'd be closer to the front wheels.) This hassome real advantages, including some great crash-test results. The new Bugis certainly the safest small car on the road. . Both driver and passenger are far away from the dashboard. And,finally, there's a huge amount of headroom for the front occupants.

Beetle(1999)Unfortunately, this body design doesn't come without a few disadvantages.Most importantly, the large A pillar (the roof support between thepassenger windows and windshield) is in an odd and potentially dangerousplace, dramatically reducing the driver's visibility. This problem wascreated when VW placed the seats in the middle of the hump, effectivelymoving the A pillar forward, from the point of view of the driver. If thedriver is making a turn--particularly a left turn--it's difficult to see ifanything is in your way. We were always on the lookout for pedestrians whomight be in this blind spot. The problem is further complicated by the placement ofthe mirror. When we were trying to look around the A pillar, we often endedup looking in the rearview mirror instead. (Note to VW: placing the mirroron the door would be a simple solution to that problem.) We found itdisconcerting.

The second major problem has less to do with safety and more to do withpassenger comfort. The rear seat is terribly cramped. Anyone over aboutfive feet, seven inches will have a tough time being comfortable backthere. The back seat has no headroom, and we mean NO HEADROOM. There isliterally no room for a head. If the people in the front are willing to puttheir seats forward enough, you might be able to slouch and get somewhatcomfortable. Otherwise, we'd recommend you forget about the back seats, orleave it for your dogs. The Bug's rear seats do fold down, creating adecent-sized cargo area. Without folding down the rear seats, the trunk(actually a covered compartment you get at from the rear hatch) is prettydarn small.

Maintenance

The third notable drawback to the design of the Bug is the extremely tightengine compartment, another result of the compromises needed to make theshape of the car "Bug-like." The new Beetle is going to be tough toservice. The spark plugs are fairly easy to reach, except for the #2 plug,which looks like it might be a sporting challenge to extract. The oilfilter is accessible from either the top or the bottom--good news for thoseof you who still like to do the oil changes yourself. There is oneserpentine belt that runs everything (including water pump, air-conditionercompressor, power-steering pump and alternator), which looks like it shouldbe pretty easy to change.

The Bug has disc brakes on all four wheels and, like a lot of cars, has theparking brake incorporated into the rear calipers. We don't particularlylike this arrangement, though, since the design is flimsy. It's vulnerableto damage from road salt and water, and it's quite expensive to replace.Some manufacturers are switching to separate rear emergency brakes, adesign that we prefer.

Reliability

Overall, we expect the reliability of the new Bug to be pretty good. Likemost Volkswagens, it's well engineered and built. VW doesn't try to pinchpennies. We'd expect the cost of parts and repairs to be about average.

Incidentally, the stick-shift version we drove came with 16,000 miles onit, which is unusually high for most test cars that wend their way throughthe media fleet. Knowing the abuse that many auto writers have probablyheaped on this car in the last few months, we're pleased to report nary arattle or squeak. That's a very good sign.

Overall comments

Who should buy this new Bug? Yes, you should find an excuse to buy one. Andthe good news is, it won't be that hard. If you need a commuter car, theBug will suffice nicely. If you need a city car that's good on gas, or asmall car that's safe, a Bug will do the trick. Or, if you just feel likelife is too short to buy another Honda Civic, and you want to smile whenyou come out to your car in the morning, a Bug will serve that purpose too.This car is not only fun, but it's also a good car that, mechanically, hasa lot going for it. It's a fun car that's practical too.

The VW Bug has certainly benefited from a 20-year hiatus. VW has done awonderful job. It's instantly recognizable as a Bug, but it's also beenbeefed up and modernized. This car has all kinds of things that the old Bugnever had--like body integrity, for starters. And heat! Heat and airconditioning. Plus, a much safer design. Finally, as you've probably heard,the new Bug comes with a bud vase. What more could you possibly want?

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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