1998-2008 Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen initially rejected the idea of a new Bug, but revived as the Volkswagen New Beetle, the car's 1998 return captivated consumers. See more Volkswagen Beetle pictures.
2007 Publications International, Ltd

The 1998-2008 Volkswagen Beetle was a New Beetle -- in both design and name -- for a new generation.

For a car that was an instant sensation, the 1998 Volkswagen Beetle -- officially named by VW the New Beetle -- had a bumpy journey from concept to production. Volkswagen in fact initially resisted the idea of a resurrected Bug, then nearly scuttled the project early in its gestation.


But when company decision makers finally saw the appeal instantly recognized by outsiders, Volkswagen committed to building a better Beetle than anyone could have hoped for.

Volkswagen Beetle Image Gallery

The New Beetle was unveiled as the Concept 1 during the 1994 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Clearly recognizable as a retro Beetle, the design study was an instant sensation and the public begged Volkswagen to build it. This passionate reaction completely surprised Volkswagen, for the company had treated Concept 1 as a whimsical indulgence.

The New Beetle would share more than 80 percent of its underlying components with the Golf, but in areas where it could be made better, it was. Finally, on January 5, 1998 -- again at the Detroit auto show -- Volkswagen unveiled the production New Beetle. It was the automotive event of the year.

Hundreds of reporters swarmed the exhibit, which featured two-door hatchback New Beetles in every production color: white, red, black, yellow, plus metallic silver, bright blue, dark blue, and green. Newspapers published front-page pictures. German TV broadcast the ceremony live.

As the first Volkswagen New Beetles hit the streets, greeted by smiles and thumbs-up from nearly every onlooker, it was clear the car's emotional appeal and fun-to-drive nature was strong enough to overcome its skimpy rear seat and visibility blind spots.

Even loaded with just about every option, it listed for under $20,000. The only problem was finding a dealer willing to sell one at anything near list price.

By design, however, supply would never approach that of the original Beetle, or even of Volkswagen's concurrent Golf and Jetta. The Mexico plant was to turn out just 100,000 New Beetles annually, only 50,000 of them for North American sale.

To sustain interest in the car, Volkswagen talked of a 150-horsepower turbocharged gas four-cylinder option, then a model with a big fold-back sunroof, followed by a genuine convertible and perhaps even a Sport Beetle with a lowered suspension, all-wheel drive, and nearly 200 horsepower courtesy of Volkswagen's narrow-angle VR6 six-cylinder engine.

Some of these plans would come to fruition, some did not. But the Volkswagen New Beetle would echo the true Beetle ethic by changing very little on the outside, while enjoying refinements and enhancements beneath the skin.



1998 Volkswagen Beetle Engineering

Initial concept sketches for what would become the 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle originated in the Volkswagen California design studio.
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Under its retro skin, the 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle was based on another Volkswagen model, the Golf hatchback.

Given its features and a base-price range of $15,200 to $16,475, the 1998 New Beetle (the car's official name, by the way) was positioned against a variety of rivals, including the American Dodge/Plymouth Neon, the Japanese Honda Civic, and Volkswagen's own Golf-based Cabrio convertible.


Beneath the slick retro-modern styling were chassis and front-wheel-drive running gear from Volkswagen's new, fourth-generation Golf hatchback that had recently been introduced in Europe.

A single New Beetle model was offered for 1998, a two-door hatchback (in two trim levels, base and TDI) riding a 98.9-inch wheelbase. Overall length was 161.1 inches; width was 67.9. The car was 59.5 inches tall. Curb weight was 2,712 pounds. New Beetles were assembled at Volkswagen's plant in Puebla, Mexico.

Power for the 1998 New Beetle came from two available engines, a 2.0-liter overhead cam inline 4-cylinder gas engine developing 115 horsepower at 5200 rpm; and a 1.9-liter ohc inline 4-cylinder turbodiesel rated at 90 horsepower at 4000 rpm. Torque from the gas engine was 122 pounds/feet at 2600 rpm; with the turbodiesel, torque came in at 149 pounds/feet at 1900 rpm.

Performance from the gas engine was adequate -- neither weak nor stirring -- but offered laudable smoothness. Engine shake, common to 4-cylinder engines of this size, was absent. The turbodiesel wrung acceptable around-town performance from its modest 90 horses, but was noisier than the gas powerplant, and prone to vibration.

Automatic and manual transmissions were offered. The automatic was a four-speed with overdrive; it could be counted on to locate the appropriate gear and downshift promptly on hills and in passing situations. Its main drawback was hesitation.

The five-speed manual gave drivers more control, of course, with light, precise gear action. Because "short" gearing in first ran the tachometer up quickly, so many drivers with a heavy foot felt compelled to upshift very quickly into second.

EPA mileage estimates were 23/29 city/highway for the gas engine with manual transmission, 22/27 with automatic. Figures for the turbodiesel were markedly better: 41/48 city/highway with manual transmission, 34/44 with automatic.

Steering feel was light but precise. Standard four-wheel disc brakes gave the 1998 New Beetle strong and confident stopping ability. Anti-lock brakes were a $300 option.

Ride quality was well above average for cars of this size, thanks in part to 16-inch tires that absorbed road imperfections, and managed rutted pavement with sufficient aplomb so that occupants were rarely jarred or jolted. Even panic stops did not induce body roll or sway.

However, the 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle's slab-sided design encouraged rocking in strong crosswinds. At speeds below 70 mph, road, wind, and engine noise were reasonably well controlled. Above 70, occupants had to raise their voices in conversation.

And on some 1998 and 1999 Volkswagen Beetles, a poorly sealed air conditioner plenum caused a dashboard whistle at speeds above 45 mph.

The 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle's shape was settled early in the design process. Clay models looked almost exactly like the eventual production version.
2007 Publications International, Ltd


1998 Volkswagen Beetle Design

While the original Beetle was a study in basic transportation, the 1998 Volkswagen Beetle -- the New Beetle -- was flush with modern features.
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The 1998 Volkswagen Beetle deftly brought the retro styling themes of its exterior to its interior, with shapes -- and a bug vase -- that recalled the car's iconic past, but with features and appointments that were thoroughly modern.

The 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle's instrument was panel was a model of practical design. Gauges were limited to large round speedometer, a small tachometer, an­d a fuel indicator. Simple, good-sized rotary dials controlled the climate system.


Some drivers needed time to figure out the vaguely unorthodox radio controls. The clock was oddly located above the windshield, but a more problematic design lapse placed controls for power mirrors, door locks, and windows flat on the driver and passenger door panels, making for awkward twists of the wrist.

Front bucket seats were comfortable and supportive. Head and leg room in front were generous. In the three-place back seat, though, head room was nonexistent for riders taller than about 5-foot-5 because the stylishly sloped rear roofline cut sharply into back-cabin space.

The back seat was narrow, and pushed even slender teenagers shoulder-to-shoulder. Rear leg room was adequate if the front seats were pushed forward; tight if the seats were pushed back. Although both front seatbacks tilted far forward, entry and exit to the back remained awkward.

Visibility was adequate, though thick front roof pillars impeded forward view. Tight maneuvering could be a challenge because drivers could see neither the hood nor the trunk. Cockpit and trunk storage were modest, though the back seats could be folded flat forward for increased cargo capacity.

This dashboard from the nearly production-ready 1996 Concept 1 show car would show up virtually unchanged in the 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle.
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Build quality and materials were superior for the class. High-grade plastic dominated the cabin, and was complemented by aluminum steering wheel and handbrake pieces, and chromed door pulls. Exterior paint was smooth and glossy. Body panels lined up well, and the car was generally car free of squeaks, though loose rivets in door speakers on some 1998 and 1999 New Beetles caused rattles.

The 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle had a few other unexpected problems. Because the radio antenna cable was placed too close to the wiring harness on 1998 and 1999 New Beetles, AM radio reception went south when switches for lights and locks were operated.

Rear tire wear (1998-2000 models) encouraged Volkswagen to issue new specifications for rear wheel alignment. Volkswagen made no recalls of 1998 New Beetles.

The retro Beetle was an immediate head-turner, and initial demand for it was so great that many dealers charged -- and got -- well above sticker price. And that price, even with such options as leather seats, CD changer, anti-lock brakes, heated seats, power sunroof, and more still came in under $20,000.

In the U.S. during the 12 months of 1998, 55,842 New Beetles found buyers, an impressive figure for a niche car.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd Front-seat space was generous, but the retro shape meant the 1998 New­ Beetle had little rear-seat head room beneath its sloped hatchback roofline.
2007 Publications International, Ltd



1999-2000 Volkswagen Beetle

The New Beetle got some spunk for 1999 with introduction of a 150-horsepower turbocharged engine. It came in GLS Turbo and GLX models.
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The 1999-2000 Volkswagen Beetle continued to post impressive sales figures despite new competition from Honda, Acura, and Chrysler.

The 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle picked up a third available engine, a 1.8-liter turbocharged double overhead cam inline 4-cylinder that cranked out a robust 150 horsepower and 155 pounds/feet of torque at 1750 rpm. Volkswagen recommended premium fuel for the turbo, and claimed 0-60 mph times of 8.0 seconds.


The turbo 1.8 was exclusive to the sporty new GLS Turbo and GLX models. The GLX sported a speed-activated rear spoiler, leather seating, and a power sunroof.

Anti-lock brakes and front side side airbags were now standard across the New Beetle model line. Base-price range was the same as for 1998, though many Volkswagen dealers continued to demand more than retail. Despite the gouging, 12-month U.S. sales for 1999 were 83,434, a nearly 60-percent increase over debut-year 1998.

VW increased base prices for the 2000 Volkswagen New Beetle. The range was now $15,900 to $21,075. Engines continued as before, with the 1.8-liter turbo earning EPA mileage ratings of 25/31 city/highway with manual transmission; 22/27 city/highway with automatic.

The 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle GLX was top of the New Beetle line and came standard with leather upholstery and a glass power sunroof.
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The 1.9-liter turbodiesel wasn't sold in California or New York. Horsepower of the 1.9-liter remained at 90, but now it came at a more useful 3750 rpm, down from 4000. Coded, anti-theft ignition keys and a brake-service warning light joined the list of standard features for 2000.

The topline GLX had leather upholstery, heated front seats, alloy wheels, and a power sunroof. For other models, a cold weather package with heated seats and windshield washer nozzles was available for $150.

New rivals for the 1999-2000 Volkswagen New Beetle included the Acura CL, Chrysler Sebring, and Honda Prelude. U.S. sales for calendar year 2000 held about steady, with 81,134 New Beetles finding homes.


Base prices for the 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle lineup ranged from $15,900 to $20,900. Four models were offered, all sedans.
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2001-2002 Volkswagen Beetle

2001 Volkswagen New Beetle GLX
New features for the 2001 Volkswagen New Beetle GLX included a new audio system and optional 17-inch wheels. It started at $21,175.
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The 2001-2002 Volkswagen New Beetle models included the most-powerful Bug ever -- and a first-ever New Beetle recall.

Base price range for the 2001 Volkswagen New Beetle was $15,900 for the base GL model with a manual transmission and a 115-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Turbodiesel models had 90 horsepower and started at $17,900. Top of the line was the 150-horsepower turbocharged GLX, which started at $21,175.


The 2001 GLX picked up a high-power Monsoon audio system for 2001, and optional 17-inch wheels. The audio system was optional on the GLS model, and the wheels were optional on the GLS Turbo as part of a new Sport Luxury Package.

The Toyota Celica, Acura RSX, and Ford Focus ZX3 joined the list of New Beetle alternatives. U.S. Sales of the 2001 New Beetle for calendar year 2001 totaled 65,201, a dip of about 15,000 from 2000. Dealer gouging was now a thing of the past.

Volkswagen issued the first-ever New Beetle recall in 2002, for an anti-lock-brake electrical control unit that could short circuit and start a fire. The recall included all 2001 and 2002 New Beetles.

The high end of the 2002 Volkswagen New Beetle base price range crept upward again, and now sat at $23,400. Some compensation came in the form of a better bumper-to-bumper warranty of 4 years/50,000 miles (up from 2/24,000). On the other hand, a 10-year/100,00-mile powertrain warranty that had been part of an aggressive promotional blitz was scaled back to 5/60,000.

The big news for the 2002 Volkswagen New Beetle was the Turbo S, a new model with unique front and rear trim. It was powered by a variant of the 1.8-liter turbo four, uprated to 180 horsepower at 5500 rpm. Torque was 173 pounds/feet at 1950 rpm.

Mated to the engine was a new 6-speed manual transmission. The turbo functioned smoothly and without lag, and 60 mph came up from a standing stop in about 7.5 seconds. At highway speeds, the Turbo S was happy to run in fourth gear, leaving the highest two gears available for speeds above 80 or 90. A stiffened suspension helped keep the S's power planted on the pavement.

All turbo New Beetles picked up traction control for 2002, and every model got newly styled wheels and wheel covers. Body colors became more adventurous for the GLS turbo: Snap Orange (as part of the "Lifestyle" option), Luna Green, and Riviera Blue. Interior colors with these packages matched the body paint.

U.S. sales of the 2002 Volkswagen New Beetle took another dip of some 15,000 units, to 49,549.


2003-2005 Volkswagen Beetle

Long awaited and a hit when it finally arrived, the 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle convertible started at $20,450 for the base GL model and $26,725 for the top-ine GLX.
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A long-anticipated New Beetle convertible pumped fresh life into the 2003-2005 Volkswagen Beetle model mix. The New Beetle convertible arrived for 2003 and took its place as Volkswagen's only drop-top model, effectively replacing the Golf Cabrio in VW showrooms.

Starting price for the least-expensive 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle increased for the first time since 2000, to $15,950, a bump of $50. Starting price for the top-end model, the GLX convertible, was now $26,725, an increase of $3,325.


The base 2003 New Beetle convertible, designated GL, had a manual folding top; the others (GLS, GLS 1.8T,and GLX) had power tops. All convertible models had an optional 6-speed manual. Besides increased noise and cowl shake, the primary drawbacks to the new ragtop were reductions in passenger and cargo room.

Volkswagen's new rollover-bar system utilized sensors to detect an imminent tip, and automatically deployed what Volkswagen called Automatic Rollover Supports. An anti-skid system with brake assist became standard on the Turbo S and the turbocharged convertibles. Turbo S came with unique trim, a stiffened suspension, and 17-inch wheels.

By now, EPA mileage estimates for the Volkswagen New Beetle ranged widely, from 23/29 city/highway with the 2.0-liter and 150-horsepower 1.8-liter turbo with automatic, to 42/49 with the 1.9-liter turbodiesel mated to the available 5-speed manual.

Rivals to the New Beetle now included the Ford Focus SVT and Mini Cooper.

New Beetle sales in the U.S. rose in 2003, to 56,971.

Base prices remained unchanged for the 2004 Volkswagen New Beetle. New features included restyled wheels, available xenon headlights, and a CD player that read MP3 discs.

The open-air fun of the 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle convertible came at the expense of tighter rear-seat room and decreased cargo space.
2007 Publications International, Ltd

But the big news was on the service side, with an available innovation Volkswagen called Telematics emergency and concierge system. This was essentially a subscription service offering OnStar global positioning technology, which could locate missing automobiles, and perform remote diagnostic checks, open locked doors, and other useful tricks.

During calendar year 2003, 42,157 New Beetles were purchased in the U.S. -- a significant drop of about 14,800 units.

The 2005 Volkswagen New Beetle base price at the low end jumped for the first time since 2003, to $16,570. But top-range base price was lowered by $200, to $26,525.

Linewide availability of a 6-speed automatic transmission led the changes list for model year 2005. Satellite radio from XM or Sirius was a new available option, and factory sound systems added a jack for connecting digital music players. New Beetle sales in the U.S. reached 41,132 for the 12 months of 2005, off only slightly from 2004.

The base-model 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle convertible had a manual folding top. All other versions had power operation for the tight-sealing soft top.
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2006-2008 Volkswagen Beetle

The 2006 Volkswagen New Beetle sported a slightly restyled nose, the car's first appearance change since its model-year 1998 introduction.
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With sales flagging, changes to the 2006-2008 Volkswagen New Beetle were designed to revitalize a car that hadn't really changed significantly in looks or specification since its model-year 1998 introduction.

By 2006, the Volkswagen New Beetle was entering its ninth model year. Even with the addition of the convertible body style for 2003, demand was slipping. Volkswagen had high hopes a new powertrain and reworked, slightly more aggressive styling of the front fascia would reignite buyer interest.


The model line now consisted of 2.5 hatchbacks and convertibles and TDI hatchbacks. The 2006 Volkswagen New Beetle 2.5 models were named for their new engine, a slow-revving 150-horsepower 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder. A heavy throttle foot was necessary for quick getaways; once underway, the engine felt capable.

The TDI model had a 100-horsepower 1.9-liter single overhead cam inline four-cylinder turbodiesel. The 2.5 and 1.9-liter were now the only New Beetle powerplants. The 115-horsepower 2.0-liter single overhead cam inline four and the 150/180-horse turbo 1.8-liter were history.

Although Volkswagen's Golf (now bearing the resurrected "Rabbit" name) got a fresh platform for the 2006 model year, and shared it with the popular VW Jetta, the New Beetle continued to ride on the Golf platform that had been new for 1998.

The least-expensive 2006 Volkswagen New Beetle now started at $17,180. With the leather-trimmed turbo models gone, the 2.5 convertible was now the most-expensive 2006 Volkswagen New Beetle; it started at $23,195, a reduction of $3,330 from the previous year's top base price.

U.S. calendar-year sales for the 2006 Volkswagen New Beetle were 40,602, holding steady from 2005. In all, 498,438 Volkswagen cars (New Beetles included) were sold in the U.S. during the year.

Volkswagen said that stricter U.S. emission standards prompted it to bid adieu to its diesel engine, leaving the 2007 Volkswagen New Beetle with a single powerplant, the 2.5-liter, 150-horsepower inline 5-cylinder. Only two transmissions remained, a standard 5-speed manual and an optional 6-speed automatic.

The other development of note for the 2007 Volkswagen New Beetle was Volkswagen's exclusive new contract with Sirius satellite radio, which removed XM satellite from the Volkswagen broadcast mix. The 2007 New Beetle's base-price range was unchanged.

Volkswagen New Beetle sales continued to decline during calendar-year 2007, and VW did not apparently have much in the pipeline that would reignite near-term interest in the car. A redesign wasn't scheduled until the 2009 model year, and the 2008 New Beetle was basically a carryover of the 2007 model, though "Base" and "2.5" designations were dropped and replaced by "S" (base) and "SE" (uplevel) names.

How much life was left in the classic Beetle shape? Was it time for something completely new? Go to the next page to find out one unexpected avenue Volkswagen was exploring.

With emissions regulations sidelining the diesel engine after 2006, all 2007 and 2008 Volkswagen New Beetle models used a 2.5-liter gas 5-cylinder.
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2007 Volkswagen up! Concept Car

The 2007 Volkswagen up! concept car
The 2007 Volkswagen up! concept car has a rear-mounted engine, like the original VW Beetle. It's intended as low-cost transport for four passengers
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With a rear-engine layout reminiscent of the original Volkswagen Beetle, the 2007 Volkswagen up! concept car could eventually recapture the first Bug's spirit.

Reborn for 1998, the Volkswagen New Beetle was a product of Volkswagen's simultaneous interest in the future, and in the company's own past. VW once again looked ahead and back with the 2007 Volkswagen up! concept car. It was introduced at the 2007 Frankfurt Auto Show with a name that indeed used an exclamation point and a lower-case "u."


The 2007 Volkswagen up! concept car is a four-passenger urban automobile with -- a la the original Volkswagen bug -- a rear-mounted engine. Volkswagen press releases stressed the up!'s functional and practical nature, intended to lure drivers who must negotiate challenging urban environments.

Just 136 inches long and 64 inches wide, the the 2007 Volkswagen up! concept car reflects VW's desire for a piece of emerging markets in India, China, and elsewhere -- regions with modest standards of living and narrow, crowded streets, where demand is great for durable, inexpensive people movers.

Press release language that noted "the beach" and "the university" suggests that Volkswagen sees the up! as not just a commuter car, but also one with appeal for relatively affluent young adults.

Volkswagen board member and director of technical development Ulrich Hackenberg drew explicit parallels with the Volkswagen up! and two other Volkswagen products, the Golf "world car" and the New Beetle. The company seemed eager to position the up! as another decisive statement that breaks new ground, technologically and strategically.

Initial press statements said nothing specific about the engine other than its rear placement. Volkswagen's language about the powerplant was simultaneously intriguing and opaque, promising only that "conceivable here are all aspects of technology that can be sensibly applied."

Rear-engine design opens up space in the Volkswagen up!'s forward cabin, placing the driver close to the windshield and allowing sufficient room for two back seat passengers. The back seats and the front passenger seat fold forward and are removable. The added cargo capacity augments twin-bin storage beneath the front hood, and a storage area at the rear.

The wheels of the 2007 Volkswagen up! concept car are pushed to the outer edges of the sculpted body, giving designers still more potential cabin space. Glass at the front and rear is wide and very tall, promising superior visibility. Side glass front-to-back is long, and kicks up sharply above the rear wheel arches for enhanced over-the-shoulder sightlines.

The car's front fascia is dominated by a horizontal, subtly up curved "happy face" panel that perpetuates the friendly, accessible face of the New Beetle.

Of course, Volkswagen is not the only automaker eying emerging markets. Frankfurt 2007 saw introductions of the tiny Suzuki Splash production car, and a clutch of urban-car concepts other than the Volkswagen up!, led by the Toyota iQ, Renault Kangoo, and Fiat Panda Aria.

Volkswagen hints that the up!, or something very much like it, will be the first of a New Small Family line. In the 2007 Volkswagen up! concept car, the spirit of the original bug, and the New Beetle, apparently lives on.