2004 Volkswagen New Beetle

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2004 Volkswagen New Beetle

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Has charm and sporty nature of original, popular Beetle convertible.
Pros:
  • Lowest-priced European convertible
  • Nicely designed
  • Sporty
Cons:
  • Lazy with base engine
  • Small cargo area
  • Tight rear seat room

The Volkswagen New Beetle convertible contributed greatly to sagging New Beetle sales after being introduced for 2003 because it had the charm of the hardtop version while adding the allure of a soft-top design.

The cute New Beetle convertible is the lowest-priced, highest-volume European convertible sold in America.

The last old Volkswagen Beetle model sold in America was the 1979 convertible; the old Beetle hardtop disappeared here after 1977. The car lived on for years in other countries, but production of all old Beetles ended in Mexico in late 2003.

Solid History
The four-seat rear-wheel-drive Beetle convertible was one of the top-selling soft-top models of all time. It was introduced in 1949—not long after the first Beetle hardtop debuted in Europe. The Beetle hardtop (all two of them) first arrived in America in 1949.

It took five model years to introduce a convertible version of the front-wheel-drive, four-passenger New Beetle hardtop, which was introduced for the 1998 model year.

Long Wait
Why the long wait?

The New Beetle convertible is significantly different than the hardtop, which (surprisingly) never was designed to be a convertible. Volkswagen national spokesman Tony Fouladpour said the convertible thus is essentially "a new car because of all the engineering that went into it."

For example, the convertible needed lots of structural reinforcements to compensate for the lack of rigidity provided by a fixed metal roof. A convertible top system also had to be engineered. And such things as automatically deployed roll bars needed to be added behind the rear seats to help prevent injuries in a rollover.

Few Changes
The few changes for 2004 include advanced frontal airbags with dual-stage deployment. Also, a head thorax side airbag is added, along with active front headrests. There also are new standard or optional wheels.

The New Beetle convertible looks good and feels solid with the top up or down. The power version of the top opens and closes in just 13 seconds, either way.

Year-Around Driving
The cloth-lined top has three layers to ensure good insulation and a pretty quiet interior. It also has a heated glass rear window. Thus, while the New Beetle convertible is more fun with the top down, its raised top makes it a decent all-season car during winter in northern areas of the country.

There is little wind buffeting on highways with the top lowered, partly because the large windshield is located far from the front seats. A $350 wind blocker is offered for even less buffeting.

Tight Rear Seat and Trunk
There's good room up front, but rear leg room is tight for tall occupants—although the convertible has more rear headroom than the hardtop version.

The tiny trunk is good for a few pieces of soft luggage, and the rear seatback doesn't flip forward to enlarge the cargo area.

The GLX trim level disappears for 2004, leaving GL and GLS versions. The GL versions cost $20,900 to $22,075. The GLS goes from $22,640 to $25,995.

Well Equipped
All versions are well equipped, and there are desirable options and option packages. Extras include everything from a skid control system to a leather interior with heated front seats.

The GL comes only with a 2.0-liter 115-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, while the GLS is offered with that engine or a turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder that kicks out 150 horsepower.

Standard is a fairly slick 5-speed manual gearbox that works with a light, long-throw clutch. Optional is a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability.

Lazy With Base Engine
The 115-horsepower version has lazy acceleration with the automatic transmission, and is only a bit livelier with the manual gearbox. That's because the approximately 3,000-pound convertible weighs several hundred pounds more than the coupe. The turbocharged engine with either transmission moves you into the fast lane.

Volkswagen said it's received few complaints about the convertible's acceleration with the 115-horsepower engine. That's because the car is essentially a pleasant cruiser with a nice ride and decent steering, handling and braking—although the brake pedal needs a more linear feel.

The convertible looks as if it will be a significant part of the New Beetle line, just as the old version was with the original Beetle line.

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BB06 - 7/28/2014 4:45:48 PM