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Flower Power With An Attitude

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SAN FRANCISCO:  Who would have thought that peace and love would get tough? I mean, I was there. VW Beetles were what we drove. Power to the people! Yeah, right on. So what if they were slow? Hey man, we’re not into your middle class, American, chrome studded boats!

The original Beetle was the anti-car. It was cheap to buy, cheap (and easy) to fix, and went just about anywhere. It was also cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and slow. Did I mention that it was slow? No matter, it was revered by millions. Still is.

So last year Volkswagen, thinking Retro, decided that what the world needed was a new Beetle. But this being now instead of then, Volkswagen decided that the new Beetle should invoke the memory of the old Beetle without making us suffer with its shortcomings. Hence, the New Beetle.

New or not, it certainly is cute. Where the Old Beetle was cute because it was ugly, the New Beetle was designed to be cute. Perhaps that’s the biggest difference. The old was designed for function, the new is designed for form.

To me the new Beetle is a caricature of the old, almost a cartoon rendition. But that’s just me. People everywhere love the new Beetle’s looks, so once again, I’m in the minority.

Now, just as the world has accepted the new, cute, cuddly Beetle, VW has gone and unleashed the sleeper of all sleepers - the Beetle 1.8 T. The T stands for Turbo. Now forget cute and cuddly. Think Fast.

I’m not sure why, but VW uses a slightly smaller engine in the 1.8 T. Instead of the 2.0-liter, SOHC, two valve per cylinder, four cylinder, this is a 1.8-liter, DOHC, five valve per cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled, four cylinder. The 1.8 makes 150 hp and 156 ft-lb.of torque instead of the 2.0’s 115 and 122. More than enough to make you notice the difference.

The real sneaky thing is most people won’t know this until they’re starring in disbelief as that cute little Beetle disappears into the distance. It was kind of neat to wave bye-bye to those kids in their lowered Japanese “hot rods” after they smirked at the old man in the cartoon car. Hey kid, laugh at this!

Love it or hate it, the Beetle does have character. I don’t especially like the exterior but I found the interior interesting. How do you make an instrument panel and dashboard stand apart from the crowd? Well VW has. From the smiley face steering wheel (I swear, that’s what it looked like to me), to the sound system and heater controls, everything looks unique. I’m not sure about the blue tinting used for the lighting, but even that looks "cool".

Outside there is very little to differentiate the 1.8 T from the base Beetle (better for stealth operation). With the exception of a small aero wing above the rear window that automatically raises as you hit warp speed (actually it comes into play around town), the exterior is the same on all Beetles.

Then there’s the seating position. Drove me nuts. Not that things weren’t easy to reach, no. It’s just that when I turned my head to look out the left side window I was looking at the “B” pillar. This is because in order to have a stubby front deck lid like the original, the engine (don’t forget, the New Beetle is front-engine, front-wheel-drive) actually nestles further back (that’s one reason for the dashboard that’s as big as Nebraska), so the front seats are in the middle of the car. You get used to it but it was strange at first.

So, If you find the New Beetle interesting, but you don’t relish the idea of driving a replica of the old, slow Beetle, the Beetle 1.8 T is for you. And surprisingly, the 1.8 T is a tad more frugal than the 2.0 in the city. Fuel economy is 25 mpg city and 31 highway.

As tested, the 1.8 T GLS (it also comes in an upscale GLX version) went out the door for under $21,000. That included alloy wheels and a “partial” leather interior package.

What’s a real kicker is that the Beetle 1.8 T is essentially the same vehicle as the new Audi TT Coupe. Sure, the Audi makes a few more horsepower (30 more) but it costs a lot more (add another $10,000 plus). Now I happen to think the Audi is better looking, and it has a lower center of gravity, but the Beetle makes more people smile. And we all need more smiles in our life, don't we? By Bruce Hotchkiss AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  By Bruce Hotchkiss AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name:  Flower Power with an Attitude
Topic:  2000 VW 1.8T Turbo Beetle
Word Count:   776
Photo Caption:  2000 VW 1.8T Turbo Beetle
Photo Credits:   VW PR
Series #:   1999 - 66

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