2004 Volkswagen New Beetle Coupe Reviews and Ratings

Coupe 2D GL

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2004 Volkswagen New Beetle Coupe
Mitch McCullough

If the Volkswagen New Beetle is a smile on wheels, then the Beetle Convertible is an ear-to-ear grin, looking at once more whimsical, and more like its vintage ancestor, than the Beetle hardtop. Both are back for 2004, with new safety features, new colors, and new options. Plus, an even more modern and efficient diesel engine is available for the coupe.

The New Beetle isn't just smart and stylish. Because it's a Volkswagen, it is refined. It combines German engineering and performance with exceptional fit and finish, and it represents a good value. As in 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 VW's own Golf. Nor is there a lot of trunk space.

Furthermore, the New Beetle no longer enjoys exclusive status in the retro-car market, now that the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Mini Cooper, Ford Thunderbird, Mustang and other retrospective designs are stealing headlines. And when the PT Cruiser convertible arrives early in 2004, followed by the Mini convertible, the New Beetle won't even be the only low-priced retro to offer open-top motoring.

Still, the New Beetle does offer a good measure of distinctive charm. And once you drop the top, 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.

The standard Beetle is still cool. It comes in an assortment of bright, happy colors. Its exterior and interior design details are fun and creative. It now offers OnStar telematics as an option. 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 government's 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, the Beetle is now a familiar face in America. Model Lineup
New Beetle is available as a coupe or convertible, and with an assortment of gasoline and diesel-fueled four-cylinder engines. For 2004, the coupe is offered in GL ($16,330), GLS ($18,520), GLS 1.8T ($20,480), and Turbo S ($23,850) trim. The convertible is offered in GL ($20,900), GLS ($22,640), and GLS 1.8T ($24,820) trim only.

The standard engine in the GL and GLS is a 2.0-liter inline-4 rated 115 horsepower. GLS 1.8T is powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged four rated 150 horsepower. With both engines, a five-speed manual transmission is standard. The coupe offers an optional four-speed automatic ($875), while the convertible offers a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic control ($1175). In the Turbo S model, the 1.8-liter turbo four is tuned to 180 horsepower. The only transmission available is a six-speed manual.

Volkswagen also builds diesel-powered versions of the GL and GLS coupe. At the beginning of the model year these still used a 1.9-liter Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) inline-4 rated 90 horsepower, mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic ($875) transmission. However, during the 2004 model year VW plans to replace this engine with a more advanced 1.9-liter turbo-diesel using high-pressure injection technology. The new TDI-PD diesel will produce 100 horsepower and run quieter than the current unit. Volkswagen anticipates a highway fuel economy rating of 46 mpg. A five-speed manual will be standard, and an all-new six-speed automatic with Tiptronic control will be optional ($1075). The new models will be designated GL 1.9 TDI-PD ($17,630) and GLS 1.9TDI-PD ($19,760).

All Beetles are well equipped. Base GL models come with air conditioning with an integrated pollen filter; a six-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo (ten-speaker on convertibles); 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; and 205/55 all-season tires on 16-inch steel wheels. Options include a six-disc CD changer and electronic stability program (ESP). Leatherette upholstery is available as a no-cost option on coupes, and is standard on the convertible.

GLS adds front fog lamps, 16-inch aluminum wheels, power sunroof, eight-speaker AM/FM/cassette Monsoon audio system, and a center armrest with storage box. And the option list expands to include leather-trimmed seating surfaces; heated front seats; a three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel; leather-wrapped shift knob and handbrake grip; heated windshield washer nozzles; and Xenon HID headlamps.

GLS 1.8T adds a speed-activated spoiler at the top of the rear window, an electronic locking differential, traction control and, on the convertible, ESP. Seventeen-inch aluminum wheels with 225/45 all-season tires are optional.

Turbo S comes with all the same luxury and go-fast goodies as the GLS 1.8T, plus leather, sport seats with heaters, and a Cold Weather package. ESP and 225/45 tires on 17-inch alloys are also standard.

The 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 deploy automatically behind the rear seats to provide added protection in the unlikely event of a rollover, whether the convertible top is up or down. The exclusive system works in conjunction with the New Beetle's active head restraints.

Standard safety equipment on all New Beetles includes driver and front passenger airbags, side-impact airbags mounted in the seatbacks, a safety-belt tensioning and load-limiting system, and rear-seat tether anchorage points (LATCH system) for securing a child safety seat. The side-impact airbags have been enhanced for 2004; Volkswagen says the New Beetle is one of the few small cars with side-impact bags designed to protect the driver's and front-seat passenger's head and thorax. Dual-stage frontal airbags will be phased in during the '04 model year. Walkaround
Soft top or hard top, the Volkswagen New Beetle is built on the same basic platform as the Volkswagen Golf, a high-quality, highly rigid chassis. A rigid chassis results in a smooth, controlled ride with little noise, vibration or harshness. Well-engineered crumple zones and other features enhance crash protection. To maintain structural integrity without sacrificing its round shape, the convertible's body has been reinforced with additional structure, including a rear seat support that increases chassis rigidity.

Beetle's dimensions prove it is no small car. It's longer, wider, and taller than a Mini Cooper. The Beetle body is 161.1 inches in length and 67.9 inches wide, on a wheelbase of 98.7 inches, with a height of 59.0 inches. The Beetle is also nearly an inch wider than the PT Cruiser, although it is shorter and not as tall as Chrysler's little cruiser.

Quality in the New Beetle is excellent. Gaps between doors, fenders and other body panels are some of the tightest we've seen. Fenders and bumpers are made from a special dent-resistant plastic. Outside door handles are easy to grab, feel good, and don't require inverting your hand to operate them. Turn indicators on the outside mirrors warn drivers alongside when changing lanes. Color-keyed mirror housings and door handles add to the Beetle's clean appearance. At night from a distance, a black convertible we drove looked like something from Porsche, with its sleek dome shape and round headlamps.

Convertibles are distinguished by an exterior chrome strip that surrounds the greenhouse and by a different trunk design with an integrated third brake light. Color is an important part of the New Beetle convertible experience, and new combinations for 2004 include Uni-Red with cream interior; Platinum Gray with black and gray interior; Cyber Green with black and cream interior; Aquarius Blue with gray interior and Sundown Orange with cream interior. All of the above come with a black top, but for 2004 VW now offers gray and cream tops as well.

Turbo S looks similar to the other New Beetles, but with hunkered-down aerodynamic enhancements that suggest a more expensive German performance car. Smoothed-out wheel wells and revised bumpers give it a sleek and seamless appearance. Double exhaust pipes hint of compressed aspiration under the hood, while special 17-inch alloy wheels and tires suggest a sports suspension. A subtle Turbo S badge, styled after Porsche badging, adorns the back hatch on which sits a rear valance. On all turbocharged Beetle coupes, a rear spoiler pops up at speed to maintain stability in corners; unfortunately, it tends to retract with an annoying "thunk." VW has promised to replace it with a fixed spoiler during the 2004 model year (although it appears as though the GLS 1.8T will keep the telescoping spoiler). Interior
Volkswagen Beetle's sweeping roofline creates tremendous front-seat headroom, more than even in the tall PT Cruiser and considerably more than in the Mini Cooper. The convertible gives up only half an inch of front-seat headroom to the coupe.

The Beetle's deep dashboard can make you feel like you're driving the car from the back seat. You cannot see the hood or anything else but road in front of the windshield. Beefy front A-pillars (the post between the windshield and side window) impede vision in tight corners. (This big dash area and thick A-pillars no doubt contribute to the Beetle's excellent crumple-zone design.) Small sun visors have no hope of blocking the sun coming in through the giant side windows.

The standard seats are comfortable and attractive. The flat design of the seat bottom makes it easy to get in and out, but side bolstering is lacking for driving quickly on winding roads. The usual fore-aft and rake adjustments are provided, while a lever jacks the height up and down. My right knee came into contact with the corner of the center console, but adjusting the seat rearward solved this. Your passenger may encounter the unfriendly seat tracks while groping around for the fore-aft adjustment. The outside mirrors are mounted well forward of the driver, which is actually a better position than that of many other cars which mount them too close.

The back seat is fine for adults on short trips. Shoulder and hip room are cramped in the coupe and significantly more cramped in the convertible. But there's decent rear headroom, more in the convertible than in the hardtop (and even more with the top down). There's a reasonable amount of rear legroom in the convertible when the front passengers cooperate, and hardtop Beetles offer even more rear legroom. Beetle coupe offers more rear legroom than the Mini, less than the hardtop PT Cruiser. (Beetle coupe and convertible offer 33.5 and 31.5 inches, respectively; Mini offers 31.3 inches.). Both of Beetle's front seats flip and pivot up and forward, making it easier to climb into the back seats. They then flip back to their original position, a nice memory feature.

Beetle's trunk is small, just 12 cubic feet, though the rear seats can be folded down to more than double that volume. The convertible's trunk is even smaller, just 5 cubic feet. Mini Cooper offers just 5.3 cubic feet, but PT Cruiser has a far larger cargo bay at nearly 22 cubic feet.

Dual cup holders in front of the shifter are tucked under the protruding center dash that houses HVAC and audio controls. That arrangement appears to preclude tall drinks, but the cup holder platform cleverly swivels to the right to make room for that grande cappuccino. Your companion will have to hold his or hers, however.

Beetle's interior is attractive and, as in all Volkswagens, nicely finished. A myriad of materials is used to give the Beetle a high-tech look. We love the painted metal trim at the upper edges of the doors, which matches the exterior paint. In GL and GLS models, the standard cloth upholstery is tightly woven, resilient and sporty, yet soft to the touch. Leatherette (vinyl) and leather are also available. The upper dash uses coarse, hard materials accented by smoother, softer surfaces elsewhere. Curved, dimpled door handles look ultra-modern. The steering wheel feels good and features brushed aluminum spokes. The little bud vase keeps a small flower looking fresh or holds a plastic daisy.

Several running changes were made during the 2003 model year, most of them for the better. VW moved the clock and temperature display to the rearview mirror. The center console was redesigned with storage and a padded armrest. On GLS models, pinch protection was added to the power sunroof. The optional (dealer installed) six-disc CD changer mounts in the center console on convertibles, and in the trunk on hardtops.

The padded armrest on the redesigned center console is nice enough, but the storage compartment is small. In our convertible, the CD changer filled this space, eliminating one of the Beetle's few storage cubbies. (VW has promised an in-dash CD/MP3 player for all New Beetles later in the 2004 model year.) And the console looks like it may show dirt and wear over the long haul when ordered in the light colors. The glove box looks impressive and has a small shelf at the top for the owner's manual, but its massive door belies the tiny, awkwardly shaped space within.

A big speedometer and tiny tachometer are set in a circular gauge panel that glows a rich, deep blue at night. This indigo lighting complements the red lighting used for stereo and heating/air conditioning controls to minimize glare at night. It also looks neat. Sleek radio and heater controls are within easy reach on the protruding center dash, but can be difficult to decipher and awkward to operate at speed. Below are controls for the (optional) adjustable seat heaters and the electronic stability control system.

The power top, like the rest of the car, is nicely finished. The soft cloth lining looks and feels good. It seems to filter noise well. Beetle is a quiet convertible at speed, and it comes with a glass rear window and electric defroster. On the down side, the map light in the convertible is mounted on the rear-view mirror, where it is awkward to reach, and almost invites your co-driver to knock the mirror askew when trying to press the switch.

The GL convertible comes with a manually folded top, but the top on GLS models is power-operated. Twist a lever, press a button, and it opens in just 13 seconds. Press a big power window switch and all windows lower at once. Within seconds, you're in a better mood. Turn on the seat heaters if it's chilly. Our convertible came with a bottle of sunscreen, a nice gift from Volkswagen. Pressing the button again raises the top in the same 13 seconds, though it takes a little practice to get it latched without a momentary struggle. Rearward vision is compromised with the top down, blocking sight lines down low. You'll be looking at windshields rather than grilles. Raising the seat improves the view somewhat.

An optional wind blocker ($250) fits into the rear-seat area and effectively turns the convertible into a two-seater. It's a nicely designed piece and easy to remove, but reinstalling it is a challenge and you can scratch the interior if you're not careful. Also, you'll need to store it at home when not using it because, once removed, it won't fit in the trunk. We didn't drive the Beetle enough at high speeds with the top down to be sold on the need for the wind blocker (it was winter). It certainly isn't needed at low speeds. Our recommendation is to wait on the wind blocker and purchase it later if you find you rarely have back-seat passengers and would like to reduce wind turbulence at speed.

Convertibles boast a special 10-speaker sound system with two 220-millimeter subwoofers in the front, two 160-mm woofers in the rear, four tweeters and two mid-range speakers. The placement of the speakers helps maintain high-quality stereo sound even while competing with wind buffeting. Three 12-volt power points are provided, in the front and rear seating areas and in the trunk.

OnStar, now available on New Beetles, doubles as a navigation system without having to program anything. Simply press the button and a human operator responds to provide directions and other assistance. OnStar always knows the location of your vehicle. The staff will notify the authorities of your location if your airbag goes off and you do not respond to their calls. Or you can press the emergency button and they'll send out the troops. They can unlock your doors if you lock the keys inside. If your vehicle is stolen, OnStar can pinpoint its location and direct the authorities to apprehend and recover. They can perform all kinds of services. They can direct you to the nearest gas station or help find a good restaurant or motel, and make reservations for you. Driving Impressions
The 2004 Volkswagen Beetle is fun to drive. It feels tight. Handling and brakes are excellent. Acceleration performance varies from lethargic to brisk, depending on the engine.

The Beetle rides well on bumpy pavement. It's smoother than a Mini Cooper and more refined than a PT Cruiser. The Beetle feels stable at high speeds and in high-speed sweeping turns. It leans in corners when driven hard, but its tires and suspension give it good grip and keep the chassis firmly in contact with the road. The steering is quick and accurate. Handling among the different Beetle models is quite similar in character as the suspension is tuned to provide the same driving characteristics.

Beetle is smooth and stable under hard braking. It can stop in a shorter distance than a PT Cruiser, according to published reports, but it doesn't stop as quickly as the Golf or Mini.

The 2.0-liter engine that comes on GL and GLS models is smooth, quiet, and refined. It's very tractable around town with good, usable power at low rpm. That means you don't have to do a lot of shifting. Put it in second or third gear and leave it there as you work your way around town and on rural roads. It's quite pleasant at 20 mph in third. You can even take off from a stop sign in second gear without lurching. It cruises well at high speeds. Torque from the 2.0-liter engine comes at relatively low revs and makes the car feel sprightly around town. It wouldn't be our first choice for drag racing, though. Developing just 115 horsepower, the 2.0-liter Beetle is among the slowest cars sold today. It takes about 10.2 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph, according to Volkswagen. That's lethargic performance by anyone's stopwatch. Convertibles are even slower due to their added weight (0 to 60 in 11.4). It's clean performance, though. Volkswagen recalibrated the 2.0-liter engine for reduced emissions in 2003, qualifying the Beetle for LEV II California emissions concept and as an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) in all 50 states.

We recommend the manual gearbox, which was used for the numbers above. It shifts smoothly and adds enjoyment to driving the Beetle. The automatic works well, but offers sluggish acceleration performance, further dropping 0 to 60 mph acceleration times to 11.5 seconds for a coupe with the 2.0-liter engine. The convertible, however, offers a six-speed automatic with Porsche's Tiptronic system that is nearly as quick as a manual gearbox (0 to 60 mph in 11.8 seconds). It's expensive, but also allows semi-manual shifting.

Volkswagen builds some of the best small diesel engines in the world, and we expect that the new 1.9 TDI-PD will be the best yet. It is rated only 100 horsepower, but its 177 pounds-feet of torque compares favorably with the 173 pounds-feet of the hot-rod Turbo S. (The Turbo S, however, sticks closer to its torque peak over a broader range of rpm.) The new diesel is rated 46 mpg on the highway, compared to 44 for last year's 90-horsepower diesel, and 31 for the 2.0-liter gas engine. In our past experiences with VW diesels they have run brilliantly, on long trips and in everyday driving. They have none of the clatter of an old Mercedes-Benz diesel, but just a slightly rough texture that some people like because they say it reminds them a bit of the original Bug.

Driving enthusiasts will prefer the 1.8 T turbocharged gasoline engine. It lacks response at the bottom of the rpm range, but provides good acceleration performance once the revs are up. Step on the gas and the car begins to build momentum, then there's a whoosh of power. The GLS 1.8 T can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 8.2 seconds. Again, the manual gearbox is best. We have not been happy when pairing the 1.8 T with an automatic because the turbo seems to confuse the transmission causing a distinct lack of response in certain situations; this often happens when you most need a squirt of power, such as when jumping out of a slow, bumper-to-bumper lane into a fast lane.

The Turbo S further quickens the pace, accelerating from 0 to 60 in a very respectable 7.4 seconds. Coupled with a less-restrictive exhaust system, the Turbo S betters the horsepower of the 1.8 T by 20 percent, and boosts torque about 7 percent. This shows up when launching off the line and in passing maneuvers. The long and flat torque curve of the Turbo S engine makes it very enjoyable to drive. There's no lengthy turbo lag.

The Turbo S model's six-speed manual slides through gears. Middle gears are designed for improved acceleration performance, while fifth and sixth help with fuel economy. Upgraded brakes help the Turbo scrub off speed. Special Turbo S suspension tuning and 17-inch wheels and tires keep it glued to the road. Summary
Volkswagen excels at engineering and the Beetle is a fine example. The Beetle feels tight and responsive. Its ride is smooth and sporty. Handling and braking are excellent. The Beetle rides well, and there's little undue noise from the road or engine compartment.

The standard 2.0-liter engine is smooth and quiet, fine for most people, but driving enthusiasts will find its acceleration performance lacking. The GLS 1.8 T is fun to drive. Its mild manners make for a pleasant ride around town, while its acceleration performance gives it sports appeal. The 1.8 T doesn't work well with an automatic, however. The Turbo S is for enthusiasts who want sporty handling and performance. With a price starting at $20,900 for the GL, Volkswagen aims for the New Beetle convertible to be the highest-volume, lowest-priced European soft-top in North America.

Model as tested
Volkswagen Beetle Convertible GLS ($22,640)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Puebla, Mexico
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Leather Package ($900) includes partial leather seating surfaces, leather steering wheel, shift knob and grip, heated front seats and heated washer nozzles; wind blocker ($250); ESP Electronic Stability Program ($280)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Volkswagen Beetle GL ($16,330); GL 1.9TDI-PD ($17,630); GLS ($18,520); GLS 1.9 TDI-PD ($19,760); GLS 1.8 T ($20,480); Turbo S ($23,850); Convertible GL ($20,900); Convertible GLS ($22,640); Convertible GLS 1.8 T ($24,820)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags with dual-stage activation; dual side-impact airbags with head/thorax protection; active head restraints; safety-belt tensioning and load-limiting; rear-seat LATCH system tether anchor points for child safety seat; ABS
Safety equipment (optional)
2.0-liter sohc 8-valve inline-4
5-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
ABS, air conditioning, Monsoon premium AM/FM/cassette stereo with ten speakers, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks with keyless remote control, cruise control, tilt and telescopic adjustable steering column, anti-theft alarm system, rear window defroster, pollen/odor filter, bud vase, plastic daisy, front center armrest; power top

Engine & Transmission
2.0-liter sohc 8-valve inline-4
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
115 @ 5400
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
independent, MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Suspension, rear
semi-independent, torsion-beam axle, coil springs, anti-roll bar

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality Not Available
Overall Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Overall Quality - Design
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Design
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Design
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
Not Available

Overall Dependability Not Available
Powertrain Dependability
Not Available
Body & Interior Dependability
Not Available
Feature & Accessory Dependability
Not Available

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J.D. Power Rating Legend
Among the Best
5 / 5
Better than Most
4 / 5
About Average
3 / 5
The Rest
2 / 5

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