- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

The 2002 Volkswagen New Beetle has a startling, exciting personality. With a turbocharged engine under its hood, this little tyke now acts like a sports car.
Speed isn't the only thing new about this Beetle. Volkswagen has added an Electronic Stabilization Program that helps keep the car under control in case an emergency swerve comes into play. Skid control is usually associated only with luxury cars, so to have ESP on a car that's under $25,000 is most unusual.
What's even more unusual, however, is seeing this little car pull away from a stoplight and reach 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds. When the car reaches 48 mph, a spoiler raises above the rear window to give better stability to the rear end, then retracts as the car slows to a stop. But I have mixed feelings about the merits of the spoiler because when it rises or retracts, an annoying "clack" sound is caused by the movement.
Like most sports cars, the Beetle requires a bit of maneuvering to squeeze into the driver's seat. Yet the interior spaciousness is adequate considering this is a subcompact vehicle. I also noticed corrections to a couple complaints I made the first time I drove the Beetle in 1998. In that model, the rear window became a bean-bopper; in the 2002 model, headrests prevent the head from contacting the rear glass. Also, the side-view mirrors are now mounted slightly lower and no longer block the driver's visibility of vehicles to the left. Incidentally, both front seats slide far forward to provide easy access to the two rear seats.
The interior is decorated in attractive black and brushed aluminum and has leather-trimmed seats. Padded leather adds a nice touch to the steering wheel. My tester had a glass sunroof that operates with the simple turn of a dial, providing a choice of two openings. The Turbo S also comes with 17-inch alloy wheels as standard equipment.
The Monsoon Sound System is standard equipment but the six-disc CD changer mounted in the trunk is an option. The sound, however, wasn't as good as I would expect from an eight-speaker sound system.
The trunk lid has a wide opening, and with the backrest of the rear seats lowered, there is a tremendous amount of cargo space. This is one of a few cars that could transport a television set home from the store.
However, with the seatbacks raised, the storage space is rather tight.
Raise the hood in the front of the car where all the excitement begins.
This car now has a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces 180 horsepower. It will also get 173 pounds-feet of torque that peaks over a wide range. These numbers aren't impressive, but the performance is.
The reason: the New Beetle weighs only 3,000 pounds. Even with four adults, the little car has surprising acceleration.
Turbocharged engines usually have the drawback of having to "wind up" before acceleration gets under way. During my test drive, I kept trying to figure out why the response was so immediate and why I couldn't detect the winding sound of the turbo buildup.
Volkswagen people told me their 1.8 T engine has exclusive five-valves-per-cylinder technology to provide excellent top-end breathing and double-overhead camshafts for optimal valve control.
Also, this year, a turbo noise filter has been added for even less turbo detection.
This engine is connected to a six-speed manual transmission. The combination of a strong engine and gearbox made driving this car exceptionally enjoyable.


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