What's New for 2006
The New Beetle gets a styling refresh for 2006. New front and rear bumpers, headlights and taillamps highlight the exterior changes. Inside, the cabin receives a new console, redesigned instrument cluster, revised sun visors and additional chrome trim. Under hood, last year's gasoline engine choices are dropped in favor of the 150-horsepower, 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine first seen in the redesigned Jetta. Stability control is now standard.
When the Golf-based Volkswagen New Beetle debuted, America went bonkers over it. It was cute and retro cool at the same time. But that was 1998. Just like cute puppies, cars grow old. And unless something is done to keep the interest up, the public's fascination wears off. The New Beetle is entering its ninth season for 2006. At this point, many cars are into their second full makeover. Instead, VW has stuck to the New Beetle's tried-and-true design -- with limited success. Indeed, New Beetle sales have cooled considerably over the last five years. Though its competitors can never hope to match the Bug's pedigree, they have surpassed the aging design in practical terms.
Hoping to eke out a little more life from the New Beetle hatch and convertible, VW has freshened the exterior styling and upgraded the standard engine for 2006. Instead of last year's anemic 2.0-liter four, the Bug now comes with a standard five-cylinder. At 150 horsepower, it matches last year's optional 1.8T in power (but not overall refinement), which is no longer available. The freshened styling is merely different, not necessarily better, but the new five-cylinder engine is a substantial improvement. The TDI diesel versions of the New Beetle come with VW's innovative Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission. This is the same highly acclaimed unit featured in Audi's TT 3.2. Essentially a six-speed manual transmission, the DSG removes the clutch pedal and associated operation, and places it under the control of computer chips and hydraulic servos. When left in full auto mode, it's as smooth as or smoother than any conventional automatic. When shifted manually via the floor-mounted shifter, the DSG offers quick, precise gear changes that make a traditional manual seem unnecessary. Along with this interesting pair of drivetrain options, VW is relying on the Beetle's large array of standard features, premium cabin furnishings and ever present cute factor to keep the nameplate on buyers' minds amidst a field of strong competitors.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The two-door New Beetle is available as a two-door hatchback or convertible body style. Hatchbacks come in 2.5 and TDI trim; convertibles are 2.5 only. All models come with 16-inch wheels; air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; seat-height adjusters; a tilt and telescoping steering wheel; and a manually folding top on convertibles. Options include 17-inch wheels, leather upholstery, a trunk-mounted CD changer, satellite radio, a sunroof on hatchbacks and a power top on convertibles.
Powertrains and Performance
The New Beetle 2.5 hatch and convertible come with a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine that produces 150 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. Power is put to the front wheels through a standard five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. Those interested in improved fuel economy can opt for the TDI hatchback, which comes with a 1.9-liter turbocharged diesel-fueled four-cylinder. It makes 100 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque and can get about 40 mpg. TDI buyers can get either a five-speed manual or VW's Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) transmission. Essentially a six-speed manual tranny with an electronically controlled clutch, the DSG can be operated in a full auto mode like a traditional automatic or manually shifted.
Standard on all New Beetles are four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability control, side airbags for front occupants, full-length head curtain airbags and active front head restraints. Convertibles have a rollover protection system. In government crash testing, the Beetle earned four out of five stars in both frontal-impact categories. It received a "Good" rating (and "Best Pick" status) from the IIHS for its performance in frontal offset crash testing but a "Poor" rating for side-impact crashworthiness.
Interior Design and Special Features
Though smaller inside than the Golf, the Beetle (seats four, 12 cubic feet of hatch space) compensates with style: It has a tablelike dashboard, huge circular speedometer and round air vents. The convertible's top is easy to fold and well insulated from wind and road noise. With its top down, the Bug has a classic but polished appearance, thanks to a top that mimics the original Beetle drop top's in appearance and handsome aluminum trim along the car's beltline.
Like other VWs, the Beetle is both fun to drive and comfortable for long trips. The suspension tuning is soft, but it's just about right for most drivers who want a little sport from their Bug. True enthusiasts, however, would be wise to check out the Mini Cooper and Acura RSX.