Full 2008 Volkswagen New Beetle Review
What's New for 2008
Volkswagen's New Beetle compact carries over into 2008 with just minor changes to trim level names and optional feature lists.
It's hard to believe that 2008 will be the 11th year on sale for the Volkswagen New Beetle. When the car was originally introduced, Americans went crazy over the retro-themed "Bug" styling and cute flower vase protruding from its dash. Its popularity has waned over the years, however, even as interesting variants like the Turbo and TDI direct-injection diesel models came and went. For 2008, the New Beetle's oh-so-cool veneer has worn thin as it faces strong competition from more modern rivals.
Despite its age, the basic 2008 Volkswagen New Beetle still has a few things going for it. Based on the old VW Golf platform and available as a coupe or convertible, it still elicits smiles from passers-by while delivering solid German engineering, comfortable road manners and a fair amount of room for those up front. All the basics are covered in its standard price, and you can easily upgrade the Beetle's content through trim packages and stand-alone options.
But compared to newer rivals in a very competitive compact segment, the 2008 Volkswagen New Beetle claims no major advantage aside from its bubbly personality. Other small two-door coupes or hatches like the Honda Civic, Saturn Astra or VW's own Rabbit deliver superior utility, amenities and drivability at a similar or lower cost. As a convertible, the New Beetle makes a little more sense, as it likely will appeal to shoppers who value style over performance. But overall, we suggest taking a look at the competition first or even considering a certified-used New Beetle as an alternative.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Volkswagen New Beetle is available as a two-door hatchback coupe or convertible in two trim levels: S and SE. Base S coupe models come with 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, heated outside mirrors, power windows and locks, cruise control, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, V-Tex leatherette seat trim, satellite radio and a CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary input jack. Upgrading to the SE nets you 17-inch alloys, heated front seats and windshield washer nozzles, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a premium audio system and a sunroof. Some of these features can be added to the S trim as options. New Beetle convertibles are similarly equipped, with the exception of a manually operated soft top on S models and a semiautomatic power drop top and wind blocker on SEs. The new Triple White convertible starts with the SE’s standard equipment and adds -- you guessed it -- a unique white exterior, as well as a white-and-black interior theme, exclusive headrest badging and satellite radio. All models can be equipped with a trunk-mounted six-disc CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
The VW New Beetle is powered by a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine that produces 150 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. Power is transmitted to the front wheels through an easy-shifting standard five-speed manual gearbox on S models. A six-speed automatic with manual shift control is standard on the SE and optional on the S. However the shifting occurs, acceleration is merely adequate. EPA-estimated fuel economy is similarly lackluster for a compact; 2008 EPA estimates for the automatic are 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway.
All New Beetles include antilock disc brakes, stability control, front seat-mounted head/thorax side-impact airbags and active front head restraints. Convertibles also feature a rollover protection system. In government crash testing, the 2008 Volkswagen New Beetle earned four out of five stars for the protection of both front occupants in frontal impacts. Side-impact testing netted a five-star rating for front passengers but only three stars for those in the rear. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the New Beetle a top score of "Good" for frontal-offset crash protection, but a disappointing "Poor" rating for side impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
The four-passenger New Beetle may be stylish, but it's smaller inside than VW's own Rabbit. An expansive dashboard featuring a huge circular speedometer seems to dominate the cabin space up front, while the car's bubbly body pinches inward tightly against rear occupants. The open convertible is less of a problem in this regard, with a top that's easy to fold and well insulated from outside noise. With its top lowered, the Beetle convertible makes an especially classic and polished statement. Outward visibility is surprisingly poor on both the coupe and closed convertible, however, and both New Beetle styles suffer from tight rear hiproom and a lack of useful cargo space.
Like other Volkswagens, the 2008 New Beetle is reasonably fun to drive and provides a smooth and comfortable ride, perfect for long trips. The suspension tuning is soft but the steering is direct and sure, making it just about right for most drivers who want to play with their Bug every now and then. The 2.5-liter engine is smooth and delivers adequate if not abundant power in most situations.