This car is not for anyone who can't handle a few (well okay, a lot) of quirks. Having driven this daily for three years and put 100K miles on it in that time I would describe this as a reliable car. Word to the wise all VW's have a timing belt, if it blows, chances are so will your engine :( I loved this car. It was super fun to drive, had lots of zip for a 4 cyl and with low annual maint costs. Keep up with the maint and you will have little to no serious issues. I would highly suggest replacing the timing belt sooner than recommended just in case. Overall, my beetle, Jerry was very dependable with few "real" problems. Check engine light was always on due to fault O2 sensor.
1st Beelte had a bunch of issues (a/c, batteries would never last over a few months, oil leaking - had to do a major repair, then sold it). Second, a 2001 with 70k, has had more issues than I can possibly recall. I must have spent over 7k withing a 9 month period. Ridiculous. The major problem I have is with the dealerships. They'll diagnose something is wrong, you get that done, the car still has the same issue and then they will tell you "Oh, well, then, it must be something else" Replace driver's seatbelt buckle, both windows regulators, cam shaft adjuster, turn signal relay, inner tie rods, valve cover gasket, pcv hose, door latch and list goes on: all major $$$ repairs.
This review is for an '01 1.8T New Beetle (Auto), GLS trim with 17" rims, sports suspension, leather (heated) seating, steering wheel & shifter, and sunroof. At 50k miles, the ECU was chipped to 1 BAR. Now at 168k miles I must say my NB's been an excellent vehicle. The only items fixed under warranty were coil-packs and a MAF sensor. I replaced the Cam Chain Tensioner, 2 Oxygen/1 MAF sensors, valve cover gasket and a few hoses at 154k miles. Otherwise, everything else works! (Knock on wood!) I guess I'm lucky as the NB is not rated highly for reliability. But with my other cars, I do my own maintenance/repair and follow the scheduled maintenance very closely. Hope it'll go beyond 200k miles!
I had so many problems with my car this year alone. Anything that could have gone wrong with it it did. I had to change the whole transmission in early january, then in the summer i had to change alternator alternator belt speed sensors and connector and battery. I will never buy a used vw or any vw ever again. All my expenses were more that $3000
A really fun car for the first few years; peppy engine, tight suspension, solid feel. however, since then I've had recurring problems with the ignition coils, O2 sensor and coolant system. maybe it's a poor service department at the dealer where I've been taking the car, but I've noticed a drastic decline in performance (acceleration) and fuel economy. plus, don't let the size fool you, these cars are freakin' expensive to fix!