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Since it's virtually impossible not to wax nostalgic over the introduction of Volkswagen's new Beetle, I won't even try to fight it. After all, those of us who either owned or drove the old Beetle during the socially and politically turbulent '60s and '70s generally have fond memories of the car.
In a complex and confusing age, it represented sound values that many found in short supply at the time. It was humble, simple, dependable and economical. For many, it was just about the only unchanging constant amidst the frightening flux of cultural chaos.
For those who may have embraced Eastern religions during that time, the new Beetle probably reinforces their belief in reincarnation. If nothing else, the new Beetle proves, as noted in Volkswagen's press kit, "that something very good in a past life can come back as something even better, something totally new."
While the shape is certainly similar, the new Beetle is much larger than the original, both inside and out. And if you're hoping the shift knob you salvaged from your old Beetle will fit the new one, forget it. Not a single part from the previous car has been carried over.
Instead of a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive car, the new Beetle is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive car. Power comes from either a 115-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder or a 90-hp Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) diesel.
When faced with a similar choice 20 years ago, when VW Rabbits were still on the market, you were wise to pick the gas engine if you wanted any kind of performance. This time, the decision goes to the diesel. Not only does it deliver more low-end torque (149 pound-feet vs. 122), but you can drive it from Chicago to Tulsa on a single tank.
EPA mileage figures for the gas-powered Beetle are 23 city/29 highway with the manual, 22 city/27 highway with the automatic. The manual diesel, however, boasts enviable ratings of 41 city/48 highway. Even with manual, the diesel gets 34 city/44 highway.