A Boy! by Lesley Hazleton
PHOENIX — Back home in Atlanta, the VW New Beetle has completely overtaken the Toyota Celica as the car of choice for people who routinely call unrelated people “girlfriend.” This would be disconcerting for Volkswagen if there weren’t nearly 75,000 of these folks across the country with the desire and credit scores to buy New Beetles each year.
However, in this group, guys who don’t know the names of all four Golden Girls are notably absent. And that’s why VW is implanting a 180-hp turbo four into the New Beetle in the hopes of butching it up a little bit. Wouldn’t it be easier for the cast of Will & Grace to get picked up in the NBA’s supplemental draft, you ask? Well, maybe — but as it turns out, the Turbo S Beetle is first Bug to be interesting to those of us who don’t sign our names with a flower or a heart as punctuation.
2002 Volkswagen New Beetle Turbo S
2002 Volkswagen Beetle
Along the way to 2002, the Beetle’s picked up a three-burner range of engines. The stock 115-hp four-cylinder version continues to ply the middle lane of beltways everywhere, while the 90-hp diesel remains the province of the environmentally zealous and truly patient. A 150-hp turbo four introduced most recently gave the first inkling that the Beetle’s refined chassis could handle all the attention shown by VW’s powertrain tinkerers.
Now at last the Beetle — in Turbo S drag — finally packs some compelling heat under its front-engined hood. To the festively plump shape VW adds a 180-hp evolution of the 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder, and mates it to the company’s first six-speed manual transmission, which can handle its 173 lb-ft of torque.
So tweaked, VW says the Turbo S can skitter to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds and hustle its way to 130 mph before a speed limiter calls an end to the shindig. That’s a useful 0.8-second speed dividend over the 150-hp Bugs; as for the other models, keeping in touch might require Internet access.
The six-speed’s a satisfying shifter, and the extra power casts a new light on the New Beetle’s suspension tuning, which turns out to be fairly satisfying. The steering takes wide sweepers with aplomb, and bigger 17-inch tires on the Turbo S don’t direct the car on a wild trajectory over pavement ripples and bumps. Torque steer is slight and manageable, and since there’s no 4Motion all-wheel-drive system planned for the New Beetle, it need be.
The clever and observant reader will be able to pick out the Turbo S in a parking lot of Beetles, but the rest of us will need some remedial study. The S gets new fog lights, turn signals and a deep front air dam that pays clear homage to Porsche’s Turbo, what with the squared-off air intakes. In the back, there are dual chrome exhaust tips, a reshaped bumper and a Turbo S badge. On the top of the rear glass is the same rear-window spoiler found on higher-zoot Bugs; it deploys at 45 mph to smooth out the airflow, and from inside the Bug’s exoskeleton, it sounds like a cranky windowshade being jimmied into place.
The Beetle’s interior, like other Volkswagens and Audis, is amazingly refined and sophisticated, a paragon for other carmakers. In the Turbo, the kitschy blue lighting switches to a more conventional white on black scheme, while leather and steel dominate the non-dash surfaces: the bud vase’s gone SoHo, done in polished steel along with the pedals, and the IP couldn’t be more black (“None more black,” you Spinal Tap fans are already chanting). The dash, however, remains an aquarium in progress — someone, somewhere is going to wall it in with Plexiglas and fill it with koi, just you wait and see.
With plenty of safety stuff like the Electronic Stabilization Program (something every teenager needs, behind the wheel or not), dual front and side airbags, and niceties like 17-inch wheels, leather, a sunroof and a Monsoon stereo, the Turbo S seems way reasonably priced at $23,400. You might prefer to wait for the Beetle convertible due later in 2002 or the hinted-at Turbo S convertible in 2003.
Or you could be one of the 5000 guys or gals set to sign the papers for the first Beetle with real wings.
2002 Volkswagen New Beetle Turbo S
Base price: $23,400
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged in-line four, 180 hp
Drivetrain: Six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 161.1 x 67.9 x 59.0 in
Wheelbase: 98.7 in
Curb weight: 3005 lb
EPA City/Hwy: 23/30 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors, sunroof, eight-speaker Monsoon audio system, central locking, tilt/telescope steering column
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles