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1999 Beetle 1.8T: Hang On to Your Silk Daisy


Twelve months after bringing the world a long-overdue overdose of automotive chuckling, Volkswagen has delivered a newer New Beetle.

And the 1999 Beetle 1.8T comes with a piece of standard equipment that continues to cuddle up to the cuteness of the breed: a factory-fresh silk daisy for the car's dashboard-mounted bud vase, by itself a feed from days when the Grateful Dead were coming alive and fathers wept as daughters drove off with some tie-dyed pothead in a clapped-out Old Beetle.

Sixteen-inch, six-spoke alloy wheels are now available on the 1.8T, as an option on the base GLS but standard on the mildly up-market GLX.

There's a speed-activated rear spoiler above the rear window should your Herbie ever want to go rallying to Monte Carlo again.

Also leather seats with bun warmers.

Plus a power glass sun roof that doubles as a moon roof because there really is no difference. Except in the land of the midnight sun.

Then the ace to all these refinements: a 1.8-liter, 20-valve, turbocharged four-cylinder engine transplanted from the VW Passat and Audi's splendid A4. That should cancel earlier carps that, as a lethargic performer with a habit of nodding off at stoplights, the New Beetle is maybe a too-perfect replication of the Old Beetle.

Mechanical muscles are now up from 115 horsepower to 150, with a corresponding increase in torque. That improves zero-to-60-mph acceleration times from about 12 seconds to about nine seconds.

The new engine and accompanying toys, of course, have also elevated pricing. What reentered our lives as a $16,000 rush of remembering when--like remembering when a Beetle cost $1,800--now costs $19,000 and change for a five-speed GLS, rising to $21,000-plus for the GLX with automatic. Bet you can't wait for next year and the inevitable price hike when the Beetle convertible goes on sale.

Visuals for the Newest Beetle are unchanged. Same ladybug roof line and triple-bubble shape lifted from a grade schooler's exercise book. Same Gumby Blue, Smiley Face Yellow and Toy Soldier Red paint jobs by M&M candies. Same saucy appeal of a car for people who hate martinis, instant coffee and Las Vegas--but love incense, hummingbird feeders and Amsterdam.

Therefore, buyers motivated by impulse or nostalgia for Woodstock loves, their marijuana youth and college grades gone by can still tap into those primary reasons that Volkswagen sold about 70,000 New Beetles in its maiden year.


Of course, compromises must still be made, and they have nothing to do with this Beetle being the only Beetle with front-wheel drive and a water-cooled engine.

While critics were awash with the fun and frolic of the car, they tended to overlook that only when two people are on board, and rear seats are folded flat, is there much trunk space. It's still a noisy little rascal. External and rearview mirrors are tiny enough for dental work. And there's that wasted space of a far-reaching dashboard and distant windshield. Five acres at least, and will build to suit. On a clear day you can sometimes see the windshield wipers.

On the other hand, quirks made the Old Beetle a 21-million-car bestseller. And quirks remain the reason most oddballs can persuade the rest of the world they are the only ones who really get it.

And there is that engine that makes this car a contender, and very grown-up, although a little intimidating for the Beetle's suspension and fairly tame tires.

There's the compensation of a very stiff body, positive steering and standard anti-lock disc brakes that are grand anchors on a car this small.

Then there's the constant, serious quality to the Beetle's construction materials, fit and finish and engineering.

Beware of just one distinct hazard. It's a constant jiggle and jounce that easily distracts vision. You want to reach out and steady things. Then, just when you do have it stilled, the dance begins all over again.

Best to stuff this bug's tiny vase with tissue or Saran Wrap.

That should stop that damned daisy bouncing around.


Times automotive writer Paul Dean can be reached at

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