2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible GLS (469)


This week’s test car was the 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible GLS. I like to revisit the most popular cars and trucks because more people care about those. I drove this VW when it first came out for 1999 and in the tradition of VW it remains pretty much the same in look and feel.

In fact they still have the same uncomfortable seats. I blasted the seats before but they must not read my column or more likely they don’t give a s… ahh, hoot. Ok, more importantly, it’s what YOU think. Let me hear from you so I can pass it along to VW. Email me at joe@atthewheel.com.

General Info:

Parts –  US/Canadian 8%, Germany 40%, Mexico 22%. Engine: Mexico Transmission: Japan

Assembly – Puebla, Mexico

Class:  – Mini Compact

Cars: – EuroVan, Golf, GTI, Jetta/Wagon, New Beetle, Passat/Wagon and Touareg.

Handling & Performance:

If it weren’t for the damn seats it is a really good road car. Not like the early days of VW where a stiff wind could literally blow you from one lane to the other.

VW’s are good around town and commuter cars. You can maneuver in traffic and they are easy to park. However, it doesn’t take the bumps very well and bottoms out much to easily.

The turbo version is nice but the added power isn’t justified for the added cost as far as I can see. The fact is there are no highways that allow the speeds possible in the non-turbo, so why spend the money.

If you have ever driven the original VW bug of the 1950’s and 1960’s you’ll notice the absence of clutch chatter and that “Tin Can” feeling you came to love so. The only similarity between old and new is the shape.


I am disappointed with the uncomfortable seats but the tradeoff is the ingenious way they have designed those same seats to fold up and forward for rear seat access. Long trips however will seem longer.

I still can’t get used to the engine being in the front and when I pop the trunk I expect a greasy engine instead of a carpeted trunk. On the other hand it looks more like a “Glove Compartment”.

Is this really a ladies car? Surely a color change from “Mellow Yellow” will make a lot of difference but I can’t help seeing Walt Disney’s “Herbie – The Love Bug” when I look at this cute-as-a-bug Beetle. I’d love it for my daughter but would feel funny buying one for my son. I guess I’d want him to have a muscle, macho manly car that smells more like grease, oil and gas than flowers in the vaaaze – know what I mean? It is said that moms make him a little boy but it takes the father to make him a man.

The most noticeable feature of this car is the “Cathedral Ceiling”. I think they must have had basketball players like Wilt Chamberlin or Michael Jordan in mind when they designed in the headroom. I feel like Lilly Tomlin’s Edith Ann character in her oversize rocking chair.

Fit and Finish:

Excellent – with that homey feeling. The vaaaze (vase) is a nice touch, but a little effeminate. Or do you think guys should be a little more sensitive to such things.


If they made the rear seat pass through larger you could get a set of golf clubs in the trunk but they didn’t, so forget the clubs. You could put them in the back seat and forget the friends. On a positive note, you won’t have to drive when the guys get together for a day on the links.


Not bad actually. When they first came out you’d have to pay a premium but now I believe you can buy them closer to the MSRP.

Consumer Recommendation:

Great chick car but I doubt you’ll find many macho guys tooling around town in one.

The Competition:

VW New Beetle $16-26,000, Saturn SC $13-16,000, Hyundai Tiburon $16-19,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $18-28,000, Subaru Impreza $19-31,000, Toyota Corolla $14-15,000, Ford Focus $13-19,000, Honda Civic $13-21,000, Toyota Celica $17-24,000, Toyota Echo $10-11,000.

Good News:

Priced well, fun to drive, ok gas mileage, good commuter car, solid ride, brilliant front seat movement for rear seat access and decent rear seat legroom.

Bad News:

Uncomfortable seats and limited cargo area.

Standard Equipment:

2.0 liter 115 hp 4-cylinder engine, front wheel drive, power steering, 4-wheel anti-lock disc braking system, dual front and side airbags, child anchor system, semi automatic convertible top, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and door locks, power mirrors, remote trunk and fuel doors, rear cargo pass through, anti-theft alarm and immobilizer system.

Gas Stats:

22 City and 29 Highway MPG.


MSRP $21,850.

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