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An Automotive Icon Freshened And Refreshened
2006 Volkswagen New Beetle TDI
Road Test By

2006 Volkswagen New Beetle TDI Road Test
Volkswagen's legendary Beetle lives on. Click on images for larger views.


Highs: Successful redesign
of an automotive icon

Lows: Floaty ride, ho-hum
performance and mileage

It's easy to screw up an automotive icon.

Just ask Ford about the Thunderbird and Pontiac about the GTO. Both have not lived up to their namesake's glory of yesteryear, failing to connect with old fans and failing to win over new ones. The Thunderbird has been axed and the GTO is set for an extreme makeover — while Chevy has second, third and fourth thoughts about turning its Camaro showstopper into reality.

The challenges of bringing an automotive icon into the 21st century make the successes all that more remarkable. Automakers that have hit home runs include BMW with the MINI, Chrysler with the PT Cruiser and, arguably the biggest success of all, VW with the Beetle.

In 1998 Volkswagen not only resurrected the legendary love bug — in doing so, it also resurrected the company itself in North America. Nearly everyone who was ever affected by the original wanted a new one and others fell in love for the first time. The car was a hit, showroom traffic increased, and sales of all VWs benefited.

It's now 2006 and the buzz has died down around the New Beetle. Special colors and models, like the Turbo S, have come — in an attempt to maintain market momentum — and gone. But, as we found on our road test, there's still lots to love about this modern classic.

2006 Volkswagen New Beetle TDI Road Test
Smoother bumpers, creased fenders and clear-eye taillights are part of the '06 update.


Vehicle Type Sub-compact,
Price Range* $19,020 to $23,615 (US),
$26,885 to $31,195 (CDN)

Engine I4, 1.9-liter, eight-valve, turbocharged, diesel
Horsepower 100 at 4,000 RPM
Torque 177 pound-feet at
1,800 to 2,400 RPM
Curb Weight 3,016 pounds
Weight Per Horsepower 30.2 pounds
Transmissions Five-speed manual

Six-speed automatic
with manumatic shifting
0-to-60 MPH 10.4 seconds
EPA Mileage 35 MPG (city),
42 MPG (highway)
33 MPG (city),
35 MPG (highway)
*Prices are for the model trim tested and include VW's destination fee.
VW significantly freshened the icon in 1998 and in 2006 carefully refreshened it.

The latest update is definitely evolutionary rather than revolutionary, featuring sharpened fenders, smoother bumpers, more-oval headlights, clear-eye crystal-like taillights, and, inside, a new instrument cluster with chrome rings around the speedometer and vents.

The design works well — looking new without making the previous design look old.

Two things become immediately apparent when buckling into the driver's seat: the immense head room and the immense dashboard. Both are a result of the bubble design and take a bit of getting used to. We ratchet the seat to a high position to make the seating position feel closer to normal.

Be assured the tallest of the tall fit fine in the front seats. The back seats are a different story, however, with the sloping glass suiting these best for children. Also of note, the back seats accommodate two passengers, not three like most sub-compacts.

And the trunk? It's a competitive 12 cubic feet but the odd shape restricts what fits inside. The back seats fold down for more versatility.

The New Beetle's instantly recognizable body rides atop the Golf's mechanicals. Ride motions are somewhat more floaty than the Golf, softly bobbing over road imperfections a while after encountering them. Again, the bubble shape plays a role, giving the Beetle a high center of gravity.

This also contributes to the car's appreciable body roll. Corners must be taken at moderate speeds.

Despite these quibbles, we are quite impressed with how the New Beetle behaves in daily driving. Whether on the freeway or around the city, the bug performs like a good car.

2006 Volkswagen New Beetle TDI Road Test
With original styling cues, the New Beetle's interior is a portrait of classic elegance.

Two engines are available in the New Beetle: a 2.5-liter 150-horse gas five-cylinder and a 1.9-liter 100-horse diesel four-cylinder. The latter was in our test car.

The diesel TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) fires up with a unique clatter and low rumble. The clatter dissipates as the engine warms, the rumble stays. Noise is a negative stigma associated with diesels but, although obviously audible at low speeds, it all but disappears at high speeds.

Stink is another negative stigma but really not an issue unless you're outside the vehicle.

The word that best describes the TDI's acceleration is leisurely. Acceleration happens eventually not quickly. The bug requires the better part of the acceleration lane to merge onto the highway and a decent patch of asphalt to overtake an 18-wheeler on a back road.

Even equipped with VW's snappy dual-clutch DSG transmission, the TDI takes its time. And this is fine. The Beetle TDI is a fuel sipper not a 'Bahn burner.

This brings us to fuel mileage. We expected better. The TDI achieved a very good 33 miles per gallon in the city but only two-MPG better, 35, on the highway. Some gas-powered econoboxes we recently drove for our Jetta 2.5 review (
Road Test) did similar in the city and better by several MPG on the highway.

And saving fuel — and therefore money — is the whole point behind the diesel Beetle, which costs $1,210 more than its gas counterpart.

Overall, for an automotive icon that clearly puts form ahead of function, the New Beetle TDI performs admirably. Of course, not everyone wants a car this funky and the bug has its niche.

An interesting footnote: The New Beetle's designer, J Mays, also penned the Thunderbird flop. Perhaps his creative juices ran dry.

Also see:
New Beetle Photos

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