Road Test: Long-Term Road Test
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Long-Term Test: 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle
By Edmunds.com Editors
Date posted: 01-01-1999
The weather in Detroit, Mich., has turned cold and blustery, and our Beetle's diesel doesn't seem to get its best mileage when it's cold. Our news editor (also known as the "Motor City Madman"), John Clor, discovered that the little temperature icon in the gauge cluster lights up (in violet-blue, of course) when the Beetle is cold, and stays on until the little diesel engine warms itself up. While it's consistently getting about 40 mpg, this isn't as high as some have predicted (people talk about a magical 45 mpg, but we've never hit it).
Sadly, during the last 750 miles, it has become apparent that our Beetle has lost some of its shiny new luster. Interior materials are starting to deteriorate. Smudges on the black dash don't wipe off easily. Light gray door panels need frequent cleanings. Seats and floor mats are unable to hide dust and dirt. The gray color coating on the driver-side interior door pull is chipping off and, since it is a ``touch zone,'' this detracts from the overall interior finish. While Clor's family keeps its cars fairly tidy, he pities the Beetle owner with a dog; hair sticks to the seat fabric like stains to a Monica Lewinsky dress.
One thing that has not deteriorated, however, is enthusiasm from onlookers. Each day, people smile, gesture or comment about the car. Clor wanted to know what an owner of an old Beetle thought about the New Beetle, so he asked his brother-in-law, Pete Pink (a Detroit fireman), who owns a custom 1974 VW Beetle, to go for a spin. In just 10 minutes, Pete knew this new car was far more capable than any previous-generation bug--including his. His '74 has a dropped front axle, chrome wheels, a custom interior and is painted Viper red with white and orange flames on the front--and even that doesn't get the same reaction as our sunny New Beetle. The one thing Pete says his car has that the new Beetle can't match? The horn. "They shoulda kept the old horn sound,'' he says. "That was a distinct note that everyone recognized as a Beetle."
At a gas station one day, Clor noticed a fellow New Beetle owner trying to set the fuel cap on top of her bright blue car while she was pumping gas. When her filler cap rolled off the roof onto the ground, our Motor City Madman showed her how the notches in the cap fit on the open filler door. It seems we weren't the only ones who found this out the hard way.
Last month at the car's 10,000-mile checkup, the dealer ordered a new driver's seat track to fix the loose frame on our test car. Though the part was on national backorder, the same VW service specialist, Pat Mosher, called within a week to say the part was in. With 11,500 miles on the ticker, it was back to Vyletel Buick / Isuzu / Volkswagen of Sterling Heights, Mich.
Upon arrival, Clor and family were once again wowed by Mosher's friendliness and thoughtful attitude. They left the car and came back the next day to pick it up. Kudos to Vyletel for delivering the car washed. A tag on the dash read: "Your Car Will Dry Spot Free" and explained the dealer's car wash system. Still stunned by the entire dealer experience, Clor is convinced that service like that is worth the harrowing drive down I-696 (known as Detroit's Autobahn), past the old Army Tank Plant, past the sprawling General Motors Tech Center, past Chrysler's Cirrus/Stratus/Breeze assembly plant, and all the way to 17 Mile Road in Sterling Heights. The dealer's paperwork revealed that our new seat frame was installed and covered by warranty.
Next month, the New Beetle will have to carry hockey equipment to the rink, as Clor and his wife need to haul two pint-sized goaltenders to different arenas for games. Until then, they will keep rolling along, buoyed by the fact that they have an enjoyable car, a great dealer and one last month to live the VW experience.
Best Fuel Economy: 40.3 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 39.3 mpg
Body Damage: $0
Maintenance Costs: $0
Problems: Chipping interior trim.
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