No one forgets their first car. For me, it was a 1962 Volkswagen Bug. With my own savings, I bought it from family friends in 1972 for $500. It was beige, in near-pristine condition, had a four-speed stick shift, the original Blaupunkt AM/FM stereo radio and chrome front and back bumpers. The VW insignia shield, a rare decal near the front trunk handle, was intact.
I drove the car everywhere and washed and waxed when it didn’t need cleaning. I learned how to change the oil and adjust the valves, which to this day is the full extent of my mechanical knowledge.
(Editor’s note: We’re visiting our archives to review cars once new and now well-suited for best buy status in the used market. TheWeeklyDriver.com is now 10 years old, and one solid offering is a 2003 Volkswagen Beetle. It’s a decade old now, still a fine car and readily available.)
My reminiscence is likely not too dissimilar from many other folks’ VW memories. Which is why in a round-about way Volkswagen’s New Beetle returned to the market in 1998.
The Volkswagen-buying public also wanted a new convertible Beetle, and it took five more years for it to return. It debuted in 2003 with hopes of reversing the Beetle’s falling sales from the previous three years.
For my weekly test drove, I zipped around town in the 2.0-liter 115-horsepower 4-cylinder, 5-speed automatic transmission convertible GLS. It was simultaneously the same car I owned as a teenager and a vehicle nothing like a 1962 VW Bug.
For starters, the vehicle’s engine is in the front, the opposite of the model from yesteryear. Standard features include front-wheel drive, antilock brakes, independent front and semi-independent torsion-beam rear suspension, daytime running lights, front foglights, cruise control, power heatable outside mirrors, 16-inch alloy wheels and a host of other features longtime bug and beetle enthusiasts would have never thought feasible.
The Beetle handles smoothly and its equally impressive maneuvering is enhanced by the tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a superbly designed interior that extends from the clean lines of the instrument paneling to the surprising amount of head and leg room, especially in the front seats.
For backseat passengers, one lever moves the top and bottom sections of the front seat forward and that leaves ample entry room. At night, passengers will also quickly notice that nearly every button, switch or latch is illuminated, including the door locks.
In my instance, the attractive illumination further complemented the light blue exterior, black interior and black convertible top.
While driving on surface streets was surprisingly enjoyable (like being in control at the old bumper cars carnival ride), open road and freeway driving was better than expected.
The car accelerates and moves into traffic without hesitation. And despite its unique styling and small appearance, the vehicle held its own in tight freeway situations.
Like many convertibles, the rear side views from the driver’s seat are restrictive. Likewise, the added length and height room must be taken from elsewhere, and with the Beetle it’s in the trunk. There’s only five cubic feet of space, an area easily filled with the convertible top cover and a medium-sized overnight bag.
And there is one other nice, small touch in the instrument panel. It’s a narrow, plastic removable cylinder described in the vehicle’s manual as a vase.
The vase is another remembrance of VW Bugs from years long gone. If memory serves correctly, many VW owners filled the pullout, rectangular ashtray with dirt or sand and planted a small plant or flower. A cactus was the plant of choice in my ’62 Bug.
2003 VolkswagenBeetle Convertible GLS
Safety Features — ABS brakes, daytime running lights, front foglights, front and side impact supplemental airbags, lower anchor for child restraints systems.
Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 24 mpg (city), 30 mpg (highway).
Warranty — New vehicle, 4 years/50,000 miles; powertrain, 5 years, 60,00 miles; corrosion, 12 years/unlimited miles.
Price Range — $15,950/$26,725.