Enjoy cheap and cheerful motoring
WHAT YOU GET
A lot of attention. Paranoia. A strange compunction to make sure you look respectable before you get in, as you know people will stare at you. The Beetle provokes all of these reactions, which is remarkable when you consider the fact that it's basically a re-skinned Golf.
If anything, the Beetle interior is even more of a shock than the outside – full marks to the design team for doing the job properly, rather than filling it with Golf and Polo dials. Of course, there are plenty of telltale Volkswagen signs; the switches, the firm seats, the positive gearbox – but you don't really notice them. What you do notice are all the natty stylish touches. The big central circular instrument cluster with its huge numbers and cute little built-in rev counter. Plus, of course, the vase, ready for you to fill with flower power. More macho buyers can pretend it's a penholder or something.
As you'd expect from the bubble-like shape, there's plenty of headroom up front. The base of the windscreen is a long way distant across a vast shelf of dashboard. Rear seat occupants will be less enamoured however, with the sharply sloping roofline severely cutting headroom. Luggage space is rather tight, despite the hatchback arrangement.
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Equipment levels include most things on the average wish list; the 2.0-litre version includes alloy wheels, air conditioning, central locking, electric front windows, ABS, power steering, tinted glass, a decent stereo and power/heated mirrors. On the safety front, there's twin side and front airbags built around a platform that's probably the safest thing this side of £30,000. Nice touches include folding rear seat that increases boot space, the height adjustable seats and the three 12V power sockets. Options include a CD changer, leather upholstery, a sunroof, a winter pack with heated front seats and headlight washers and and a four-speed automatic transmission.
WHAT YOU PAY
Despite demand that is still fairly strong, Beetles were perceived to be overpriced new, and this, combined with the inconvenience of left-hand drive, has seen early model's used values take a resolute clobbering. A 1999 T-registered Beetle was similarly priced to the Golf GTi with which it shared its 2.0-litre engine, £15,575 for the Beetle vs. £15,175 for the Golf. Take a look at the valuations now and your Beetle will be worth around £2,250 while the smug Golf owner's wheels stand him or her in for at least £1,800. Volkswagen responded in part to the accusation of overpricing by reducing the new price of the Beetle by over £700 when right-hand drive production began. This means that the left-hand drive models are great value as a used buy as long as you don't mind sitting on the wrong side. The 1.6-litre models are good value used, with £2,000 netting you a 2000 W plated car. The more powerful 1.8T and V5 versions have been slow sellers, the public proving resistant to the concept of a quick Bug. A 1.8T on a 2001 Y plate opens at £3,100. Insurance for the Beetle ranges between Group 8 and Group 15.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The Beetle mechanicals have been proven over the years in Golfs, Boras and Passats, so there are no great surprises here. Due to some initial grouses about build quality, the Mexican plant at Puebla instigated better quality control procedures which right-hand drive cars benefit from. The earlier cars have a lower grade of plastics used in such fittings as the cup holders and these can be broken fairly easily. One feature which bugs Beetle owners no end is the headlamp switch mounted between the driver's door and the steering wheel. Anyone with longer legs will soon smash this dial into the fascia with their knee, and it doesn't come back out easily. Finally, with automatic models check the automatic boxes. Many of the early cars feature a four-spee 'box which allows 'Drive' to be selected and then lets the revs build for a second before lurching forward unceremoniously. Check that you can get along with this feature.
You'll want to check on the history of your prospective purchase. Many cars were imported from Europe or the USA, and these had inferior specifications to UK cars. This could result in potentially calamitous repercussions if not disclosed to insurers. Ignition coils on the Volkswagen 1.8-litre engines have been a notable weak link.
Check that the car has a decent service history and is free from parking knocks and scrapes.
(Approx based on a 1999 2.0 manual) Despite its more individual appeal, parts prices for the Beetle are standard Volkswagen fare. A clutch assembly is around £170, while an exhaust system with new catalyst is just under £700, while front brake pads retail at just under £100. Rear pads are £27 a pair and a new radiator is £140. A replacement headlamp unit sells for around £115, or you can buy just the lens section for about £40.
Try to justify a reason for buying a Beetle over a Golf on purely rational grounds and you'll find yourself batting on an extremely sticky wicket. Where the Beetle does score as a used buy is as a cheap and cheerful fun car. An early left-hand drive manual car best fits this bill, although residual values will be better with a more conventional right-hand drive.