No car has stirred up the market recently like Volkswagen’s new Beetle. Its combination of retro-cute styling and modern mechanicals has made it a hit with drivers of every age group, especially those in their teens and early twenties. And like generations of young auto enthusiasts before them, they’re already looking for more bang for their bug!
Anticipating this need, Volkswagen is weighing in with a muscle bug of its own, this 1999 New Beetle Turbo. Borrowed from the Passat GLS, this bug’s 1.8 liter, 20-valve turbo four uses a tried and true recipe for power. The turbocharger and intercooler make for cool, high-density intake air. While the 5 valves per cylinder keep the engine breathing heavy in the higher revs. The result is a breezy 150 horsepower, and 162 pound-feet of torque.
Performance is much improved over the base 115-horse Beetle. 0 to 60 blows by a third faster at 7.2 seconds, while 1/4 mile sprints require only 15.6 seconds at 91 MPH.
The engine revs willingly to its 6,500 RPM redline, with 10.9 pounds of smooth turbo boost felt from 2,200 up. Fuel economy has not suffered, though. EPA ratings on our 5-speed manual Turbo are 25 city and 31 highway. We managed a fine 28 miles per gallon in mixed driving conditions.
Rather than add lots of bodywork and graphics to make a screaming, look-at-me performance statement, VW prefers the “hide-in-plain-sight” approach. The now-familiar Beetle shape is in its own way the perfect camouflage. In fact, short of popping the hood, there is only one way of telling the Beetle Turbo apart from its less powerful siblings. A small spoiler is hidden above the rear glass, and deploys automatically. But only above 93 MPH, so unless you live in Montana, you’ll have to raise it yourself to show off.
Differentiating the ‘99 Beetle from last year’s models is no easier. A few features have been added, including side blinker lights, a driver’s sunglass holder, and rear reading lights. Functionally, ABS is now standard on all New Beetles.
Base price for the Turbo Beetle in GLS trim is $19,525. The GLX package, with more amenities, lists for $21,425. Our loaded GLS tester stickers at a reasonable $20,980.
The Beetle Turbo is not meant to be an all-out sports car. But it does succeed nicely at being what it is, a fun, functional hatchback coupe for those who drive their bug in the fast lane. By adding turbo power, Volkswagen has just made the fun come that much quicker!
But for some folks, stock is never quick enough. We were introduced to the folks at EIP Tuning by way of this supercharged 1998 New Beetle.
Built as a rolling resume for the Westminster, Maryland company, EIP made sure everyone was aware of this Super Beetle’s hot rod nature. Wheels, tires, spoiler and especially graphics all proclaim loud and clear that this is a bug to be reckoned with.
EIP’s power equation relies on their own compact Rotrex supercharger. About the size of an alternator, the Rotrex is ideal for compact engine bays like the Beetle’s. This ultra-efficient unit uses planetary bearings instead of gears to spin a small, turbo-like compressor at over 140,000 RPMs.
It’s an impressive and unique design, and delivers horsepower to this Beetle to the tune of 180. That’s 65 more than the stock 2 liter, and 30 more than our ‘99 Turbo.
The torque curve is smooth and steep, allowing this bug to take flight at the dragstrip, knocking off 0 to 60 runs in 7 seconds and 1/4 mile blasts in 15 seconds at 92 MPH. That’s just a shade quicker, however, than our Turbo Beetle.
Handling is improved via H&R coil-over struts, a stiffer sway bar, and beefy Toyo tires on 18” Konig alloys.
The complete package is very compliant and streetable for daily use. But it’s equally at home at the local autocross or dragstrip!
Now, the entry fee for an EIP Beetle like our tester is less than you might expect. Building on a $16,700 ‘98 Beetle, EIP’s full treatment adds $6,500, for an as-tested price of just $23,240.
The fact that both of these cars exist is a testament to the power of nostalgia. The new Beetle has captured the fancy of a new generation, and rekindled an old flame for millions more. It also took our ‘99 Drivers’ Choice Award for best overall.
The idea of a Super Beetle is a natural evolution of the line, and whichever version you favor, the 1999 new Beetle Turbo, or the EIP supercharged Beetle, both are proof that Beetlemania is here to stay!
Engine: 1.8 Liter, 20-valve Turbo 4 Cylinder
Torque: 162 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.2 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.6 Seconds @ 91 MPH
EPA Mileage: 25 MPG City 31 MPG Highway