1998 Volkswagen Beetle
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Volkswagen’s New Beetle is 10 years old

Happy birthday, Volkswagen New Beetle! Whitney Friedlander, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Introduced as a concept at the Detroit Auto Show in 1994, VW’s New Beetle officially hit the streets in 1998. Like many other 10-year-olds, it still holds a strong resemblance to the cute little bug’s baby version as it prepares to mature into its fun-loving, yet slightly more sophisticated, teen years. Here we take a look at the significant changes to this heritage-style two-door that arguably launched the retro-auto trend that can now be seen in Mini Cooper and Chrysler’s PT Cruiser and new Dodge Challenger.

1998 From the much-hyped “inspiration pod” flower potholder in the dashboard to the iconic design based on a series of circles, “the car was a pretty big deal both for Volkswagen and for the industry as a whole,” said Derek Jenkins, the chief designer for Volkswagen North America who has worked on the New Beetle since its inception. “The original Beetle is much more ornate and baroque. That’s where our modern elements of design came into play.”

Jenkins adds that the designers made a point of simplifying the New Beetle’s cabin, using a large central speedometer and a grab handle mounted on the dash. The engine and air intake, famous for being in the classic version’s rear, were moved to the front while the headlights and tail lights were tie-ins to the original. (Volkswagen)

The toddler years out of the way and its sea legs firmly in place, the New Beetle now wanted to go fast. In 2002, the 180-power Turbo S option was introduced for the 1.8-liter I-4 engine, as well as the six-speed manual transmission. (Volkswagen)

A pivotal year for the New Beetle, 2003 brought the long-awaited convertible model. “This was something people wanted a lot sooner,” Jenkins said. “But the top was a fairly sophisticated development.” There are two main things Jenkins loves about the convertible. When up, the rounded top still maintains the car’s circular geometric shape. And the top is still exposed when it’s folded down, an homage to the original Beetle.

There were also two new color choices: a mystic light blue, called Vapor Blue, and a sporty, cutting-edge yellow, called Reflex Yellow. Cashing in on the online shopping cache, these colors were only available through VW.com and only 2,000 units of each were made. (Volkswagen)

Eight years in and time for a face-lift. The original New Beetle fenders, which were round and bubbling, were redefined to follow the diameter of the wheel, Jenkins said. He added that these changes, along with a stronger eye or focal point in the headlights and a lower grill and diffuser, “gave the car a sportier presence with more muscle while still being true to Beetle brand.”

Mixing old with new, the designers added “heritage” color options such as this beige hue to the exterior and put in an iPod auxiliary deck -- for a device that Jenkins didn’t even own at the time. Little else of the interior has been altered. Jenkins feels it’s “still one of the most contemporary bold interior designs that there is. Even with the Mini and Mustang and other outspoken heritage designs. “

Sadly, this year also marked the last for the bug’s TDI engine, which got gas mileage highs in the 30s or 40s, Jenkins said. While VW is launching new turbo diesels in the Jetta, he said there are no plans to bring it back for the bug or for an electric or hybrid version in this generation. (Volkswagen)

This limited-edition sleek white bug was part of last year’s lineup. Coincidentally, that was the same color that ousted silver from the top spot in the DuPont 2007 Global Automotive Color Popularity Report(Volkswagen)

Here the new New Beetle stands proudly in its 10th birth year, with a starting price of $17,365 for the hardtop and $23,125 for the soft-top convertible. The 2009 will launch at the end of this year, with the same minimal changes. A completely new generation of the car will start production in 2010 and be on the market later that year. (Volkswagen)