Currently reading: Used car buying guide: Volkswagen Beetle
The first modern Beetle is basically a Mk4 Golf in fun, retro-inspired clothing, so it’s no wonder owners tend to hang on to them. We look at the early-2000s bug
John Evans
News
5 mins read
2 March 2020

It was intended as a development mule for the Mk4 Golf R32, but the Beetle RSI was such a hit that it went into production, albeit limited to 250 copies. That was in 2001. Today, used ones start at around £40,000. It’s an intriguing mix of curvy styling underpinned by Mk4 mechanicals and Haldex four-wheel drive running gear and powered by a 3.2-litre V6 producing 221bhp. There’s no vase.

That’s right: the much-mocked receptacle on the dashboard is absent from the RSI. No such luck with its more run-of-the-mill stablemates, although browsing the classifieds, it’s interesting to see how few sellers risk trying to seduce buyers with a cheap plastic flower. The thing is, it does pigeonhole the model, which is a shame, because the Beetle is a smile-inducing, reliable and beautifully built motor powered by a choice of appealing engines.

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To distinguish it from the air-cooled original, Volkswagen called it the New Beetle. It was produced from 1998 to 2011, when it was replaced by the, er, New Beetle. It was always a two-door but practicality is boosted by folding rear seats. There’s bags of head room, too, at least in the front.

Such was demand that many of the first Beetles to be registered here were left-hand drive. It was only in 1999 that the first right-hand-drive cars began to arrive. They were powered by a 114bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine. Later on, a 101bhp 1.6 joined the range, followed by sportier offerings in the forms of the 168bhp 2.3 V5 and 148bhp 1.8T. There was a 100bhp 1.9 TDI diesel, too.

Then, just as the model appeared to be blending into the background, out popped the more stylish cabriolet. That was in 2003. Engines included the 1.6 and 2.0 petrols, the diesel and a new 74bhp 1.4 petrol, also available with the tin-top version. A facelift (sharper wheel-arch edges and restyled headlights) came in 2005.

Today in the classifieds, images of used Beetles appear to paint a flattering picture. Most interiors look to have aged extremely well and the two-colour dashboard (pale below, dark above) and pale door trims help lighten the interior. One dealer we spoke to had nothing but praise for Golf Mk4 quality and reckoned it’s mirrored in the Beetle. True, he said, light-coloured seat upholstery can absorb the blue from jeans (it’s a devil to remove), but the switchgear feels tight, cabins are rattle-free and seats feel firm and supportive.

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The highest-mileage car we saw was a 200,000-mile 1.9 TDI. Many have done well over 100,000 and, interestingly, have had few owners, which must demonstrate an attachment to the vehicle.

Standard kit includes those folding rear seats and more expensive trims bring alloy wheels, air conditioning and heated, leather seats.

Its vase may hold a flower, but if you’re a shrinking violet, the Beetle probably isn’t for you. As a brighter alternative to a Mk4 Golf, though, it’s worth a look.

How to get one in your garage

An expert's view

Richard Duncan, owner, RD Garage Services: “The Beetle is a tough car inside and out, but too many are neglected. Oil and filter changes are essential to prevent problems such as oil sludging in the sump and to keep belt tensioners well lubricated. The engine bay is cramped, making even checking or changing the battery more of a chore than it needs to be. And some parts are becoming hard to track down. I’m thinking especially of convertibles. Meanwhile, we’re seeing more Beetles failing their MOT for things like airbag lights. My favourite is the 3.2 RSI, but the V5 is fun and nothing like as rare.”

Buyer beware...

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■ Engine: Make sure the timing belt and water pump have been replaced every 60,000 miles or so. A sluggish diesel may have a failed solenoid or a clogged turbo vane. Misfiring and rough running on 1.4 and 1.6 engines can be traced to problems with the ECU or engine management sensor. Poor running may also be a faulty mass airflow sensor, failing coil packs or incorrect spark plug gaps.

Transmission: Gearboxes are tough. On the manual, check for a rattling dual-mass flywheel. It’s expensive to replace.

Suspension and brakes: Listen for front suspension lower arm bushes and anti-roll bar bushes knocking. If the ABS light is on, a new wheel sensor or ABS control unit may be required.

■ Body: Any rust is likely to be repair related. Check the condition of the headlight release mechanism for bulb changing. It’s plastic and breaks easily. On convertibles, ensure the plastic release handle is present. Scrutinise the nose and tail for parking damage.

■ Interior: As well as checking for the ABS light, watch for the airbag warning light, which can be triggered by faulty crash sensors at the front, requiring removal of wings and bumper to replace. Window regulators can fail. An effective fix usually involves fitting not only a new regulator but also new motor and glass.

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Also worth knowing

For those hard-to-find items, try VW’s classic parts division at volkswagen-classic-parts.de/en. Alternatively, there’s Heritage Parts Centre, VW UK’s authorised classic parts supplier.

How much to spend

£400-£999: Choice of tidy but high-mileage cars up to 2005 and including some cabriolets.

£1000-£1749: Mileages now below 100k and some interesting cars with good histories, such as a one-owner, 2003-reg 1.8 T for £1290.

£1750-£2499: Mainly 2006, post-facelift cars but still knocking on the door of 100k miles.

£2500-£3450: Nicer facelift cars up to 2010-reg with 60k-90k miles.

£3500-£4899: More sub-60k-mile cars in top condition.

£4900-£5500: The best cars with lowest mileages.

One we found

Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T Cabriolet, 2008/08-reg, 81,000 miles, £2990: Described as a “tidy little eye-catcher”. But there’s more to this car than good looks, including a full service history and £2000 of recent work. “Roof works perfectly”, says the ad, so the fragile control handle must be present.

READ MORE

Saying goodbye to the Volkswagen Beetle 

The VW Beetle story 

James Ruppert: why you need a Volkswagen Beetle

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renster 2 March 2020

I had one for a few months

I ran a 2.0 back for a few months in the early 2000's... headroom was appalling in the back and it was really low-geared and thirsty. I think 32mpg on a long run was the best I could get. It was a quirky thing though, and seemed a bit tighter than a Golf IV I drove around then too.

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