When the second generation Cabriolet finally launched for 1995, Volkswagen had waited so long to replace the A1 chassis that it completely bypassed the A2. What appeared then was a A3 chassis, and compared to the outgoing model it was bigger, rounder, softer and not appreciably sportier. Motivation was from the same ABA 2.0 inline-4 found in the standard Golf rated at 115 horsepower, so to make it ‘hipper’ Volkswagen dropped the “let” from the name.
It was, however, instantly recognizable as the new go-to affordable 4-seater drop-top, but sales were slow in the mid-90s. Volkswagen sold just over 5,800 1996s, for example. They were pretty expensive for a Golf at nearly $20,000 MSRP and over with some options, but then this was the cheapest German convertible you could buy. The big problem was that for less money you could get the much more entertaining (and reliable) Miata. The combination of low production numbers, the classic styling of the original and lack of enthusiast appeal mean we just about never feature them. I last wrote up a Cabriolet in July 2017, and the last Cabrio was a year earlier. So there’s nothing to see here? Not with this turned up and built one, that’s for sure!
The New Beetle isn’t a car which often featured on these pages. In fact, I can only find three times since we’ve started this site that they’ve come up. Considering that we’ve written up about 1,200 M3s in that same time period, I guess our stance on the Golf-based image car is pretty clear. However, the bones of the New Beetle aren’t really all that bad; based on the Mk.4 chassis, there are plenty of parts available and they’re cheap to buy. They offer a pretty practical hatchback package with some additional style. And, in turbocharged 1.8T form, they even offered a sporty ride.
Introduced in 2002, the Turbo S turned that package up a notch with help from the GTI. Underneath, the AWP-code 1.8T was rated at 180 horsepower at 11.6 lbs of boost, and had matching 173 lb.ft of torque. The transversely-mounted power was channeled through the same 6-speed manual you’d find in VW’s hot hatch and no automatic was available. Volkswagen outfit these cars with standard stability control and loaded them up with Monsoon sound, sunroof, active aerodynamics, leather, aluminum trim, power accessories and keyless entry. They also got special white and black gauges inside and a more pronounced twin-tip exhaust, along with fog lights integrated into new bumper covers. To help manage the speed, Volkswagen’s 1BE lower and stiffer suspension package was fit, along with BBS-made “Delta X” 17″ wheels with 225-45-17 tires. The package was pricey, at nearly $24,000 in 2002 – a not unsubstantial amount, considering that money would get you into the much nicer chassis of the Passat in wagon form at the same time. Unlike the pastel-toned entry colors of the New Beetle, the Turbo S was only available in Black, Silver, Platinum or Red with a total of 5,000 produced. Volkswagen hoped that these sporty changes would re-character the model which had primarily appealed in only one sexual demographic. Did it work?
Let’s discount, just for a moment, the reputation of the fourth generation water-cooled, front engined platform from Volkswagen. Yes, they’re known for not having the best build quality, and they were a bit pudgy. The electrics were sketchy and Volkswagen’s venerable 1.8T, which found its way into nearly every VAG product in the late 90s and early 00s, is certainly not without fault. But in many ways, the Mk.4 platform offered some exciting options for the Volkswagen faithful. First, the introduction of the turbocharged engine into the platform redefined the possibilities of the hot hatch. It was available not only in the top-spec GTi, but you could get a 4-door 1.8T, too – a first for Volkswagen, who had offered hot 4-door hatches in Europe but not the U.S. previously. Then, in 2002, Volkswagen upped its game even more with the introduction of the 25th Anniversary Edition in Europe. “But the GTi didn’t come out until 1983” U.S. fans said, forgetting that 1977 was the launch year of the 1.6 original in Europe. It seemed, for some time, that the U.S. would get snubbed again. After all, it wouldn’t be very smart for them to offer a 25th Anniversary Edition of a car that didn’t exist here, and “19th Anniversary” doesn’t have the same ring. But then, at the New York Auto Show in 2002, Volkswagen surprised U.S. fans by offering the near-identical package to them. The name was the GTi 337 Edition; the name harkened back to the original project code for the Golf GTi. Beefed up with 180 horsepower, a 6-speed manual, an awesome set of Recaro seats, aero tweaks and with some awesome shot-peened BBS RC wheels, it was an instant hit. Volkswagen sold 1,500 of these models to U.S. fans, and then when they had sold out, recreated the magic in 2003 with colorful options in the 20th Anniversary Edition. Today we’re looking at the 337 though, and I’ve found three for sale in varying states. 13 years on, are these hot hatches still appealing?
I’m a huge fan of many forms of motorsport, but I consider Formula 1 to be the pinnacle of the sport. But, of course, Formula 1 is an unrealistically expensive form of racing for nearly all, and even within the sport there are only 5 or 6 that could win on any given Sunday. On what many would consider the other end of the sport, NASCAR offers millions of adoring fans a spectacle beyond anything Formula 1 can offer. The engineering is kept more affordable and the racing is much closer; even towards the end of the season, the title is often up in the air as nearly any one of the top teams could field one or two drivers that might win. It’s specifically the variation and show that bring fans to NASCAR and will keep them coming. Are the two mutually exclusive? No, I don’t think they are – I might not be the biggest fan of NASCAR, but I can appreciate that it takes a serious talent to be able to drive those cars in the manner in which they are driven.
In many ways, the European tuning scene is very similar. Track enthusiasts typically baulk at the show cars, but there is something that unites them; a passion for cars. That passion can be different and manifest itself in many ways. For some, the ultimate car is a perfectly original example in pristine condition; others modify their cars for track use, compromising their daily driveability. But there is another group of enthusiasts that create show pieces – individualized cars with exhaustive detail work to set themselves apart from the crowd and draw smiles from enthusiasts. These show cars have become and increasingly popular and widespread and show both the range and breadth of expression in automotive passion. One of the most avid groups of enthusiasts are Volkswagen owners, and few cars capture the Zeitgeist of the Volkswagen scene quite as well as this car does: