Once Kevin Boyd bought a New Beetle, he discovered he had also joined a club. The Mercury News editorial art director says he and fellow Beetle drivers wave and smile at each other on the road.

Driving a new bug gives a feeling of being avant-garde, owner says


Here is a month-by-month look at New Beetle sales in the United States:

March:  2,3651

April: 4,870
May: 2,730
June: 7,466
July: 7,627
August: 7,392
TOTAL: 32,450

1 Went on sale mid-month
2 Recall for frayed engine wires and slowdown at factory to fix problem

Source: Volkswagen of America

Originally published in the San Jose Mercury News Friday, September 18, 1998 in the Drive section
Copyright © 1998 San Jose Mercury News

Life with a Beetle

BY KEVIN BOYD, Mercury News Staff Writer

FINGERPRINTS, fingerprints, fingerprints.

It's not easy being a Virgo with a Volkswagen New Beetle. Everywhere I go, fingerprints. Whenever I park somewhere, people circle around my car, peer into the windows, touch the paint or nudge fellow pedestrians and point. I've taken to carrying a cloth wherever I go.

At least two or three times a week in the two months I've driven it, someone has stopped me in a parking lot, or rolled down their window at a stop light to ask me ''How big's the engine, and where is it?'' or ''How does it drive?'' I guess it's good that I'm gregarious, although it makes for a difficult time if I'm having a bad day, arguing with someone in the car or just want to pick my nose in peace. The whole world is watching.

The fact that it's a New Beetle is probably enough to get noticed. Its shocking color might have something to do with the extra attention it seems to get. It's a bright green I've heard called chartreuse, grasshopper or puke green. I just call it grün. It's a color you either love or hate, I guess.

A certain T-shirt-wearing colleague of mine recently pointed out in print my penchant for ''thrift-store jackets and color-coordinated high-tops.'' Well, not all of my jackets come from Chez Amvet. Even I know that, sometimes, you just have to buy (or lease) the nice things. As the boss artist for a major metropolitan newspaper, I feel it's my duty not only to look good, but to be creative, too.

Now, I don't know if this violent green appeals to my editor friend, but I'm sure he'd agree that it works for me.

I'm not much of a ''club'' person, but I've discovered that I'm in one.

Whenever fellow Beetle drivers and I pass each other on the road, we smile and wave knowingly. I had a brief, stoplight conversation with a fellow who was driving with his wife and child in a red Beetle. He told me he likes to work his way into the groups that form around his car, pretending to be a fellow gawker tapping the window, then reach into his pocket, grab the remote control key fob and press the panic alarm and watch people scatter.

So, how is it? This is hands down the finest vehicle I've ever driven. I've wanted one since I first saw illustrations of the concept car more than five years ago. There's some nostalgia there. I used to drive an orange '78 Beetle when I lived in Chicago, until too many winters (two) spent parking next to the road-salt pile behind the Tribune turned it into a Flintstone mobile. (My feet went through the floor.)

But the New Beetle is an entirely different car. It drives different -- smoother and more powerful. It sounds different -- no high-pitched, air-cooled whine. And although it has enough of the original shape to push the nostalgia button, it looks different -- more substantial, more streamlined.

This Beetle has a lot more pickup than the old one. It has 115 horsepower, so it's pretty peppy. It drives smooth. There's very little road vibration, even at high speeds. There's also very little wind noise -- I'm guessing because of the streamlined shape -- so it's real easy to go too fast if you're not paying attention. The roomy interior has surprised several of my passengers. Being 6-foot-1 has kind of limited my choices in vehicles. Many don't have enough head room for me. Robin, my domestic partner, says, ''Why, it's so tall in here you could wear a cowboy hat.'' The sound system is also quite powerful and clear -- ''slammin','' as the kids today would say. I like the remote key fob a lot, too. It keeps me from scratching the door with my other keys.

All that stuff is great, but it's really the style that makes it what it is. There's the shape. There's the wide, open dashboard space and the large windows. And you may have heard about the flower bud vase. Mind you, in California you can't leave any live flowers in a parked car without having them wilt, so it's silk or plastic flowers or it's just a glorified pencil holder. But the really amazing thing to see is the snazzy color selection for the dashboard lights: bright violet with bright red highlights.

Now that I've said all that nice stuff, there are a few things Robin and I have noticed that could be improved. If the volks at Volkswagen are listening, I hope they will consider the following suggestions:

There's no dome light. The designers opted to put the interior lighting into the rearview mirror. There are two problems with that: It's easy to hit the switch by accident while adjusting the mirror, potentially leaving the light on all day, or turning it off. It also doesn't shed much light in the back seats. I don't mind the light in the mirror so much, but think they should put the switch elsewhere.

Robin complains that there should be some kind of handle grip over the door, at least on the passenger side, so there would be something to hold onto when I go whipping around corners. She also says I'm a lead foot. But I've noticed the same effect when I ride in her Saab, so I don't think it's just the way I drive. I usually grab the shoulder belt in her car. That doesn't work as well in the Beetle.

Because the side windows have such a high arch, I get blinded by sunlight from either side whenever I drive within an hour after sunrise or before sunset.

The flip-down window shades can screen the front view, but are too short to cover the side windows. I've thought of at least three things that might help. The windows could be tinted, but I doubt if that would look very good. Some kind of extender on the flip-down shades might work, but that might interfere with the vanity mirrors and lights. Another idea is to design some kind of retractable shade that pulls down out of the roof five or six inches, and that snaps back when you open the door. Or they could motorize it like the windows, locks, etc. I guess I'll have to buy some wraparound sunglasses.

More interior storage space also would be nice. The glove box and the two door pockets filled up pretty quickly, so I've ended up with no place to put cassettes and other junk. Mine came as a nonsmoking car. There was no ashtray -- though I understand you can replace one of the four cup holders with an optional ash tray accessory -- so a cup holder has to stand in for small trash like gum wrappers and used tissues. I guess Germans aren't accustomed to having trash in their cars. Some kind of built-in trash and/or storage bin, perhaps between the seats, would be nice for us untidy Americans.

I find the headrests pretty useless. They look nice, kind of a squared-off doughnut shape. But I can't seem to adjust them so that my head rests comfortably. Not much cushioning, and the best I can do is a one-point contact between the very back of my skull and the top of the headrest. Something squishier, conforming more to the shape of a human head (mine) would be nice.

All that said, I really do love my New Beetle. Don't everyone run out and buy a green Beetle like mine. I like being a little different. And you can point at it, stand around it and look at it all you like. But please, don't leave fingerprints on the windows.

If you're nice, I just might offer you a ride.