Back then (1999). . . . .TDI-powered Beetle breaks 50-mpg

TDI engine boosted power, economy for ’99 VW Beetle. (Bud Wells photos)

(Twenty-five years ago, in 1999, I drove and reviewed a Volkswagen Beetle with a turbo-direct-injected diesel engine. A list in the recently released book, “2,600 Cars and a Dog Sled,” shows I drove 105 VWs in my career, sixth most of the 72 brands driven. Following are excerpts from the 1999 column:)

The red Volkswagen Beetle delivered in early February 1999 wasn’t discernible from the one I had driven the previous year. A definite lookalike, except color; inside, it was the same friendly interior, with a big yellow daisy smiling up from the bud vase.

Fire it up, though, and a cackling or light clattering sound from the engine gave away it secret – it’s a diesel.

This one is no ordinary diesel. It’s Volkswagen’s TDI diesel (turbo-direct-injected diesel). The injection system forces the fuel-air mixture directly into the cylinders, resulting in less unburned fuel and increased engine efficiency. With a turbocharger, a smart brain and high-tech combustion chamber, the engine swirls fuel rather than guzzling.

Before the week ended, the Beetle produced the second-best fuel mileage reading I had attained to that point. From southwest Denver, we drove north on U.S. 85 to Greeley, then several stops throughout the city, before heading home via I-25. For the 140 miles, the VW averaged 50.7 miles per gallon. Its EPA rating was 42-49.

The Honda Civic VX hit 61 mpg in 1994.

The only higher mpg reading I had recorded by ’99 was five years previous to that when a ’94 Honda Civic VX showed an astounding 61.2 mark. Other top averages I had achieved by 1999 were:

  • a ’78 VW Rabbit Diesel 47.9;
  • ’96 Geo Metro 47.6;
  • ’91 Geo Metro 47.0;
  • ’97 VW Passat TDI Diesel 46.9;
  • ’81 Isuzu I-Mark Diesel 45.6;
  • ’79 Renault LeCar 45.1;
  • ’94 Suzuki Swift 43.6’;
  • ’91 Nissan Sentra 43.3;
  • ’95 Hyundai Accent 42.0;
  • ’81 Toyota Starlet 41.6;
  • ’81 VW Dasher Diesel 41.3;
  • ’81 Plymouth Champ 40.8 and
  • ’95 Geo Metro 40.0.

The VW Beetle is very roomy inside; enough room for a Stetson. Its deep side windows create a problem from too much heat on a sunny day. The sun visor is too small to help by pulling it around the side.

Turning circle of the front-drive Beetle is only 32.8 feet, one of the shortest circles of all cars. Seats, as has long been the standard for VW products, are adjusted with knobs and rollers. Front-seat height is adjusted with a ratcheting pump handle.

The TDI engine added $1,275 to the cost of the Beetle, boosting its sticker price to $18,425. It was equipped with air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, AM/FM/CD stereo, 16-inch alloy wheels and fog lamps.