Before I purchased my New Golf (see my review under its header), I owned a New Beetle from December of 1998 to April 1999. The car (1999 GLS 2.0)proved to be very nicely equipped, coming standard with power windows, door locks, remote mirrors, a six speaker sound system, anti-lock brakes (which on several occasions postponed its demise to April 2, 1999) and, most importantly, safety belts with emergency tensioning retractors. I have learned that it is this particular piece of equipment which allowed me to walk away almost unscathed from a crash that totaled the car. The emergency tensioning retractor is a device housed in the seat belt mechanism, which, at the moment of an impact serious enough to force airbag deployment, fires off a series of small explosive charges to turn a tiny rotary engine, that, in turning can take between five and seven inches of slack out of the safety belt. The net effect of this feature is to move the driver and front passenger farther away from the airbags as they deploy milliseconds later. Consequentially, in a forty mile-per-hour rear-end collision (my bad, sorry), I barely brushed the airbag, and walked away from the car with a small scuff on my shin and a sore shoulder (that from being the hand on the steering wheel, which offers substantially less impact absorption than the airbag).
Overall the car was an excellent value. I did not need to add any equipment to it, or purchase a larger engine, as pretty much everything is standard, and the 2.0L inline four provides more than sufficient acceleration and highway power for the 2700 pound car. The car offers ample seating for four, although headroom in the rear seat is more restricted than in the front, with three point shoulder harnesses and anti-whiplash headrests for all four passengers. Trunk room is tight, but ample for regular use, and with the rear seat folded, I was able to fit a 27" television set in the factory packaging, rather a large object. (Actually, the television was in the car when I crashed, and thanks to the efforts of the Westboro, MA police department, was still in the car when I was able to pick it up the next day. It still works great.)
I would recommend the New Beetle to anyone who is looking for a safe, small car, nicely equipped for under $18,000. It is not the best car for a family, although could certainly be used if another vehicle were available for regular family use. It is reliable, easy and fun to drive, has an excellent warranty, and draws a smile from almost everyone who sees it. Great inexpensive German-engineered transportation.