Bad Ass Beetle
VW finally sent us a Beetle worth caring about. The 180-hp 2002 Turbo S is the most powerful Beetle yet, a full 30 horses more robust than other turbo Beetles. And it looks faster too (for a Beetle).
As have other vehicles powered by VW's (and Audi's) turbocharged 1.8-liter, DOHC, five-valve four such as the GTI and Jetta, the Turbo S' engine gets revised engine electronics, which optimize air intake, ignition timing and fuel mixture. And when combined with a new exhaust system, it jolts output up a full 20 percent. The turbo itself and its intercooler are familiar too, but the six-speed manual trans it feeds is new. The peak 180-hp comes at a relatively modest 5500 rpm and VW claims torque peaks at a thick 173 lb-ft at just 1950 rpm and stays there all the way to 5000 rpm. A torque curve this flat doesn't rate being called a curve.
Along with the extra power, the Turbo S gets its own unique set of 17-inch wheels, integrated fog lamps, new turn signals, a front spoiler, a new rear bumper and a split outlet exhaust. The turbo Beetle's black, speed-activated, automatic rear spoiler is retained.
Inside, Volkswagen added loads of the usual look-fast stuff, including stainless-steel pedals with (and this is a direct lift from the press release) "fashionable, but functional grip holes." There's also white-on-black instrument illumination, "brushed alloy look" trim and a leather wrap around the steering wheel. There's even "brushed alloy" trim on the Beetle's infamous dashboard bud vase. (Although anything with a bud vase still screams "girlie car.")
By the way, this most powerful Beetle ever has 7.5 times the horsepower of the first 1946 Beetle imported into the United States.
Audi's Continuously Changing
Continuously variable transmissions (CVT) aren't really new. Holland's DAF company was selling a version of the CVT as far back as the '50s, Subaru sold the Justy with a CVT aboard during the '80s and Honda will still sell you a Civic GX with a CVT if you really want one. But Audi's new Multitronic CVT for the A4 (and eventually other Audis and VWs) is the new world standard for high-tech CVTs.
While the term Multitronic may conjure up images of old Star Trek episodes, the essential elements of a CVT are in place with the new Audi transmission - it still works by moving a belt across pulleys which vary in diameter depending on their position. Since the belt remains a constant size, the drive pulley changes in size directly in proportion to the change in the driven pulley and the ratios vary. There are no stepped gears as in a conventional transmission, so CVTs can run exceptionally smoothly.
The Audi Multitronic system adds electronic control to the world of CVTs. Instead of a rubber belt, the Multitronic uses "link-plate" drive chain that is tied to "variator" pulleys whose sides expand or contract to vary their size. A computer decides, depending on throttle position, when to hydraulically vary the pulley sizes and produce the various ratios in concert with engine torque production and clutch engagement. The use of a chain instead of belt means torque loads up to 230 lb-ft can be accommodated, which is quite a bit higher than previous CVTs.
What's particularly satisfying about the Multitronic CVT is how the electronic controls allow Tiptronic operation of six "virtual" gears in manual mode. Using the Tiptronic shifter, the computer creates steps in the CVT's ratios, which simulate manual gear choices very well.
CVTs have been more a novelty than a choice for most enthusiast buyers - mostly because they have been available only in small, low-power vehicles. The Multitronic unit increases torque capacity significantly and may mean CVTs will have a more fruitful future than anyone thought a few years ago.