1999: Volkswagen New Beetle
“Volkswagen’s new Beetle is our 1999 Automobile of the Year. By a landslide. Nothing else came close, even though the list of nominees was impressive. The truth is that we probably made up our minds the first time we saw a prototype. Nothing else has so captured the imagination of the car-buying public, and nothing else has so effectively pointed out the current bankruptcy of ideas in new car design. In our June 1998 issue, we published sixteen profile views of contemporary sedans, challenging our readers to identify the individual makes and models. It was virtually impossible to do so. I can promise you that if the New Beetle had been included in that presentation, it would have stood out like a lighthouse.
“The car is a blast to drive. On first boarding, the windshield seems very far away, as in minivans and cab-forward designs, and the A-pillars stretch out before you like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The physical act of driving it is virtually identical to that of a Golf, with which it shares all of its basic componentry, and this is not bad, but the real kick is to be sitting in a car with so much sheer chutzpah and style, a car that attracts so much favorable attention from the people around you.
“The New Beetle is a landmark car. It will encourage other manufacturers to look for unusual answers to new-model dilemmas. It will raise the expectations of people in the marketplace because it is a vividly tangy alternative to plain vanilla. We’ve already begun to see modestly customized New Beetles on the road, and when the SEMA show opens in Las Vegas this November, there will be acres of New Beetle aftermarket tweaks. Volkswagen’s New Beetle is that kind of automobile, and with this, our tenth annual Automobile of the Year award, we’re saying in no uncertain terms that it’s also our kind of automobile.”