By Joanne Arbogast

The Daily Item

Light years ago, back in the early 1970s, my swell boyfriend taught me how to drive stick — in his 1960-something Volkswagen Bug. What a good sport he was. And what a cute yet manly, fun, little car that was.

Fast forward to 2007. The Beetle-Bug of today — the 2008 New Beetle S — is an amazing improvement in countless ways. For two things, I can't smell fumes and I can't feel the wind kissing my ankles while I drive.

Yet it retains that "I-am-so-vulnerable" VeeDub feel — which you either do or don't like. Its safety rankings come as no surprise: It received a "poor" rating for side impacts alone. It's small, just like its always been. The cargo space is adequate, but just barely. The backseat space remain a tight fit, still a struggle to get into.

I love this car!

On the flip side, the new Bug's dashboard shelf is huge, though hardly useful. It has a slight slope. Every time I tossed a book or load of papers on it, they slid off as soon as I started moving.

If somehow Volkswagen could level the dash off, passengers might gain a desk or dining table of sorts.

Another potential cargo zone that could double for something else is the carpeted "shelf" that fills the gap between the back seat and rear window. When the rear-end is open, you can raise the shelf to better access the trunk. Otherwise, it's handy for storing things like books, a purse, some shoes, a Kleenex box. Better yet, if you have a cat or a small dog that likes to cruise around with you, guaranteed this will become its spot in the car.

How cute is that?

The best new thing about the old Beetle is the bud vase next to the steering wheel. It's not really new — it was a feature when the New Beetle made its debut almost 11 years ago. But since I haven't been in a Bug since the '70s, it's new to me.

Ironically, the same day the test car arrived, the Mifflinburg Kiwanis Club was selling red roses and I received a dozen of them.

That week, a day didn't go by that the bud vase wasn't filled. My daughter and my girlfriends really oohed and aahed over it. The guys thought it was a little silly.

That's when I realized the biggest difference in the old versus new — the New Beetle is still fun to drive and its cuter than ever, but it's not a guy's car anymore. Not in any way. It's a little bubble that begs for flowers and a kitten in the back. It's the type of car I could see a girl using when trying to teach a guy how to drive stick.

• Send comments to jarbogast@dailyitem.com.

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