They came and took my Volkswagen New Beetle test car away Thursday and I don't know whether to be sad or relieved.

It's sad, because everyone in my family became quite attached to the little charmer. Losing her - my 13-year-old daughter, Lindsay, insists the New Beetle is feminine - is a lot like losing the family dog. We only had her for a week, but it felt longer.On the other hand, it's a relief to return to motoring anonymity: No more crowds gathered around my car when I come out of a store. No teeny-boppers waving and shrieking at me. No endless questions from strangers who then have to tell me stories about the VW "bug" they had back in the '60s.

Best of all, I won't have to hear the "C" word anymore. "It's so cute!" is the first thing everyone says upon first seeing the New Beetle, and they feel compelled to repeat the phrase over and over in the course of the conversation.

After the first day of driving the New Beetle, I took the yellow silk flower out of the dashboard bud vase and locked it in the glove compartment. That brought the cuteness quotient down below terminal levels, but it remained dangerously high for the entire week.

Still, it's fun being everybody's new best friend. People expect anyone driving a New Beetle to be really, really NICE, and if they found out otherwise they'd probably get up a lynching party. Driving a New Beetle is sort of like being in the Peace Corps. One must be on one's best behavior at all times.

It will be interesting to see how the car's popularity holds up once New Beetle mania has run its course and they're no longer a novelty on the street. What with all the media coverage the car has gotten this year, its 15 minutes of fame should be about up.

But maybe not. People are no longer putting their names on waiting lists for the Mazda Miata, as they did when Miata mania hit a decade ago, but it still remains the most popular two-seater sports car in the United States.

I think the New Beetle will also outlive its novelty, because it is more than just a cute little toy. It's way fun to drive and it's a lot more practical than I thought it would be. It holds four people comfortably (as long as the two in the back seat have no affiliation with the NBA) or two people up front and a surprisingly large amount of cargo in back.

Even with the back seat in place, the hatchback trunk will hold a dozen sacks of groceries. With the seat back tilted forward, it easily swallows two golf bags and two pull carts.

Some of the reviews I had read prior to driving the new Bug, suggested it was kind of slow, and that potential buyers should wait until the six-cylinder power plant comes along, supposedly later this year.

I wouldn't bother. The 2.01-liter four-banger provides more than enough zip to satisfy all but the most power hungry, especially when mated to the five-speed manual transmission in my test car (an automatic is available; something that could not be said of the old Beetle.)

On both takeoff from a standstill or cruising at 75 mph on the freeway, the Nubee is a joy to drive, handles beautifully and stops quickly with the ABS assisted brakes. I could drive this car on a daily basis and enjoy every minute of it. Fuel mileage is a decent 23 mpg in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway.

Most people insist on making comparisons of this car with the old Beetle (which is still being built in Mexico and sold in countries other than the United States). Let's get one thing clear: Other than the exterior body shape, the New Beetle has nothing in common with the old Beetle. Nothing.

The old Beetle was noisy, slow, unreliable, dangerously tippy and prone to rollovers. It had a heater that was AWOL when it was most needed, had no usable trunk space, and an air-cooled rear engine. The Nubee has none of those things.

As you've probably heard, under the skin the New Beetle is basically a VW Golf, and that's good. It's a thoroughly modern car with none of the countless drawbacks of its predecessor, which most people forget about when they wax nostalgically of the great times they had in a VW "bug" during their mispent youth.

Let's talk price for a minute. My test car had a base price of $15,200. Four options plus a $500 delivery fee brought the bottom line to $17,580. If you can get one at that price, it's an incredible bargain. You can spend twice as much on more upscale cars and not have a better or more prestigious vehicle. Like the old Beetle, the New Beetle has status way beyond its price.

Of course, actually buying one at sticker price may be problematical. Stories of people paying $10,000 over sticker abound and while Dave Strong Volkswagen in Salt Lake City says it will not charge customers over sticker price, it recently had a waiting list 81 names long.

About the options on my tester. The convenience package of cruise control and power windows for $470 is worth the money. Also, I suppose, the $410 for the Sport Package (alloy wheels and fog lamps) is worth having. The $300 for ABS is money well spent although I believe at this point that antilock brakes should be standard.

The final option on the car, $700 for "beige partial leather trim interior" must have been a mistake. The seats were covered in cloth - a light beige color that were already showing the dirt. The door panels were a hard, molded plastic material so I have no idea where they hid the $700 worth of leather.

Here are some random musings on the New Beetle:

- The top of the instrument panel is just slightly smaller than the landing deck on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. From the front of the dash to the bottom edge of the windshield is nearly three feet. My wife viewed it as something else that would need constant dusting.

- The "Easy Entry" system to get in the back seat is marvelous. With one finger you pull up on a lever and the front seats slide way forward and then return to their original setting. This system sets a new standard for two-door cars. Bravo, Volkswagen.

- The left foot dead pedal is big enough to accommodate Karl Malone's humongous sneakers. Wonderful.

- Volkswagen's remote, key-fob door lock is plain awful. It's fat and bulky, but even worse, the three buttons that lock and unlock the doors and trunk are illegible and I was always picking the wrong one. Worst of all, the "panic" button, the one used most infrequently if at all, is the one most easily pushed by accident. Attention VW designers: Check out the Volvo remote and then redesign yours.

- When you close the doors, it sounds kind of tinny. You'd swear they hadn't closed completely so you open and slam them again. Same result. Again, you get used to it.

- Everyone loves the aluminum, three-spoke steering wheel. Very snazzy.

- Outside visibility is great. The roof is way up there, even higher than the original Beetle.

- The doors are quite large and the side windows are huge.

- The sound system was top notch, complete with a CD changer in the trunk.