Back in the 1970s, the idea that Volkswagen might stop making the Beetle was unthinkable. The car and the brand that built it had become synonymous, and no one could imagine that VW would give it up to start building conventional models. Even the company itself—despite having the Rabbit and Dasher waiting in the wings—said the Beetle would live to see 1980. (It did, but not in the U.S.)
These days, the news that Volkswagen will drop the Beetle after the 2019 model year has been met with little more than a collective shrug. The original Beetle had to go because it was outdated, but the new Beetle has suffered a worse fate: After 20 years, no one seems to care.
That’s a shame, because the modern Beetle deserves some credit for the nameplate’s place in the automotive pantheon. When Volkswagen showed the Concept One in 1994, it single-handedly kicked off the retro-car craze, both here and around the world. (Maniacal for Minis? Fanatical for the Fiat 500? Thank the Concept One.) Though critics scoffed at its front-drive Golf underpinnings, the New Beetle sold strongly, at least for a couple of years, with the introduction of the convertible in 2003 continuing to stoke interest.
Inevitably, though, the novelty wore off and sales slowed down. Volkswagen introduced a new version in 2012 that was lower and racier in the hopes of throwing off the dreaded “chick car” label. Sales surged for a year or so, but by 2016 it seemed that no one, male or female, was much interested in the Beetle. So when Volkswagen announced the end—again—for 2019, the only unthinkable thing was that the new Beetle lasted as long as it did.
And so, my friends, we face the final curtain: the 2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition, a model that features, according to the press release, “exclusive equipment and unique upscale décor elements designed to send the Beetle off in style.” We mention that only because it fills us with a sense of déjà vu: Back in 1975, when the end was near, Volkswagen introduced La Grande Bug, a top-of-the-line Super Beetle with high-end features like metallic paint, vinyl seats with corduroy inserts, and stick-on wood veneer for the dashboard—opulent luxury for a car as utilitarian as the Beetle.
The Final Edition follows in those footsteps, dipping heavily into the Beetle’s list of optional nice-to-haves and adding extra chrome and body-color bits. Volkswagen offers the Final Edition in both SE and SEL trims. The SEL comes with our favorite of these features: diamond-stitched leather on the seats, a Bentley-esque touch that really does make us feel like we’re driving the 21st-century La Grande Bug.
For 2019, all Beetles get Volkswagen’s venerable 2.0-liter turbocharged engine in 174-hp form, backed by a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a good and decent engine, if not a thrilling one, quick enough and reasonably fuel efficient. That said, if VW really wanted to celebrate the end of the Beetle, they’d have dropped in a GTI powertrain. (Even La Grande Bug got fuel injection.)
The suspension is a great way to shut up all those German car fanatics who won’t stop going on about how terrific it is to be Teutonic. The Beetle’s suspension tuning is way too soft, delivering a comfortable ride but taking a laissez-faire attitude towards controlling body motions on sudden, sharp bumps. Volkswagen can—and usually does—do better.
Though we tested both coupe and convertible body styles, we spent most of our time with the latter, and in our opinion this is the best Beetle. The windshield sits forward and upright, which means that shorter drivers can sit under the open sky rather than in the shadow of the windshield frame. One single switch latches and lowers the top, so operation is as easy as can be. The tonneau cover that hides the folded roof is easy to snap into place, though we usually didn’t bother.
The two-person back seat, though tight and a bit upright, is still habitable for adults, which is more than most coupes or convertibles can offer. The biggest drawback in the droptop is the tiny trunk, fed by a miniscule aperture. Best to toss your luggage into the back seat.
Ready for the punchline? The SE version of the Final Edition is actually less expensive than the regular SE—$1,350 cheaper in coupe form and $1,100 for the convertible. (There’s also a cheaper S version of the regular Beetle, and all SELs are Final Editions for 2019.) Perhaps that’s an unintended statement on how much Volkswagen values the Beetle nowadays . . . or maybe it’s an indicator that this isn’t really goodbye, and that the on-again, off-again rumors of an electrified Beetle joining VW’s big EV push might have some truth.
Regardless, it’s time for us to say auf wiedersehen to the Volkswagen Beetle, which appears to be leaving us with a whimper. Hopefully, people will continue to recall not just the impact the original Bug had on American car culture, but also the role the Beetle played in 21st-century automotive design and style. And as for the actual current car, we’ll miss it . . . a little.
2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition Specifications
|PRICE||coupe, $23,940; convertible $28,190|
|ENGINE||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 174 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 184 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, FWD coupe or convertible|
|EPA MILEAGE||26/33 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||168.4 x 71.2 x 58.0–58.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.3–7.6 sec (est)|
||120 mph (est)|