I just got back from Puebla, Mexico, where Volkswagen told me, with some gravity, that a storied line of cars come to an end with the 2019 Volkswagen Beetle. This didn’t have too much of an impact on me because (1) as far as I’m concerned, the Beetle died in 2004 with the last of the air-cooled ones, and (B) Volkswagen has announced “final edition” Beetles of some kind or another an incredible nine times.
So, yeah, I don’t really think the 2019 Final Edition Beetle is going to be the end of Beetle production, or even is currently the end of Beetle production.
It’s a nice trim package, though.
(Full disclosure: Volkswagen flew me down to Puebla, Mexico, right during Dios de Muertos and Halloween to drive these Last Edition Beetles and see the VW factory. They fed me very well but nobody would let me see the secret room of prototypes I know they have at the factory. Also, I missed my wife’s birthday so I better make it up big time.)
Nine is a pretty big number when it’s referring to the amount of times you’ve claimed to be ending it all, so the least I can do is enumerate each time Volkswagen has “ended” the Beetle—both original, real Beetles and their re-born descendants:
That’s a lot of goodbye parties. The Brazilian ones are interesting, because Beetle production stopped in 1986, but in 1993 Brazilian president Itamar Franco pretty much demanded the Fusca (what they call the Beetle) come back into production to fill a demand for very cheap, reliable cars in Brazil.
So, yeah, forgive me if I’m just not buying that this is the last Beetle we’ll see from Volkswagen. I can’t imagine a future that doesn’t involve some form of MQB-based electric Beetle, ideally with the motor mounted in the rear and a nice trunk up front.
There is one sort-of milestone now, though: This will be the first time that, globally, Volkswagen will not be producing an old-school Beetle or car modern car named/designed like a Beetle, um, ever. Even in the dark years between 1980 and 1997 in America, when there were no new Beetles to be had, there were still many Beetles being built around the world.
In that sense, I guess this one really is sort of a final edition? At least for now.
What’s it like?
So, what’s this Final Edition Beetle like, then? Well, it’s pretty much like what the reborn Beetle has been since 2011, which means today that it’s a last-gen Golf in a more charismatic if less practical outfit.
Sure, there’s some special things VW has done to commemorate this last Beetle—it comes in some new colors, including a blue and a beige meant to evoke the blue and beige of the last air-cooled Ultima Edition Beetles of 2004, as well as the expected white, black, and gray that I suppose all cars have to come in as required by some federal law.
You can get the Final Edition in two types of wheels, a 17-inch alloy with 15 spokes, if you’re really into spokes, or 18-inch wheels with a somewhat retro-inspired design that suggests whitewalls and the old chrome dog-dish hubcaps of Beetles past.
The interiors are quite nice, with some great diamond-pattern quilted upholstery on the seats. They call it “rhombus-pattern” on the lower cloth-and-leatherette version as opposed to the all-leather version which gets to call the same shape a “diamond,” but I think the two-tone black-and-beige lower-spec versions look the best, really.
They’ve also added a badge that says “Beetle” on the rear, in place of the “Turbo” badge, even though this is one of the few cars that very much doesn’t need a badge to know what it is.
Electro-Goodies and Whatevers
Equipment-wise, the Last Edition now comes with a blind-spot monitoring system and a rear-traffic monitoring system, which is nice, but hardly exciting. Speaking of electronic things, I’m still baffled that, somehow, in 2018, VW is still using low-resolution, sub-Game Boy-level display screens on its instrument clusters.
Where do they even find these, anymore? Even a freaking Versa has a little full-color in-dash display. Are they just determined to empty out that warehouse?
And, to Drive? What of That?
To drive, these Beetles are fine, basically, but that’s about it. I know the platform has potential to be fun and engaging, because the Beetle GSR I drove—holy crap, five years ago now—was a lot of fun.
But you can’t get these Last Editions with a manual transmission, and while the output of the 2.0-liter inline-four is a decent 174 horsepower with 184 lb-ft of twisty-torque, it just isn’t all that exciting to drive, really.
The drive route we had around Puebla was through a lot of traffic, and required us to keep up with a caravan of the other Beetles, and as such was more a test of driving in heavy Mexican traffic while desperately trying to not lose the car ahead of you than a test of the car itself, but that’s okay—this is a car I’ve driven plenty.
I mean, it’s basically fine, but there is an annoying lag between putting your foot down and moving forward with more haste, and while the car handles reasonably well, with pretty good feel and some visceral communication from the road, it’s by no means a sports car.
It’s fine for what most people will use it for, and if you get the convertible it’s even more fine because you can open the roof and, you know, live.
The whole point of these reborn Beetles, though, is all in the look. And, in that sense, I do like them. I think the second-generation of FWD modern, Golf-based Beetles is even stronger than the first, and I genuinely think they look great.
I think the hardtop is stronger than the convertible, but it’s a great modern interpretation of the Beetle, and if you just want it for the look, I think that’s entirely reasonable. It looks friendly and plucky and athletic and fun, all wonderful qualities in automotive design.
These Things I Believe
That said, overall I think Volkswagen has yet to do a re-born Beetle right. Positioning it as a mid-range style-conscious nostalgia model was okay for the first generation, but the Beetle’s place is really at the bottom of the lineup, where it can be a true Peoples’ Car.
I mean, look what Fiat did with their nostalgia car, the 500—it did well in America despite having almost no real history in the U.S. and I feel like I see many more 500s than I do second-gen FWD Beetles around. The Beetle shouldn’t be a $23,000 to almost $30,000 car, like this Final Edition is. It should be one of the most charming, useful, and cheapest things you can get.
If anything, I’d rather have seen VW severely and brutally de-content this current Beetle (cloth seats, rubber mats instead of carpet, unpainted bumpers, etc) to have the final edition be a $15,000 cheap-and-cheerful entry-level car. That would have been keeping in the real spirit of the Beetle, far more so than these party-dressed last-gen Golfs.
I guess I’m a little sad we’re entering a period where VW isn’t even making a Beetle-inspired car, but, as history has shown us, I’m not really worried that the Beetle is really gone.
We have the new Microobus coming in 2022, and I bet soon after that an electron-gobbling Beetle will come scurrying along. And I hope this time VW has learned a lesson, and will let this new new new Beetle take its proper place on the bottom rung of the lineup, a place of great dignity where Beetles have always thrived.