Volkswagen is calling it quits on the beloved Beetle, and sending it off with two special models: the Final Edition SE and Final Edition SEL. We get a chance to drive the Convertible Final Edition SEL and experience history.
I fall in love with not only cars but also brands. The former is a Hot Wheels-induced personality trait developed during extensive childhood training and playdates. The latter is probably from my career in marketing. Crafting a brand identity for a car, a product portfolio, and a brand is not as easy as it looks. Back in December I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that the VW fanboy bug bit, kicked off at the LA Auto Show. This is the story of how I fell for the Beetle, just as it was leaving us.
First, I fell in love with the I.D. Buzz Cargo Concept – VW’s forthcoming electric incarnation of its revered minibus. I want one. Then, I drooled not once, but twice over its ID R. record-breaking electric Pikes Peak racer — first in their auto show booth and subsequently when it went on display at the Petersen. When I was invited to bring my girls to watch “Herbie: Fully Unloaded” in a pop-up drive-in movie theater inside a Beetle Final Edition, my vee-dub curiosity hit an all-time high.
In addition to coming home with two girls on an extreme sugar rush and extra candy (thanks VW PR) a couple of things happened due to our two-hours sitting inside a 2019 Beetle Final Edition. Number one, my young kids now understood how sad it is that there aren’t more drive-in movie theaters and how watching a movie on your cell phone is not the optimal experience. Number two, I spent a couple of hours realizing that the Beetle Final Edition is more than just a label based on the numerous touches and nods to its predecessors that I found on the interior. This was while my girls giggled and literally laughed out loud spewing popcorn all over said interior. I left feeling like I wanted more time with one, especially given the fact that this might be the last Beetle we would see for quite some time.
But First, Some Context
After 70 years of Beetles and three generations, you would be forgiven for thinking that the formal name of the model is “Iconic Beetle.” There are few other nameplates that instantly conjure up strong emotional connections with their owners and enthusiasts — 911, Corvette, Mustang to name a few. Unlike the trio I just rattled off, the reverence for the Beetle was never really rooted in wins on racetracks (although off-road wins at Baja for the Beetle were plentiful.) No, the love for the Beetle Stateside started with the Flower Power movement in the 1960s and continued through the 1973 Oil Crisis. History buffs will enjoy this comprehensive history of the Beetle by Hemmings. Quirky, cute, and fuel-efficient, the Beetle captured our hearts.
Flash forward to today and we have a myriad of fuel-efficient cars to choose from that can match the Beetle’s combined 29 mpg. I might represent the last generation to have a childhood memory of a VW Beetle from a pop-culture context (Herbie to be specific). Interest in the Beetle waned and sales just over 15,000 units in 2018 reflect that.
Enter the actuaries, who I’m sure said something along the lines of “Hey guys. We are spending a lot of money on this new electrification thing. (Mashing on the keyboard. Microsoft Excel magic going on.) You have to do something. (Sideways glance at Beetle.) Maybe retire something?” The product planners — always the car guys and gals of the bunch — decided if they have to take out the veteran, they had to do it with respect. The Final Edition Beetle was born. That is totally how that went down, I’m sure of it. But in German of course.
Last Dance: Exterior
I asked to drive the Final Edition Beetle and the nice PR folks at VW rewarded me with the keys to their top of the line convertible SEL, outfitted in Safari Uni. This was one of a myriad of Easter eggs designed to elicit responses from Beetle lovers.
The Beetle is assembled in Puebla, Mexico. The last first-gen Beetles to be built in there, the 2003 Última Edición, was available in two colors—beige and light blue. Today’s Final Edition models feature two unique colors Safari Uni—a reinvention of Harvest Moon Beige, a color from the New Beetle—and Stonewashed Blue, a nod to the 1970 Jeans Bug. Final Edition models are also available in Pure White, Deep Black Pearl, and Platinum Grey.
There are other visual clues to let you know this is no ordinary Beetle. Final Edition coupes get some chrome accents, body-color side mirrors, heated washer nozzles and sunroof. All of these are standard across the convertible line-up, except the sunroof (obviously). I always look at lights as the jewels of the exterior, and the Final Edition get bling worthy of their significance in the form of LED DRLs, taillights, and fog-lights. My loaner came equipped with 18-inch white aluminum-alloy wheels in a retro disc design, the white a tip of the hat to the Última Edición’s whitewall tires. Out back, all Final Edition models replace the typical “Turbo” with a “Beetle” badge.
A Fitting Tribute: Interior & Tech
I am an absolute sucker for diamond-stitched leather. I’m not sure why this became a trigger for me, perhaps because it was first popularized by the Prancing Horse and I’m a tifosi-in-waiting? Either way, if you show me diamond-stitched leather I reach for my wallet. True story, this caused me to upgrade from a 2007 Tundra to a 2016 even with a friend (from Toyota, mind you) telling me I already had the truck, basically. With that said, I love the Final Edition seating surfaces. The SEL I had featured standard diamond-stitched leather in Titan Black, while SE models get a cloth and leatherette rhombus-pattern.
You may not be as motivated by leather patterns. Fear not, there are plenty of other details in the Beetle Final Edition to set it apart from its stablemates. VW fans will recognize the heritage-inspired Käferfach glovebox aka “Beetle bin,” as well as appreciate the body-colored dash pad, and the “Beetle” clip on the steering wheel.
Aesthetics aside, the Final Edition Beetle is loaded with convenience and entertainment features to keep the fun times rolling. Keyless access with push-button start comes standard on the Final Edition. Tech features read like a millennial “must-have list” including Bluetooth, Sirius XM, and Apple CarPlay. The 400-watt Fender® Premium Audio System had ample power to pump my 80s and 90s jams (do people still say that?) out to bemused pedestrians wherever I went with the top-down.
Speaking of driving with the top-down, the Beetle convertible almost demands that you do so. It only takes a minute to get the top down and interior wind-noise/buffeting is minimal. The girls and I loved it, even if mom didn’t care for the UV exposure.
Cute… and Quick Enough: Performance
The Final Edition features the turbocharged 2.0L TSI engine that can be found in the Passat, Jetta, Golf, and Tiguan to name a few. The boosted four-banger produces 174 horses and 184 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,500 rpm. You’re not going to win any pink slips but that’s not the point. The Beetle is quick enough to get the job done, and the job here is producing giggles while getting a respectable 26 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.
The Final Edition is light on its feet in the handling department when you want to get more aggressive. If there is one common gripe it’s that the turbo lag is significant, leading to some sketchy moments if you get on the gas and do as Bruce Meyer suggest (“never lift.”)
That being said, in normal L.A. driving – which is to say slogfest commutes and brief moments of open road – the Final Edition Beetle brings some fun into driving… and I theorize, over the long-term reduces your propensity to flip or receive the Bird because it’s so dang cute!
There are some loaners I’m OK with parting with, and some I wish I had the garage space to hold on to. The Final Edition Beetle falls squarely in the latter category. It’s fun, it’s comfortable, and it’s historically significant. Will it appreciate like a Porsche 911-fill-in-the-blank-variant? No. No, it will not. But the gear-head in me wants to believe it will to justify to the missus why we should get one, and that tells you something.
The inter-webs is ripe with speculation that VW will resurrect the Beetle as an e-Beetle some day as part of their push into electrification. Volkswagen Group of America’s president isn’t doing anything to put a damper on that rumour/hope. “As we move to being a full-line, family-focused automaker in the U.S. and ramp up our electrification strategy with the MEB platform, there are no immediate plans to replace it. But as we have seen with the I.D. BUZZ—which is the modern and practical interpretation of the legendary Bus—I would also say, ‘Never say never.’
I join the legion of VW and Beetle fans who hope this iconic marquee is resurrected, in a drivetrain that can support a new generation of flower children and Herbie enthusiasts.
Engine & Drivetrain:
2.0L TSI turbocharged in-line four cylinder
Horspower: 174hp @ 5,000RPM
Torque: 184 lb.-ft. @ 1,500RPM
EPA Estimated Fuel Economy:
26 mpg city / 33 mpg highway/ 29 combined
Wheelbase (in.): 100.1
Length – 168.8 in
Width – 71.9
Height – 58.6
Weight – 3045 lbs.
Wheels & Tires:
18″ aluminum-alloy, white with chrome accents