When Volkswagen revived its most iconic model as the New Beetle for the 1998 model year, driving one around town was like taking a spin with Oprah Winfrey waving from the passenger’s seat. It turned heads and attracted attention like few other brand-new cars on the road back then. A second-generation version debuted for 2012 with cleaner styling, assorted improvements, and its name shortened to Beetle.
Though Beetle sales are up a bit over the first seven months of the year, they still only total less than 10,000 units. That makes it the automaker’s lowest volume vehicle in the U.S. and by a wide margin. So it’s no surprise that VW is pulling the plug on the Bug at the end of the current model year. It’s commemorating the car’s final act with specially equipped Final Edition versions in SE and SEL trims. We recently got to drive the top model over the course of a week’s test – a convertible, no less – and still find it to be a singular choice among a fleet of sameness.
With its classically curved roofline, round headlamps and bulbous fenders, the Volkswagen Beetle is impossible to mistake for any other vehicle. Ours was painted in a classy platinum gray metallic hue and came with a beige roof. It was further adorned with Bi-Xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, and fog lights. It featured especially attractive 18-inch wheels with a white-spoked rim around a chrome center.
The convertible top is properly insulated and when in place does a nice job of minimizing road and wind noise, even on the highway. It can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button at speeds up to 31 mph; it takes 9.5 seconds to stow and 11 seconds to be raised. When retracted, it’s entirely possible to carry on a conversation while driving at higher speeds, with only minimal hair tossing involved. It was a sheer joy to take the car out on a perfect summer day with the top down and drive it past shimmering lakes and through tree-lined winding roads hidden away outside Chicago.
The Beetle remains cleanly styled inside. An uncluttered dashboard features round instruments, a 6.3-inch LCD display for the car’s easily mastered infotainment system and analog buttons and dials for the audio and climate control systems. The Final Edition trims add what VW calls a “Beetle Bin,” which is essentially a small second glovebox on the passenger’s side. It also gets stainless steel pedal caps and metal scuff plates, and a gloss-black center console.
Unlike low-slung sporty convertibles like the Mazda Miata and BMW Z4, the Beetle ragtop is quite comfortable, even for taller drivers. The front cabin is roomy, with generous leg, head, and shoulder room. Our Final Edition model came with stylish black and tan diamond-stitched leather seats, though they were not power operated. As with most small two-door cars, back-seat legroom is prohibitively tight, and it’s difficult to climb in and out of the rear cabin with the top up. Cargo space is likewise at a premium at just 7.1 cubic feet. Fortunately, split-folding rear seats enable the convertible to carry somewhat larger items, though it probably still couldn’t accommodate a major Costco run.
The Beetle performs admirably, overall. The car comes nicely powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates a peppy 174 horsepower with 184 pound-feet of torque. It drives the front wheels via a smooth-shifting and responsive six-speed automatic transmission. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 2019 Beetle’s fuel economy at 26/33-mpg city/highway.
Electric-assist power steering and a modestly lively suspension setup make the Beetle relatively entertaining to drive, though it’s no Golf GTI in that regard. It maintains amenable road manners around town with a reasonably smooth ride, but it can get a bit floaty over pavement undulations.
Standard equipment on the Beetle Final Edition SEL trim is generous and includes heated front seats, three-color ambient lighting, push button entry/start, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, a rear park distance warning, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and Volkswagen’s Car-Net app-connect and telematics services. We also got the Beetle’s premium Fender audio system with 12 speakers; its 400 watts of power came in handy to crank up the music while driving with the top down at speed.
A blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert is standard, along with concealed rollover bars behind the rear seat backs that automatically deploy in a crash. A post-collision braking system keeps the brakes engaged if the airbags deploy in anticipation of a subsequent crash. Neither forward automatic braking nor a lane-departure warning system, however, is offered.
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A fully loaded Beetle Final Edition SEL convertible retails for just over $32,000, including the destination charge. That’s about the price of a base Ford Mustang ragtop with more muscle and better handling, but less quirky appeal. Overall, the Final Edition proved to be a fitting final act for one of the most beloved cars in motoring history.
But it won’t be the last throwback model Volkswagen makes. The automaker is planning to bring back the equally iconic Microbus ”hippie van” in 2022 as an updated full-electric version to be named the ID Buzz.
I’m a veteran Chicago-based consumer automotive journalist devoted to providing news, views, timely tips and reviews to help maximize your automotive investments. In ad
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