Nostalgia is one hell of a feeling. It’s why “The Office” continues to be one of Netflix’s most popular shows, the McRib makes a comeback every now and then, and you’ll find yourself driving hours in traffic to go eat at that one special restaurant for your birthday. Whether we like to admit it or not, the past manages to sway our decisions in one way or another.
The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the oldest nameplates on the planet. The vehicle can be traced back to the ‘30s, and was originally designed as a simple, affordable way to get around. Since then, Volkswagen has killed and resurrected the Beetle a few times, as the brand stopped selling the vehicle in the U.S. in 1976, only to bring it back as the New Beetle in 1998. Thirteen years later, the New Beetle got the boot for the A5 Beetle, which came out in 2011. And now, that Beetle is being put to rest.
Is it for good? Who’s to say, but VW has gone so far to name the last Beetle the 2019 Final Edition, which is a nod to the last air-cooled models that were built in 2003. The Final Editions, available in both coupe and convertible body styles, bring unique colors, trim, and features over other Beetles. But more importantly, they’re the last way to get into a round, quirky piece of automotive nostalgia.
No reason to mess around here, because you know exactly what a Beetle looks like. While enthusiasts may get all hot and bothered when we see a Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R or a Mercedes-AMG E63 wagon, the Beetle is the car that gets non-car people excited. I fondly remember playing a game called “Punch Buggy, No Punch Back” when I was younger and I recall scouring the road for these things as a way to give myself a fighting chance to not have a massive welt on my arm. Since I didn’t see anyone swerve all over the road when I drove by, I’m not sure if people still play the game. Either way, the Beetle’s design is timeless, sure to never be forgotten.
If the Beetle could talk, it would probably have only one thing to say about its design, which, oddly enough, is how Robert Downey Jr. describes himself on Twitter. “You know who I am.”
The Final Edition SE trim that Volkswagen let us borrow was finished in Stonewashed Blue Metallic and had a black soft top roof. Having a soft spot for blue cars, I genuinely liked the way the Beetle looks. A lot of people called the vehicle “cute,” and despite things like 17-inch wheels and a modest rear spoiler, the Beetle is indeed adorable. Macho definitely isn’t in the Beetle’s repertoire.
From the outside, the Final Edition might not look that special, but the interior is where the magic is. The Final Edition SE trim features cloth seats with leatherette inserts that have a handsome rhombus design. The tan trim piece along the dashboard matches the insert in the seats, and adds some much needed flair to what is mostly a utilitarian design.
There are a handful of other odd design elements in the cabin, too. There’s a “Kaeferfach” storage compartment directly on the dashboard, which employs a unique handle to open. It’s hilariously small, as you might be able to stuff your registration and insurance paperwork in there, but not much else.
Other unique touches that are bespoke to the Final Edition include a “Beetle” badge on the bottom of the steering wheel, stainless steel trim pieces for the pedals, and gloss black elements. Despite being a special edition, the cabin doesn’t necessarily come off as being noteworthy, but it’s aesthetically nice to look at and comfortable.
Speaking of comfort, the front seats are pleasant and there’s plenty of headroom, even with the convertible’s top up. It may have a small footprint, but you never feel cramped in the Beetle, unless you’re sitting in the back with the top up. Fold it down, which takes roughly 15 seconds, and the Beetle really can seat four.
The 6.3-inch touchscreen may be outclassed by vehicles that have units spanning double digits, but it works well enough and it’s quick to respond. While the unit is a touchscreen, there are two round knobs. One controls the volume, while the other is used to scan stations or different functions. There’s something odd about the option of choosing a knob to handle the latter function, but it works well after a couple of tries.
At the end of the day, there’s very little to complain about with the Beetle’s cabin. It’s relatively quiet for a convertible, the controls are easy to use, and there’s a good mix of practicality and lightheartedness. My only complaints are the blank switches that are located toward the bottom of the center console. VW could have and should have done something with the switches to make them useable or taken them out completely.
For power, VW chose to use the same powertrain that’s found in the rest of the Beetle lineup: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 174 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. With a curb weight of 3,225 pounds, those figures don’t result in anything exciting, but they’re enough to get the job done.
While pulling away from a stop light with gusto is enjoyable enough, the engine isn’t the liveliest motor. Sometimes the engine dolls out its oomph in a linear fashion, sending your head into the headrest in a controllable manner. Other times, there’s no rhyme or reason in the way the surge arrives, catching you off guard and acting almost lethargic. The slow-shifting six-speed automatic is also irksome. But that might be the point.
The Beetle isn’t meant to be a sporty car, at least I don’t think it’s meant to be one. Instead, it’s supposed to be a car that gives you the ability to enjoy the drive at any speed, which is exactly what it does. Darting around town is enjoyable enough, going quickly down a curvy road is entertaining, and long highway cruises are leisurely.
Despite not having a rigid roof, the convertible Beetle rides well over harsh roads, only sending an inclination that a roof doesn’t exist on massive bumps. Nothing unsettles the vehicle, which is a major upside for a convertible. With the top up, a decent amount of road and wind noise is kept out of the cabin, too.
Fold the top down, put the Beetle in its “S” mode, and you get an inkling that the Beetle has the potential to be much sportier. Rev the engine to its max, and there are whooshes and flutters to go along with the lively chassis. Instead of going all-out on a good windy road, take things slowly, choose to go at a more modest pace, and the Beetle really does impress.
Fun, quirky, cute, the Beetle is a car that can be enjoyed at any speed, which is a rare thing in this day and age. The vehicle, especially in its convertible form, is a car where the experience takes precedent over the end result. You may find yourself behind the wheel of a Beetle and not have a destination in mind – I know I did.
After an hour-long drive to find a good set of roads, I pulled over to put the top down and shifted the transmission into its manual mode. A good stretch of windy, tight roads laid ahead, and the sun was finally starting to peek out. With good music pumping through the speakers, my face covered with a scarf, and the heater aerating some warmth into the cabin, I let loose. The Beetle’s tires squealed as I carried too much speed into turns, and yet the Beetle stuck its ground and squirted out of corners.
A few miles into the chilly, liberating drive, the raucous sound of a V8 filled the empty Beetle’s empty cabin. A Mercedes-AMG C63 had caught up to the tiny Bug on during one of the few straight spans of tarmac. Outclassed and outgunned, I reached for the hazards.
With a quick toot of the horn and a burble from the sonorous V8, the driver behind the C63 was off like a rabbit that got a whiff of a rabid fox. There was no doubt in my mind that the driver in the AMG was going faster and probably felt satisfied after getting waved through. But it didn’t matter.
The music in the Beetle was still blasting, the top was down on a 40-degree day, and I was grinning from ear to ear. People pointed, people laughed, people must have thought I was crazy. But that’s all part of the fun. Like I said, the Beetle emphasizes enjoyment and when you’re truly enjoying something, you don’t care about what others think.
If there’s one thing VW’s taught us about the Beetle, it’s that the nameplate simply refuses to die. No, I don’t think this is the last time we’ll see a vehicle with the iconic nameplate tacked onto the back. The name will probably appear on an electric car way into the future. But when it does come out, I’ll probably look at it and have found memories of my time with the convertible during a cold winter day in 2019, because nostalgia is a hell of a thing.