2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition Review: When the Beetle Bugs Out, Will Anyone Miss It?

Volkswagen is putting the Beetle nameplate to rest after 74 years of service. Is the Final Edition SE a fitting goodbye?

2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final SE
James Gilboy

There are at least 400,000 known species of beetles, and of that number, there's one in particular—from the genus Volkswagen—that's on the verge of extinction. Yes, after 81 years of building bugs in one form or another, Volkswagen announced last September that it's finally retiring the Beetle with a swan song in 2019. There won't be one based on the upcoming eighth-generation Golf, nor will there be an electric, MEB-based I.D. Beetlezz. Dear reader, the 2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition is it.

Will we miss it when it's gone?

The 2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition SE, By the Numbers

Base Price: $23,045
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine | 174 horsepower, 184 pound-feet of torque | six-speed automatic transmission | front-wheel drive
Fuel Economy (EPA): 26 mpg city | 33 mpg highway | 29 mpg combined
Cargo Space: 15.4 cubic feet | 29.9 cubic feet with rear seats folded.
Quick Take: Volkswagen's attempt to make the original people's car a fashion-forward choice falls flat. If the final Beetle's purpose is to make us pine for the practical past, mission accomplished.

James Gilboy

Happy spring.

Beetle's Long Road Leads to...This

The original Beetle was conc​​​​eived as an embodiment of the Volkswagen name, which auf Englisch means people's car. There is some true darkness in its German origins, but that ultimately didn't stop it from embodying an accessible form of motorized transportation for post-war Europe and beyond. The pokey, rear-engined Beetle went on to be immensely successful, surpassing 21 million cars built across 65 years of production on six of the world's seven continents.

But the New Beetle, revived in 1997, wasn't a modern twist on the same formula of cheap wheels. Instead, it was and still is a cutesy, highly-stylized VW Golf; a car for people who shop for clothes by searching "vintage" on Etsy. Over 20 years later, with its rounded roofline, ovular headlights, and jutting fenders, the 2019 Beetle isn't can't be taken as anything else. It's a little saccharine for me, but I take my coffee black, and this is a car for Double Caramel Macchiato drinkers.

James Gilboy

Interior, front row.

Final Edition Interior Is a High Point

Unlike the macchiato though, there's something grown-up beneath that topping of whipped cream and refined sugar. The Beetle's interior is a classy affair, especially as equipped with the black-and-white scheme that calls to mind a giant, strange piano. Its high-backed seats are comfortable thrones for occupants of all sizes despite sporting somewhat-unintuitive manual controls, and the off-while upholstery is an upmarket touch for a downmarket car. They'll keep as long as you don't allow passengers to drink Sunny D in your car, or wear shoes. In short, no kids allowed, but your adult friends won't mind the back seats at all. A six-foot-two passenger found there to be both enough leg and headroom in back, if a disappointing lack of cupholders.

Interior room in the Beetle far exceeds expectations informed by its arching roofline. With its rear seats folded flat, a 79-inch, single-width Ikea bookcase slipped in nicely, though you couldn't fit anything full-width, or more than one passenger in this arrangement. Total load space is limited by a front passenger seat that will fold only halfway down, and annoyingly, the rears can be hard to fold with their headrests in. Removing said headrests requires a screwdriver.

And while it may be more spacious than you'd expect, it's still no Golf, which has an indisputable edge on interior room for similar money. As the Beetle lacks the practicality you need of an only car, it comes across as a better vehicle for someone whose cohabitor drives something more useful.

James Gilboy

Infotainment

There are more expensive cars on the market that don't offer Apple CarPlay as standard tech, so Volkswagen deserves credit here, even if it often takes longer to boot up than the time needed to put on your seatbelt—which is an ordeal in the Beetle. Its front-row belts are mounted so far behind your shoulder thanks to the long doors that onboard navigation should be programmed to help you find them. And that'd only work if you could reach the menu with that information on your first press. You'd think a Volkswagen system would feel crisp and refined, but the touchscreen often needed more than one jab to acknowledge a command. Very un-German.

A blast of Electric Light Orchestra's Mr. Blue Sky sounded satisfyingly full when piped through the Beetle's audio system, though audiophiles will note a faint gurgle. Accessing the real sky is as easy as turning a knob on the roof to open the standard panoramic sunroof as far as it'll go (halfway's the limit). Unfortunately, closing it doesn't entirely keep the elements out; It doesn't leak, but road noise is abundant, and its piddly perforated sunshade does little to darken or cool the naturally floodlit interior. Thank the Lord for dual-zone climate control.

James Gilboy

Herbie's Dead, Jim

You might be tempted to crack the sunroof again to hear the mousy whistle of the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, if you're into that sort of thing. Its 174 horsepower lets the Beetle scurry ahead of, I don't know, compact crossovers on the road, but it's not enough to outpace a hot hatch or anything faster.

Throttle response is on the jerky side from stops even when not in Sport, but smooth application on the highway will reveal the 33 miles per gallon rating as an obvious understatement. Non-adaptive cruise control seems preoccupied with mileage, lollygagging back up to its set speed after cresting hills and coasting past it on the way back down. The relic of a six-speed automatic transmission is too much of a busybody to be fun. Steering and braking inputs are on the light side, and the overall ride quality is good enough if entirely unmemorable. 

James Gilboy

The Beetle's Cultural DEET

If you weren't considering a Beetle before Volkswagen announced its end, you have no reason to take part in the proverbial wake that is the Final Edition. More practicality can be had for far less money in the form of models like the Nissan Kicks, the Mazda 3, or even the Golf.

Buying a Beetle isn't something done with the cerebral cortex, but the heart. Those sold on its design won't regret taking the plunge, but the numbers of such people are dwindling, because the Beetle isn't really in style anymore. Lifestyle Vehicles™ like crossovers, driven by people in search of mild adventure, are what's in. Function as form sums up the modern world's taste in cars, so a car whose function is limited by design can only be so attractive. And that sort of answers the question of whether people will care when the Beetle's really gone, if it can be said that this modern reincarnation was ever truly back to begin with. Volkswagen hasn't yet pulled the plug, but we're already out of the room.

James Gilboy