Nearly nine decades after the idea for the “people’s car” was first mulled, the end of the line has come for the iconic Volkswagen Beetle. The final model rolled off the assembly line in June to close out its almost nine-decade production run.
Not too long after the little air-cooled, rear-engine Beetle made its mass production debut, it became the best-selling car of all time.
In 1972, yes 47 years ago, VW had surpassed 15 million Beetles manufactured, and the number of “bugs” built stands at about 23 million today. That is second only to the Toyota Corolla, but unlike the Japanese sedan, which has undergone a bevy of significant alterations from the original, the Beetle remained relatively unchanged.
Not only is the coupe a massive, worldwide sales success, perhaps no other car has the kind of backstory as the VW.
Though the idea wasn’t his own, the Type 1 was engineered by the founder of one of the world’s most well-known manufacturers, a company that bears his namesake — Ferdinand Porsche. And Mr. Porsche created the Beetle at the behest of none other than Mr. Adolf Hitler, one of the world’s most well-known bastards.
The Beetle was nearly lost during WWII, but the Brits eventually took over the bomb-riddled VW plant and kept the model alive before beginning mass production.
Less than a decade later, a million Beetles had been produced, and so began its ascent to becoming the world’s best-selling car.
Of course, the strangeness of the VW’s story doesn’t end there. This car, developed under Nazi leadership, somehow became the poster car for the counterculture movement of the 60’s and 70’s. It also became a cuddly little No. 53-wearing bug named Herbie around the same time.
That happy nostalgia was reignited in 1997 when the New Beetle hit showrooms with front-wheel drive and an engine in front of the cabin. And if you can overlook some added technology and a sprinkling of updates, the Beetle hasn’t changed much over the past two decades.
But July 10, the final Beetle rolled off the assembly line in Puebla, Mexico, marking the end of perhaps the most notable car ever produced. So even with its rebirth two decades ago, it seems that nostalgia only goes so far, even for an icon.
Mark my words, the Beetle will be back. Even Hinrich Woebcken, president and CEO of VW North America, said “Never say never” in reference to the world possibly seeing a new, new Beetle. Sure, it may make its return as a concept, or likely it will be an electric crossover that carries some semblance of the Beetle’s silhouette, but it will be back.
I’m sure many fans of the Ford Ranger, Toyota Supra, Chevy Blazer and Ford Bronco all thought their models had gone off to the great scrapyard in the sky years ago, but nostalgia pays, evidenced by the aforementioned models recently earning a second life. Let’s not forget, even VW is playing its hand at the table of wistfulness by bringing back its Bus, this time as an EV.
But before it is reincarnated again, I got to test a special version to commemorate VW exterminating the Bug this time around, the Final Edition SE.
To bid adieu to the Beetle, the Final Edition comes with a standard sunroof, rhombus-patterned cloth seats (leatherette in the SEL), stainless steel pedals, unique wheels and it is offered in two special colors harkening back to the Beetle’s first final edition of 2003.
Even in its swan song, Beetles received some updates for 2019, including standard blind spot monitoring and rear traffic alert, a standard automatic transmission and body-colored side mirrors, door handles and side sills in base trim.
All Beetles come with a 2-liter turbocharged four cylinder offering 174 horsepower. To give you an idea of how long the Beetle has been around, that’s about seven times more horsepower than the first models. The current engine also provides 184 lb.-ft. of torque fed to a six-speed automatic.
Though the Beetle has enjoyable pep off the line, its engine and turbo seem to hesitate after initial throttle input, especially when the revs are in the midrange of the tach. The transmission is mostly unnoticeable when shifting up a cog but going down a gear can slightly jostle passengers.
Even though it is not the most capable car at carving corners, the Beetle is fun to throw around tight bends and through undulations. The chassis handles quick directions changes well and provides a fairly comfortable ride on the everyday drive. Steering is accurate and nimble, but the feel of the actual wheel is a bit strange. Instead of being fully rounded, most of the wheel comes to an angle in your palms and on the back of your fingers, which kind of feels like you are gripping a large banana.
While the rear seats are best for those who have legs ending above the knee, the VW can manage a surprising-based-on-its-size 15-cubic feet of storage with the rear seats up. That figure doubles with the seats down. And given its rounded form, it’s no surprise that driver and front passenger have loads of headroom.
The Beetle’s 6.3-inch touchscreen and surrounding controls are fairly basic in appearance for the once-symbol of the counterculture, but the system is easy to use. The VW does add some funkiness with its rounded gauge cluster and body panel dash cover. Just don’t expect an upscale feel as the interior is bathed in hard plastics.
The Final Edition SE starts at just over $23,000 and is around $800 bucks cheaper than the Beetle SE with nearly all the same features. Buyers can add about $3,000 to upgrade to the Final Edition SEL with its 18-inch alloys, sport front seats, Fender audio system, leatherette seating, upgraded infotainment system and park distance control.
Though all of the aforementioned facts and opinions regarding the Beetle have been laid out, I am not naïve enough to believe that someone will suddenly read these words and decide they absolutely must have a Beetle. Nor will someone interested in the VW decide to continue shopping around after reading this article. Since its revival in the 90’s, the Beetle has been for a niche crowd, who are undoubtedly saddened to bid goodbye to the Beetle.
But they needn’t worry. The Bug is simply going into hibernation before VW decides to bring it back.