2019 VW Beetle Final

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In 1979, VW stopped selling the Beetle – at least, in the United States.

Uncle would not allow it.

The car designed back in the 1930s could not meet the crashworthiness and emissions standards of the ‘70s. Plus, there was a lot of very heavy competition from newer – and more modern – economy cars from Japan.

These may not have had the Beetle’s charm – or lawn mower simplicity. But they did have working heaters, among other draws.

Fast forward.

In 1998 VW brought the Beetle back – but it was a very different Beetle. Not air-cooled, or rear-engined. With heated seats – as well as climate control AC.

It was iconic looking – but not classic driving. People loved it – all over again.

But the love waned as the Beetle aged – and was once again overtaken by more modern rivals, many of them cheaper.

History does repeat – even if the engine isn’t in the same place.

What It Is

The Beetle – current iteration – is basically a Golf, VW’s compact hatchback, with a body that looks like a classic Beetle’s.

Mechanically, the current Beetle shares no common parts with the iconic original Beetle that first appeared back in the ’30s – and which VW continued to make and sell in other countries all the way through 2003.

The engine’s up front – and it’s water-cooled – unlike the original, which was rear-engined and air-cooled. It has six gears instead of just four. And it gets to 60 in less than 30 seconds.

But both the classic and the modern Beetle have one thing in common: They are compact-sized two-doors with instantly recognizable silhouettes that set them apart from the run-of-the-mill.

Base price for a 2019 coupe is $20,895; a top-of-the-line Final Edition SEL stickers for $25,995.

A convertible Beetle is available, too. They list for $25,995 to start – topping out at $29,995 for a Final Edition.

What’s New

2019 will be the last year for a new Beetle.

To mark The End, a Final Edition version is available. It comes with 17 inch wheels and special interior/exterior trim, including badging, aluminum-trimmed pedals and cloth seats with leather inserts.

All final-year Beetles come standard with the same drivetrain.

The previously optional high-performance engine, the turbodiesel engine and the previously available manual transmission are no longer available.

What’s Good

Looks like a classic Beetle but has all the modern amenities – including dependability.

Three times the power – and performance – of a classic Beetle.

Hardtop has lots of cargo space for its size.

What’s Not So Good

Lacks the quirky, enduring charm of the original.

All editions are automatic-only.

Convertible has almost no cargo space.

Under The Hood

VW has thinned the engine – and transmission – herd for the Beetle’s final year.

Regardless of trim or top, all 2019s come with the same 2.0 liter four – mildly turbocharged to 174 horsepower – paired with a six-speed automatic driving the front wheels.

Boosted it is – but not heavily – as it is in the Beetle’s cousin, the GTI, where the same basic engine is pumped-up to 228 hp and requires premium unleaded – a 30-40 cents or so tax-per-gallon for the extra power.

The Beetle’s 2.0 likes regular unleaded – saving you 30-40 cents per gallon.

Another plus: The Beetle’s engine is not direct-injected, so no worries about down-the-road carbon-fouling of the intake valves. And the six-speed automatic isn’t an eight or ten-speed automatic – which decreases the odds of something going wrong and if it does, it should be less expensive.

The eight/nine/ten-speed transmissions being installed in the latest-design cars are being installed in them solely to eke out slight MPG gains – on the order of maybe 2-3 MPG – by tightening up the spread between gear ratios for the first six or so gear and then reducing engine revs as much as possible as soon as possible via two or even three overdrive gears on top.

There’s arguably not much benefit to the car’s owner, even though it does benefit the car’s maker – by improving its CAFE fuel economy scores. Which the car buyer gets to pay for.

Saving gas isn’t free.

On The Road

The classic Beetle made through 2003 only came with one engine, too – but it would take three of the old air-cooled flat fours to make the same power as the current Beetle’s water-cooled four produces.

You can’t shift for yourself, but you can merge without risking being run over by Semis – and the Beetle easily keeps up with traffic, which the original sometimes had trouble doing.

It gets to 60 in about 7 seconds, which is at least twice as fas as the original – which also had a top speed around 90. The modern Beetle can easily – comfortably – hold 75-80, which was possible in an old Beetle but only with the wind at your back and with the engine wailing.

Plus, the heater works.

Also the defroster. It is not necessary to keep an old rag in the glovebox to wipe a hole in the fogged up glass so you can see where you’re headed.

On the downside, it’s not as entertaining to drive as the original. In one of those, every drive was an adventure – and you had to keep on your toes. Keeping up with traffic meant anticipating the light turning green and sidestepping the clutch and mashing the gas to get the Beetle going before the rest of the pack noticed the light turned.

Hills required the building of speed on the downslope – so as to maintain speed going up. Which you sometimes couldn’t. Then you’d gear down, move over to the right and hope it didn’t overheat.

But, you always had a story.

And the original Beetle was better in the snow than most new cars – including some with AWD. The rear-mounted engine weighted the drive wheels and the pizza-pan wheels (thin and tall) cut right through the snow to the pavement (and traction) underneath.

It may have taken more time to get going, but it was hard to get stuck in a classic Beetle – even if you couldn’t see where you were going.

And even if you were freezing.

Driving the modern Beetle is something of a letdown because it’s so much like driving any other modern car. Nothing sets it apart. No stories to tell. Which may partially account for it not selling as well as other modern cars.

It’s ironic that the very things people expect in modern cars – no fuss/smoothness/more-than-adequate power – take away from the reasons for owning a Beetle. That plus the cost. The current Beetle isn’t cheap. The convertible sent me to test drive stickered for $30k. It was a very nice car, but also a $30k car.

The previously available diesel – which was available with a manual – gave the modern Beetle personality lacking in this final Beetle – as well as 50-plus MPG, which gave it an economic case to make to buyers vs. other cars.

But Uncle outlawed that, too – which surely contributed to this being the final Beetle.

At The Curb

Cosmetics are the biggest commonalty.

The final Beetle hasn’t got much in common mechanically with the original but it’s a dead ringer for it – even if none of the panels interchange. VW did arguably the best retro reincarnation of any classic-to-modern car, with the possible exception of the Dodge Challenger.

The 2012 makeover butched up the look of the car vs. the ’98-2011 versions; it got lower and looked wider. But the Beetleness of the aesthetics remains true to form.

Nothing else looks like any Beetle.

Like the original, this Beetle is also a pretty practical car for a compact coupe – if you get the hardtop. It has a large trunk – in back, unlike the classic model, which had it up front.

There’s 15.4 cubic feet of capacity, which is about the same as many full-sized sedans with much larger footprints. With the back seats folded, the available space opens up to 29.9 cubic feet. And it opens up hugely, on account of the large liftgate.

You can cart around a lot in a Beetle.

However, the convertible sacrifices almost all of that space for the sake of open-air motoring. Capacity plummets to just 7.1 cubic feet. The opening is also tiny, further reducing what you can do with the not-much-space you’ve got to work with.

Luckily, the Beetle (hardtop and ragtop) has two gloveboxes.

Unlike the original, the current (and final) Beetle is beefy – 3,045 lbs. for the coupe. That’s about 1,500 pounds heavier than a classic Beetle – which didn’t have to meet current federal saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety standards.

Which didn’t mean it was “unsafe” to drive. Just that if you crashed it, you’ be less protected.

I was also bereft of almost every modern amenity that added weight, such as AC – which comes standard in the modern Beetle. Even so, it’d be neat if VW had offered the modern Beetle without AC – but with wing-vent windows. These keep you cool without adding weight. And it would reduce the tab.

Ditto pizza-pan wheels.

Even the base Beetle comes with modern (wide) wheels and tires that do not cut down through the snow to the traction below. The Big Wheels craze is arguably among the silliest of modern car design trends as it decreases gas mileage, increases rolling resistance, makes a car less snow-worthy and adds to the cost of the car – because larger wheels/tires cost more than smaller ones.

There is a theoretical handling advantage – but most drivers will never actualize this because it requires driving very fast, laterally – something few drivers ever do in Safety Cult America. There is also a traction advantage if it’s not snowing – but again, it’s debatable whether the theoretical/situational upsides outweigh the actual and everyday downsides.

The Rest

The Beetle is “classic” in several mention-worthy ways.

Relative to other 2019 model years, it has relatively few driver “assistance” – read nag – technologies, such as Lane Keep Assist and Automatic Engine Stop/Start, which have become very common features in almost all new cars.

The reason for this is that the 2019 Beetle is basically the same as the 2012 Beetle, which was the last time VW did a major makeover. And back in 2012, these “features” weren’t yet available. Much less de facto standard, as now – in most cars designed within the past two or three years.

If you prefer not to be electronically parented, you will like the Beetle.

It also has a CD slot – there are still people who listen to “hard copy” music – as well as a pull-up emergency brake lever rather than a push-button electric parking brake. One is actuated by hand and via a cable; the other by software and actuators. One is simpler and offers the driver more control; the other is more complicated and takes control away.

A final mention for this final Beetle is VW’s updated warranty coverage – which applies to all VWs as a kind of mea culpa for the diesel “cheating” business. It’s six years or 72,000 miles on the whole car – which for the record is about four times the coverage you got  from VW back in the ’70s on the classic Beetle.

The difference, of course, was when the classic-era Beetle went kaput it was often feasible for the owner to fix it – and the fix was usually cheap. The modern Beetle is a modern car and so when it goes kaput you’ll likely be calling for a truck.

The upside is this will probably occur only after many years have passed – as opposed to a month or so after you left the dealership, as was pretty common back in the day. There are no points to wear out or gap to reset; the carburetor never backfires because there isn’t one – and you’ll never have to worry about the clutch cable falling off the pedal and gimping home in whatever gear you happened to be in when that happened.

But you also won’t have all those great stories, either.

The Bottom Line

It’s sad to see the Beetle going away – again.

But there’s still time get one before it goes away again – this time, probably, for good.

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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37 COMMENTS

  1. Old Beetle was rather safe in crashes. I was driving a ’73 when a Dodge 250 pickup t-boned the driver’s door at 35mph. The bug just bounced sideways 10 feet. Got a new door from a junk yard and drove back to VA fro FL.

  2. Good riddance! The thing is a travesty. Meant to be a caricature of the original; obviously aimed at the U.S. market where there are plenty of fools with money to blow on foolish things.

    • My late mother HATED the new Beetle; she hated it! She wouldn’t even call it a Beetle or New Beetle, either; she called it ‘the mutation’, which it was.

    • Hi Axis,

      Your point is solid. The “retro” Dodge Challenger is at least a mid-sized/RWD coupe with a big V8 and so fundamentally similar to its forbear. But the modern Beetle has nothing fundamental in common with the original except a general sameness of appearance.

      It isn’t a bad car – because the Golf on which it’s based is a good car. But it’s no more a Beetle than my Trans-Am would be if I draped a Beetle shell over it!

  3. JHFC! Eric, have you seen the new VW commercial “In the darkness we found the light”! VW has been completely broken. Pitiful. Disgusting. Infuriating!

    • I saw that PC propagan…err, I mean “commercial” on YT as well. Needless to say, the auto manufacturers are like lemmings now; all of them racing towards and over the cliff.

  4. I had a 1969 VW Squareback for awhile, and its Beetle engine’s heater worked just fine.
    Its downfall was the Bosch electronic fuel injection, which was designed for a maximum working altitude of about 6000 feet, being used in the Mile High City, where the 6000 foot map contour roughly aligns with the city limits.

  5. Looks like the Modern Retro era of car styling is dying out.

    The New T-Bird, the PT cruiser, the practically stillborn chevvy SSR, the praying mantis looking Plymouth Prowler. And now, the New Beetle.

    Some might say that the Mini is the retro car kingdom’s last man standing. I’d say the new Mini’s styling has become so exaggerated and grotesque that it has destroyed any resemblance to the original’s simple box with wheels at the corners.

    Arguably, the only retro cars remaining would be the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger. Each went out of production at one time, then was revived. Design wise, the Challenger has the strongest retro vibe. Long may it live!

  6. Eric,
    Thanks for bringing back a few fond memories of 1968.
    I had a 1959 VW. A 36hp of which, about 18 were on duty at any one time.
    I even got a speeding ticket once (no lie) for 4mph over! Top that!
    In 1968 I was in college at WSU in Pullman Washington.
    That winter it fell to over 45 below zero for several weeks.
    Snow was piled over 6 feet deep in most places… wind and snowplows.
    The little beetle was one of the few cars that always started and it got me where I needed to be.
    It was colder than riding a snowmobile and I used a propane torch to thaw the windshield while I travelled.
    The biggest part I ever replaced was a wiper motor cost $18.75.
    Fun was running across a large parking lot and pulling the emergency brake. This would spin the car around and around…Until security showed up.

    • I learned to drive on a ’58 Beetle. There was no learning curve whatever. I just got in it, checked the positions of the four forward gears, backed up our driveway, and simply drove off.

      I have no recollection of what eventually happened to the old bug.

  7. Back in the Pleistocene, (mid 80’s) I owned a 74 Super Beetle. 1600cc engine, dual port heads, I put in a mechanical advance distributor. It would step out quite smartly, had great fun dusting off Escort GT’s in stoplight drags.

    I miss that car.

  8. Some of us old guys remember the ’60s-’70s VW dune buggies, sand rails and off-road racers fondly. The aftermarket was full of really neat stuff. That little flat 4 could be made to haul ass. Great fun on the cheap!

  9. First thing I ever drove, probably about 12 years old when the old man let us take a break from the mini bikes and drive his beetle around the yard. Good times.

  10. Drove the original beetle a couple times back in the late 90s…. Was when I was a student…. a buddy had one who’s grandfather bought it…. as the grandfather got too old to drive it (as its not an easy drive)….. it was just sitting around. Till my friend figured out how to drive it. Have to say that car has more personality than any other car ive ever driven in my life…. you are right…. every journey is an adventure… the ride brought about more stories and memories then whoever you were going!! Maybe with the engine over the rear wheels… despite hardly any horsepower the thing gave a feeling of power when you floor it and the back goes down / front goes up….. something few other cars do!!

    Will they ever make cars like that again!! Fun, memorable, but affordable without a loan the side size of a mortgage!!!

    • Hi Nasir!

      Amen. I’ve owned two Beetles, a Thing and a ’69 Fastback; all great cars in that they were got me where I needed to go (most of the time) were dirt cheap and fun in the way a dirty-minded and unpredictable girlfriend can be! I doubt they will ever make them or anything like them again – until we re-set and start over.

  11. A eulogy should be given Geo Metros, the ones with the three-popper and manual five-speed. They were slow, extremely dependable, and got superb gas mileage. Had I known when I bought my ’93 in 1995 I would’ve bought another and stored it.

  12. I bought a 1973 super Beetle $2673 with air conditioning I had a 69 Ghia 64 23 window bus with reduction gears Porsche 90 engine a 73 camper just to name a few. I drove the new Beetle it did not remind me of an old one at all. There was no radio fix, if it made weird noises turn up the radio no go over there cross country driving. Just because it looks like an expensive watch check.

    • Hi Jinx,

      Fellow former Beetle (original) owner here myself – and I agree. The Beetle was a special animal. I think of the ones I once owned often. The new one is just another new car – and I suspect that’s why it’s going away.

      • My 23 window Bus I ought for $350 with a blown engine. I bought a super 90 Porsche for $400 and had ≈$1000 tied up after new tires clutch. I bought a 1963 camper that was rusted with a blown engine. I took the seats and stuff out of the 23 window and put the camper van interior in it. I had VW put in a gas heater and in Michigan I was a happy VW camper. I boo hoo sold it in 1977 for a killing of ≈ $2000. Just to make things worse I sold my 1960 Chevrolet convertible around the same time for $3,200. Back then I made a lot of money sending vintage furniture to souther California that I would buy in Michigan area. Taking the money to buy cars in California and shipping them to Michigan and they were RUST FREE!!!. Love your writings, bought two books and donated before. Sorry I’m broke now, but I’ll bounce back and donate again. GOOD LUCK

  13. the only thing I remember about old beetles is that yeah they were quirky. And the precision swiss watch like feel of the door handles.

  14. The pic of the blue ’72 is an autostick equipped model. No clutch, but you still have to shift. Well, actually there is a clutch, and a torque converter, but no clutch pedal.

    • Ye gods, those semi-automatics were horrible. My mother had one, and it was glacial. Dump trucks passed it on hills. Loaded concrete mixer trucks dusted it at stoplights. Her brother’s car would blow it away even with the AC on…and that was a gigantic Plymouth Fury powered by a fire-breathing…slant six. Bonus: the Fury didn’t use any more gas!

      This won’t be popular…but the VW was a horrible car and should have been euthanized at least 15 years before it actually was. It did nothing well except “cute”, and might be the worst car ever sold in the country.

      • Hi John,

        Most of the classic Beetles were manuals – and if driven by someone who knew how to, were perfectly competent cars. I speak from personal experience. They were also rugged and generally as more reliable than the cars of the era (’60s and ’70s) and much easier to fix on the fly – and far cheaper. That’s why they were so appealing to so many.

        • They weren’t actually cheaper for much of their run. Hemmings Classic Car actually had a story about it…for most of the 60s, you could get a regular compact car (Valiant, Nova, Falcon) for about the same as a Bug…and a base Rambler was a few dollars LESS.

          Valiant, please. Base V100 post coupe with no options except A/C, 4-speed manual, and fast-ratio manual steering.

  15. When I was in college the first time, a friend of mine had an orange Beetle-72 I think it was. Lot of fond memories of the car and time. Like when he helped me move from one side of campus to the other with it. Or the time some of us decided to go home for the weekend, and six of us made the trip, with baggage. Or the time….

  16. “Another plus: The Beetle’s engine is not direct-injected,”
    Ohh, sorry Eric, the TSI is a direct injected engine!

  17. Regarding stories no one wants to hear about your wonderful experience at a 5 star ritz carlton in the Caribbean. But a story about sleeping drunk in a dumpster in north dakota to avoid freezing to death? Yeah they want to hear that one.

  18. They are compact-sized two-doors
    ———————
    Funny thing about the new Beetle being a compact. Doesn’t it weight around 3000 lbs?

    • OH sorry, saw that you mentioned it in the article. Weird how much that has ballooned up given how light the old beetle was.

      • Hi BigD,

        It’s actually not weird… it’s Because Uncle. Government saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety mandates, especially. These have added 500-800 pounds on average to the typical new car vs. 30 years ago.

  19. There’s a guy about 8 houses down from me that rebuilds classic beetles (not the 90’s version) in his garage. It may be his full time job as He has about 3-4 in his 3 car garage at a time (see what i did there?). And an engine on an engine hoist for rebuild. I’ve never met him but we wave on our dog walks at him if he isn’t grinding on something. His main work vehicle is an nnbs silverado though which he probably needs to haul parts around.

  20. 50mpg…. Yep,,, corpgov absolutely had to get rid of that threat to the EV. For $5 you could go further than any pure EV today and likely the future. And I’ll bet it burned pretty clean… except for today’s much hated CO2. But, hey, didn’t hear of too many that self immolated!

    I had a VW Bus back in the day (Red/White). Lots of room. Ran … okay. Synthetic oil, expensive back then, but I used it and had little engine problems. Installing points and condenser was pretty easy.

    Took me a week to figure where Reverse was…… lol!

    • Hi Ken,

      I’ve concluded that VW was specifically targeted because of the threat posed by its affordable diesel-powered vehicles. VW was the only car company that offered a lineup of diesel-powered passenger cars, many of them priced under $25k.

      No EV – or even hybrid – could compete on economic or practical grounds with a 50 MPG-capable (and 600-700 miles on a full tank) Jetta/Golf/Beetle that sold new for around $22k.

      And so, they had to go.

      • The emission diesels burn more fuel…the only way VW could manage 50mpg was to disable the emission systems. Much as I despise post-2007 EGR-DPF-DEF-ABCDEFG diesels, they DO run much cleaner.

        • I wouldn’t care if these things were belching black smoke from the tailpipe, if you’re able to achieve 50 mpg at 80 mph, I’d buy one tomorrow. Just on principle.

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