Around The Bay Auto Weekend Wheels

Weekend Wheels: Bye Bye Beetle! A final drive in the best VW Bug of all

The Beetle Convertible Final Edition SEL. All photos by Howard Walker.
Luxury Living Tampa Bay

So the oh-so-cute Bug is no more. On New Year’s Eve, Volkswagen officially said auf wiedersehen to its iconic Beetle after more than 80 years of pretty much non-stop production. 

You might have seen Vee-dub’s nostalgia-filled animated TV ad called “The Last Mile” that aired on ABC and CNN in the run-up to the big ball drop in Times Square. If you missed it, it’s still on YouTube.

While the last Beetle rolled off the assembly line in Puebla, Mexico back in July, December 31 marked the end of the end. It was a sad day for Bug lovers like me. Seeing that lovely TV spot made me exhale a long, heartfelt ahhhhh.

I can’t say I was ever a fan of the original Jell-O mold Bug with its wheezy air-cooled motor. Just too basic in every way. My interest sparked with the intro of the new-look New Beetle in 1998.

Here was a totally modern-day VW, with a Golf platform and greasy bits, wrapped in a wonderful retro-style body. One look and you couldn’t help but smile.

I remember weeks before the car landed at dealerships, VW shipped me a press car to drive — pastel yellow with a yellow daffodil in the in-dash flower vase. 

For seven days I was transformed into a rock star with adoring fans chasing, cooing and desperate to get a closer look. Jeff Bezos throwing $100 bills from the sunroof couldn’t have grabbed more attention. 

But all good things come to an end, and with Beetle sales on a slow and steady decline, it was time for VW to pull the plug. 

So, knowing that the end was near, I asked VW for one last Beetle drive, in arguably the best Bug of all — and no, that’s not Herbie — the aptly named Beetle Convertible Final Edition SEL.  

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”82″ display=”basic_thumbnail” thumbnail_crop=”0″]No Bug has ever been this luxurious. It featured Bentley-like diamond-quilted leather on huggy sports seats, stainless steel pedals, head-turning 18-inch white-painted alloys with shiny-chrome centers, and a thumping 12-speaker Fender audio system.

No, I wouldn’t have picked the hearing-aid beige paint job for the body and dashboard. But it did give the Bug tester a retro vibe. 

As a practical, versatile droptop convertible, however, the Beetle still takes some beating. Press a button and the heavily insulated canvas roof powers back in under 10 seconds, and at speeds up to 31mph. 

And with the roof lowered, all four windows raised, and the optional rear wind-blocker in place, there’s hardly any buffeting. Even at freeway speeds. 

Remember too that the Beetle has always been a proper four-seater, with adult-sized space in the rear. You don’t get that with a Mazda Miata or Fiat 124 Spider.

That said, limbo-ing into the back with the roof raised is a bit inelegant. But with the top dropped — the way a Bug should be driven here in Florida — there’s no such problem. 

And this Final Edition Beetle is still an absolute joy to drive. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-banger under the hood delivers zippy, off-the-line sprinting coupled with up to 33 mpg economy. The smooth-shifting six-speed automatic only adds to the fun.

No, it’s not a sports car for carving curves. But for cruising to the beach and zipping in and out of traffic, it’s a blast. Every time I got behind the wheel, it just made me feel happy. 

Interested in one of these Final Edition models? Good luck finding one. At a buck under $30,000, the Final Edition SEL convertible was a deal, especially for true Beetle lovers. But there are still a few out there. 

Is the Bug gone for good? Rumors are already swirling around that an all-electric version might make it to production. That Beetle name is just too good to give up.

Check to see if these fine VW dealers have one of the last Beetles in stock: Reeves Volkswagen of Tampa, Kuhn Volkswagen of Tampa, Lokey Volkswagen of Clearwater, Bert Smith Volkswagen of St. Pete, Brandon Volkswagen.

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