The history of the Volkswagen Beetle may not have begun in Puebla, Mexico, but it has now ended here – twice. The first time was in 2003, when the original Beetle’s exceptionally long production run finally ground to a halt as the factory’s Ship 28, where it had been assembled since the mid-1950s, idled its machinery after the iconic design left international showrooms for good.
Draws stares, smiles, waves, and conversation at almost every stoplight.
And now, on the verge of the 2019 model year, the Beetle’s replacement – a dead ringer for its lima-bean shape, widened and modernized first to satisfy an existing early-2000s zeitgeist for retro-futurist design, then later broadened for a wider audience – is calling it quits, too. With sales hovering around the 2,500-a-year mark in Canada, and dealers thirsty for more Tiguan SUVs to throw into the gaping consumer maw (they’re built side-by-side on the same line), the Beetle finds itself a reluctant victim of a numbers game entirely outside of its control.
It was in celebration of the departure of a car whose impact on automotive culture has long outpaced its energy in the marketplace that I travelled to Puebla for a final drive of the 2019 Volkswagen Beetle Wolfsburg Edition.
The Most Affordable Beetle
What sets the Wolfsburg Edition apart from the Dune (which now slides in as the base model Beetle)? The reduced line-up essentially offers a pair of distinctly different options for Canadian buyers, with the Wolfsburg attenuating much of the Dune’s sporty character in favour of offering a more stylish, and affordable, entry point to the car.
For $24,475, the Beetle Wolfsburg Edition’s drivetrain remains true to what was found under the hood the year before, which means 174 horsepower from a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a touchscreen infotainment system are standard, as is navigation, automatic climate control, heated seats, and leather trim throughout the cabin.
Cosmetically, the Wolfsburg can be spec’d with either a 17-inch alloys or a unique 18-inch chrome “Disc” rim that’s meant to simulate a classic whitewall tire (part of the P2V Style package, which also includes diamond stitching on the car’s leather upholstery, front and rear, HID headlights, LED taillights, and sport seats, as its highlights). Also in the cards are two unique colours (a light beige and a “Stonewashed” blue), a little extra chrome on the outside, and a colour-matched dash pad on the interior. Like all Beetles, the Wolfsburg is available as both a coupe and a convertible.
Pleasant, but Pokey
What’s it like to drive Wolfsburg? Truth be told, it’s not really all that different from any recent Beetle, which should come as no surprise given that the car’s development has been largely frozen in time over the past few years, with options and features gradually being whittled down as the compact played out the string in the face of stronger showroom-mates like the Golf hatchback. The 2.0-litre motor’s 184 lb-ft of torque aren’t exactly quick to respond to the prodding of your right foot, and the lag between pedal press and power delivery is highlighted by the frenetic, near-kamikaze pace and flow of Mexican urban traffic.
Aside from its somewhat pokey character, the Wolfsburg is quite comfortable whether cruising along the hilly two-lane roads that circle Puebla or dodging maniacal big-block busses bullying their way down the street. Even with the top down the car remains calm inside, with a pleasing suspension tune striking a balance between purpose and propriety. It’s worth noting, too, that the Beetle remains the most affordable four-passenger convertible on the market at $28,475.
Break from the Past
What’s it like to drive the Wolfsburg Edition Beetle in the town of Puebla, where much of the community’s economy is tied directly to the whimsical car? In a caravan of at least a dozen drop-tops and fixed-roof examples, it draws stares, smiles, waves, and conversation at almost every stoplight. Not only that, but it’s clear that the Beetle Clasico continues to carve out substantial emotional territory for Pueblans, with original examples ranging from lovingly-preserved to stubbornly-refusing-to-die littering the streets in an almost casual throwback to the days of air-cooled engineering.
Will the Tiguan be able to fan the same flame within the hearts of the families that depend on Volkswagen’s second-largest factory for their livelihood? Without the Beetle’s link to the past, it seems unlikely. Regardless of how well the Tig might play with customers it’s the kind of vehicle that’s built – and bought – solely because it’s required, one that satisfies spreadsheets and practicality concerns rather than passions.
In the battle between bean counters and Beetles, the winner is clear. More than that, the losers – owners, fans, and enthusiasts happy to see something “different” driving down the street, regardless of whether it could still be considered competitive in its segment – are even easier to identify.
Pricing: 2019 Volkswagen Beetle
Beetle Wolfsburg Edition Coupe: $24,475
Beetle Wolfsburg Edition Convertible: $28,475
Freight and PDI: $1,685