The original people’s car came to fruition in 1938. With its affordable price and practicality, the Beetle was a success. Its success prolonged the Beetle’s lifespan into the 1970s. By then rally racing had become huge. The rally racing created demand for Volkswagen to build a rally racing version of its Beetle. Volkswagen took a Super Beetle with the 1.6 motor and added performance upgrades, a bright yellow and black paint job. It even had a fire extinguisher in case of an emergency during races. The GSR was what the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru Impreza WRX are today albeit in a rear engine and rear wheel drive format. With the latest Beetle, Volkswagen revived the GSR edition. Just like the original GSR, the GSR has a limited run of 3500 units.
Whereas the 2000 Beetle was considered a chick car due to its bubbly and feminine design, this Beetle tries hard to differentiate itself. The flattened roofline, and huge bulging fenders give it a more manly look. The GSR touches are sufficient and not overdone. The yellow and black paint scheme complement the Beetle perfectly as do the stripes. The way Volkswagen encoded LEDs in the headlights is a neat touch. The side profile’s crisp window line and fenders give it an athletic look. The rear stays true to the original while looking modern. There are nice GSR touches such as the yellow stitching and a yellow gear shifter. Even though the interior is appealing, I do wish it looked more retro and unique rather than typically Volkswagen.
Even though this Beetle is much bigger and heavier than the original Beetle, it still drives well. The steering is precise and accurate, while providing decent feedback. It is easy to turn at low speeds, and it gradually gets heavier as speeds increase. Its handling does not match that of a Mini Cooper, but it is no slouch. Nimble handling and tenacious tire grip aids the Beetle’s playful behavior. It tucks in its weight neatly, and handling is secure. The ride is surprisingly comfortable. It is supple, even on rough roads.
The GSR comes with the Turbo’s 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine. If this engine seems familiar, that is because it is a “family engine”. It is used in the Jetta GLI, Golf GTI, CC, Audi A4, Audi A5, Audi Q5, and others. At 200 horsepower and 207 lbs of torque, the Beetle provides quick acceleration. There is no turbo lag, and you would be amazed at how quickly revs climb. Past 2,000 revs, there is a colossal surge in power that does not end until you shift. The six speed manual transmission works well with the turbo. The gearshift is slick and smooth. Clutch travel is long though, and it is snappier than normal. You have to be slightly more delicate with the clutch as opposed to a normal car, but it has good feel.
There is a noticeable whoosh around the doors, but aside from that, the cabin is hushed. The turbocharged four cylinder is quiet at low revs, but floor it and it emits an addicting bark.
Fit and finish is excellent despite a few scratchy plastics. It is well put together, and the interior gives off a sense of high quality. The leather steering wheel feels nice to hold. The gauges are simple and easy to read. The pedals are slightly offset to the wheel which may be uncomfortable for some drivers. The leather seats provide excellent cushioning with decent bolstering. It is easy to see out front, but rear visibility is just okay due to the rear wing and large blind spots. It is surprisingly spacious in the rear, and the tall roofline allows for decent headroom. Access is easy. The touch screen display and air conditioning take no time to master at all. The touch screen responds quickly. The gauges on top of the dash are a nifty touch although there are numerous blank buttons in the control cluster. Cabin storage consists of two glove compartments and not much else.
Whereas the New Beetle (1998-2011) was cramped, unexciting to drive, and unpractical, this Beetle represents a huge improvement while staying true to the original. It is fun to drive, and I can never get tired of redlining the turbo just to hear it bark. The styling is eye catching, and it feels upscale. The only flaw I have with this car is the interior. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the interior, but I wish there were more throwback details to the original rather than a typical Volkswagen design. I had low expectations for this Beetle because I expected it to be nothing special. It surprised me with its mix of fun and practicality. I have a theory that if a car came into this world with a manual, then you have to honor that. So get the Beetle with a manual. You won’t regret it.