Back in 1998, Volkswagen introduced the “new Beetle,” a cutesy punch buggy that came with a vase in the dashboard and especially polarizing style.
|Engine: 2.0L turbo four-cylinder makes 210 hp, 207 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: six-speed manual is standard, six-speed DSG automatic costs about $1,000 extra.
Fuel Economy: 24 MPG in the city and 30 MPG on the highway for DSG model.
Price: $30,815 including delivery to start or $31,915 with an automatic transmission.
But the bubble-shaped car remained in production for more than a decade looking pretty much the same. It wasn’t until the 2012 model year that VW released the stretched-looking coupe-ish car we have today.
Stylistically speaking, it looks less like classic Type 1 “Beetles” than the car it replaced. But Volkswagen isn’t abandoning its heritage.
For 2014 they’re offering the limited edition Beetle GSR that pays tribute to cars of the same name from the 1970s.
GSR is an acronym that stands for Gelb Schwarzener Renner, which means “yellow black racer” in English. Aside from paint, graphics and an imposing spoiler, the GSR edition Beetle is nothing more than the R line model. In Volkswagen’s defense, the special edition isn’t priced with a preposterous premium compared to the model it’s based on.
For $30,815, you’ll get an updated version of Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter Turbo four that makes 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. That’s the same engine you’ll get with the Beetle R-Line.
For that price you get a six-speed stick while the optional six-speed dual clutch costs about $1,000 more.
Fuel economy estimates suggest 24 MPG around town or 30 on the highway with the six-speed DSG model.
Aside from the paint, GSR graphics and exaggerated spoiler, most of the car’s body bits are borrowed directly from the R-Line model it’s based on. That includes an angrier front fascia and a rear diffuser and 19-inch “tornado” wheels.
The color scheme continues in the cabin with black leather and yellow stitching on the sport seats. There’s also a flat-bottom steering wheel with a special badge marking the car’s place in the 3,500 unit production run. Because the GSR is based on the R line vehicles, you get extra gauges on the dashboard as well.
For a car at this price, the cabin feels cheap. The hard plastic dash, weird map pockets on the doors and plain-looking center stack are disappointing. For perspective, you can drive home a Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 for roughly the same price.
Volkswagen’s seats have always been a sticking point for me, too. There’s nothing wrong with the leather, but again at this price point manual adjustment is just no good.
The six-speed DSG only adds $1,000 to the price tag and the paddle shifters are pretty entertaining to play with. Shifts are lighting-quick, but they can be a little jerky between first and second gear at slower speeds. Peak torque is available at 1,700 rpm and the car feels pretty darn quick.
The steering is fine for a Beetle, if not a little bit vague considering this is supposed to be a sporty special edition. A tighter steering ratio would go a long way in distinguishing the GSR.
The car doesn’t do a very good job of keeping road noise out. You have to put up with an exhaust note that’s fun for a little while, but starts to feel juvenile after a few miles. It isn’t raspy enough to be really exciting, but it’s loud enough to be noticeable and that’s not a good fence to be straddling. It either needs to be louder like, say, the Fiat 500 Abarth or quiet, which seems like the more appropriate considering this still really isn’t a performance machine.
Anyone who can actually remember seeing the original cars when they were new is probably well into their 50’s if not beyond. If there was anything more substantial than graphics, a big back wing and some changes to the interior, this thing might have some sort of collectability to fall back on.
It’s hard to feel disappointed that VW only plans to build a limited number of Beetle GSRs. Had the company gone to greater lengths in enhancing the car, it might be a more compelling product. Instead of feeling special, it ends up seeming awkward and obnoxious.