Volkswagen’s modern day Beetle, sold here since 1998, has gotten by on cheeky looks and nostalgic design, with its recent redesign adding a bit more hipster vibe and, for Turbo models, a bunch more performance. But with the introduction of the brazen, yellow-and-black 2014 Beetle GSR, arguably the butchest Beetle yet, the Beetle demonstrates the potential to go beyond adorable to entertaining.
The most ardent Beetle-isti may recall that the 2014 GSR actually has a predecessor from the 1970s by the same name, with “GSR” standing for “Gelb Schwarzer Renner,” or “Yellow Black Racer.” Like the first GSR, the new model features gloss yellow paint with black on the hood and trunklid. A black roof, black mirrors and bumper inserts, as well as big, 19-inch “Tornado” wheels and a yellow-lipped spoiler also add some power to the new version’s bod, though it probably could have done without the big “GSR” letters on the doors and with a solid black hood instead of the racing stripe look. Still, we can’t argue with the overt sportiness of the GSR’s visage.
Inside, the GSR is pretty much loaded. Black leather covers the deeply sculpted sport seats, as well as the steering wheel and shifter. Yellow stitching and accents bring a bit of the signature color scheme inside, though happily, not too much. A Fender audio system pumps out the tunes with basso profundo. Piano black accents, a faux brushed aluminum dashboard and lots of chrome details add a bit of brightwork to the cabin, yet it remains intense enough to make you almost forget you’re driving one of the most whimsically shaped automobiles in history. Almost.
Like the original GSR, the 2014 Beetle GSR is positioned as a sport-tuned Beetle variant, but whereas its predecessor did its very best with a modest 50 hp from its rear-mounted engine, the 2014 model offers more than four times that amount with its turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. The same engine powers the frisky, performance-oriented Jetta GLI sedan as well as other 2014 Beetle Turbo models (which, by the way, have been rechristened “Beetle R-Line” for 2014 and get the same front and rear bumper treatment as the GSR).
While VW unfortunately did not bring along an original Beetle GSR for comparison, it’s safe to say that the new one is way faster. We sampled the GSR around Napa Valley, Calif., with both available transmission choices, which includes a six-speed manual or VW’s excellent seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and found that the manual is good enough to satisfy die-hard stick shift fans, though is hardly God’s gift to gearboxes. The $1,100-pricier DSG, however, is more than worth it thanks to its instantaneous shift characteristics that make the most of the engine’s available power by keeping the engine engaged at all times, thus keeping the turbocharger from unspooling and taking a break between gearshifts. VW says the GSR can accelerate to 60 miles per hour in 6.6 seconds — a fair-to-conservative estimate.
The twisty roads also gave us a chance to experience the GSR’s surprisingly flat body control in corners and pleasantly direct and light steering. The brakes could use more initial bite — you really have to get down on the pedal if you intend to scrub off speed in a hurry — and like other Beetles, the GSR falls into understeer when you really hustle in the corners, so there’s no mistaking this car for a Golf GTI from the driver’s seat. Still, it is decidedly sporty for a Beetle, and given how easy it is to hustle around in corners, we wonder how much more potential the Beetle has for an even higher-performance model along the lines of the 296-hp, all-wheel-drive Golf R. Can you say Super Beetle?
Alas, for now, Beetle fans must be satisfied with the highly entertaining Beetle GSR, and its R-Line brethren. Among the two, the GSR is bound to be the more collectible: as with its predecessor four decades ago, only 3,500 examples will be built, with a majority of them coming to the U.S.
Pricing for the 2014 Beetle GSR with the 6-speed manual transmission is $30,790, while DSG-equipped examples start at $31,890. These prices are actually about $140 less than a similarly loaded Beetle R-Line coupe. And we think that’s a pretty good deal, since the workaday Beetle R-Line is pretty good as a “renner,” but it’s certainly not as “gelb und schwarzer.”