SENIOR MOTORSPORTS EDITOR MAC MORRISON: Yeah … I don't exactly get the 2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR, but not because I wouldn't smile and welcome a modern Super Beetle. In fact, I wouldn't trust a person who wouldn't welcome a new Super Beetle, but this GSR isn't it. OK, maybe it is by numbers -- it's quicker than the outgoing GTI --but rather it doesn't feel quite right.
The Beetle GSR has more power than that GTI, a big rear spoiler, flat-bottomed steering wheel, retuned suspension, 19-inch wheels, racing stripes, an onboard timer, boost gauge, excellent sport seats … but the floppy pedals and shifter, the light steering somehow manage to make it feel marginally sporty at best. It handles reasonably well and doesn't get upset when you toss it around like a fool, but I didn't find a lot of joy in doing so simply because my connection with the chassis and the driving interfaces disappointed me quite a lot.
The good news is that, as always, VW's EA888 turbo four remains one of my favorite real-world engines, with fun pep and reasonable mileage, especially on the highway. And this is the most masculine new Beetle to date, and indeed it draws lots of smiles and compliments. But I found myself feeling a bit ridiculous behind its wheel: not because of any misguided sense of “I'm too cool for this” or anything of the sort, but because I suspected many people who saw me pass them -- certainly the ones who smiled and waved -- probably thought I was having a lot more fun than I actually was.
The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR is equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4.PHOTO BY VW
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: If General Motors hadn't teamed up with Michael Bay for the ongoing exposition of cinematic excellence that is the “Transformers” movie series, this is what Bumblebee would have looked like. Recall that the old G1 Bumblebee wasn't a Camaro; he was a plucky little Volkswagen.
And I can only describe this Beetle GSR as a Bug that's received the Michael Bay treatment: It's bigger, badder and flashier than its predecessor -- at least on the outside. More masculine, indeed. Beneath that, though, you'll find a somewhat serviceable plot that nevertheless lacks any real character or charm. It's the “Revenge of the Fallen” of vehicular sequels.
It'd be easier to be happier with the limited-edition Beetle GSR if it didn't promise to be the sporty reincarnation of the classic “Gelbschwarzer Renner,” or “Yellow Black Racer” -- a somewhat scandalous performance Bug, at least in its day. It certainly looks the part with its spoiler, color scheme and graphics packages.
A 6.6-second 0-60 sprint is promised. That may or may not be achievable, but the front end gets so unsettled under heavy acceleration that it's not terribly fun starting from a dead stop. So what? Slow car fast, and all that. A certain amount of body roll can be fun, too.
Except that the steering is so light, and the other inputs so lacking in feel, that you never get the impression that you're in a hotter version of anything. Depress the clutch; there are inches of travel before anything disengages, and even then, there's no real bite when you slip it into gear.
The car is not without its charms; the cutesy eye-like headlamps contrast nicely with the aggressive, Audi-like wheels. Kids and older folks absolutely love this car. If the phrase “smiles per gallon” didn't make me want to drive off a bridge, I'd say this probably has the highest spg rating of anything on the lot. I got more thumbs-up, excited waves and general inquires from neighbors and strangers at red lights than I even did in the hometown hero Chevy C7 Corvette. Try sorting that one out.
We try to evaluate cars by how well they achieve their intended purposes. Well, the new Beetle may not be my cup of tea, but to its intended audience -- which I have to assume consists primarily of nostalgic baby boomers -- it can provide a dose of youthful energy, or something. Even with its decent (and fuel efficient!) 2.0-liter motor, though, this Beetle GSR is nowhere near as hot as it pretends to be.
If I were playing Piech for a Day and could remake the Beetle as I saw fit, I'd make it smaller, cheaper, more frugal all around. Why not something Polo-sized? Or even something more in line with the Up!, which exhibits a masterful use of interior space? I'm well aware that we'll never go back to a rear-engine setup, but by keeping the Beetle affordable, efficient and compact you'd at least stay true to the sprit of the original people's car.
Stuff a powerful motor in one of these hypothetical Bugs and you'd have a truly raucous little hatch backed by a nice dose of style. Hell, paint it bright yellow and slap some black racing stripes and a spoiler on it while you're at it.
But I'm just sitting here spitballin', not running one of the world's largest automakers. As long as there are nostalgic baby boomers out there (they're the ones with all the money these days, not the youth), they'll have no trouble moving these pleasant, if fairly forgettable, Beetles.
Would I consider this car if I were a young person just starting out in life -- as so many of the people buying these cars now probably did with a well-worn original Bug decades ago? At this price, certainly not. Maybe young people aren't the market here; again, they don't have the money.
But I think VW is missing a huge opportunity by failing to make the Beetle a cheap, cheerful and youth-accessible ambassador for the brand.
The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR comes in at a base price of $$30,815 with our tester reaching $30,850.PHOTO BY VW
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: I'm definitely with Graham on that last part. A little bit cheaper and a little bit smaller would do this 2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR well.
The paint job makes people sit up and take notice for sure. I got at least two random waves from people when I normally average zero. It's is kind of a cool-looking bug. It's definitely flashy. The latest body style is better than the previous, looking a little lower and wider.
The interior is a nice place to be, no qualifier needed. The black seats with the yellow accents are neat; the dash is covered in a faux brushed aluminum trim that doesn't even feel that cheap. The seats are comfy, everything is adjustable and I didn't have a problem finding a good driving position.
As for the driving impressions, again, I'll echo Graham. The skinny steering wheel is has very little resistance and feels dainty in the hand. It makes me want to drive with four fingers while the fifth is pointed skyward. The shifting action wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible, either. The gates seem a little vague, especially when trying to shift fast. The clutch pedal is feather-light and the brakes go in too deep. That last complaint is probably due to the handful of jumpy journalists behind the wheel.
The best Beetle I've driven lately was the diesel we had last year. It was red and actually stuck out less than this car, and had more than 200 lb-ft of torque. The '70s edition was just lame, though.
If you like the engine, take it in the GTI or GLI. If you like the body, then look for a diesel.
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