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Volkswagen Beetle GSR

The GSR materialized 41 years ago when VW responded to customer requests for a driver’s bug. It gave them a 1600-cc, 50-hp Super Beetle armed with wider tires, a double-toned horn (hey, it was the ’70s), sport seats and steering wheel, and a flashy black-and-yellow paint job. Unfortunately, it never crossed the ocean. VW also provided a list of 10 approved tuning firms to the 3500 German customers who drove home the original Gelb-Schwarzer Renner (yellow-black racer).

The Beetle GSR R-Line tested here toasts that memorable moment in bug history. Like other R-Lines (the new name for turbocharged Beetles), nav, a sunroof, bixenon headlamps, and keyless entry and ignition. The cockpit welcomes serious drivers with excellent manually adjustable front buckets, pedals arranged for heel-and-toe work, a shift linkage that never misses, and a grippy tilting and telescoping steering wheel. Atop the dash, there’s a gauge console providing engine-oil temperature, turbo boost, and a timer to clock your acceleration runs.

The GSR beat the last U.S.-spec GTI we tested by 0.4 second to 60 mph and tied it in the quarter-mile. Chalk it up to the 10-hp advantage given to 2013 turbo Beetles and the Jetta GLI, but denied to the GTI until the seventh-generation model arrives later this year. With 23 psi of boost on tap at any time and up to 27 psi available during overboost, this Beetle flies.

Now in its third generation, VW's EA888 four-banger is a thoroughly competent mix of cast iron (block), aluminum (cylinder head), and plastic (practically everything that doesn’t get hot). This engine—with its long stroke, direct -injection, balance shafts, and variable intake timing—gushes torque the way the Niagara Falls decant water. So even though the GSR outweighs the GTI by more than 100 pounds and the gear ratios in its six-speed transaxle are more widely spaced, the -yellow-black racer is quicker between lights. The GSR also tweaks the GTI’s nose in braking (165 feet versus 187 from 70 mph) and cornering (0.89 -versus 0.86 g). The electrically assisted steering lacks feedback, but effort rises smartly while twisting into a bend.

Rounding off the GTI’s corners reduces rear-seat accommodations by one passenger, though cargo space actually rises a touch under the GSR’s roofline. The bug that flies with the bees is not likely to win over many dudes. But the GSR could be the ultimate stealth hot hatch.

Published: Friday, March 21, 2014

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