2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR
2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR
2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Dan Heyman

Napa Valley, California – “Big deal,” I hear you saying. “It’s a Beetle in drag – should I be giving Volkswagen a reward cookie or something?”

But wait just a minute.

You knew that when the original “New Beetle” was released in 1997, its retro-ness – complete with dash-mounted flower holder – was always going to be a hot selling point and as soon as the car hit Canadian sales floors in late ’97, we started seeing them all over the road.

The latest Beetle – the “New” part has been dropped, along with the flower holder – while larger and decidedly more sports coupe-looking than its predecessor, still has the traits that made the original car popular: the round headlights and taillights, the big, fat fenders and insect-like profile are all present. You can even accessorize the new model with a set of dog-dish wheels, and it doesn’t get any more retro than that.

So, looking at the GSR with its fancy graphics and such, you may mistake it for anything but retro; I know that when I first laid eyes on it, popping out like a sunflower among white orchids from a line of ’14 MY Vee-Dubs at the full-line drive event, I thought “the tuners are going to love this one.”

In reality, though, there’s more of a connection with the old Beetle than you may think. That “GSR” acronym? Stands for “Gelb Schwarzer Renner”, which in turn translates to “Yellow Back Racer”. That nomenclature, in turn, has been applied to a Beetle before, in 1970, to be precise, when it graced the flanks of a special edition car of that era.

The ’14 GSR, however, goes a little beyond the black hood and engine cover that punctuated the old model; there’s still a black hood and trunk, but it’s bisected in this instance by a set of body colour–matching (it’s called “Sunburst Yellow”, by the way) hood stripes and very visible “GSR” script on the doors. Those two-tone “Turbine” 19-inch wheels, meanwhile, are your only choice and they do a great job of filling out the big wheel arches.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR
2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR. Click image to enlarge

Aside from the paint, this rare Beetle – a plaque on the steering wheel spoke denotes that 3,500 are to be made, with less than 100 earmarked for Canada – the GSR is a showcase for an all-new “R-Line” body package, to be made available on non-GSR Beetle Turbo models in late 2014.

The new side skirts, front fascia, rear diffuser and shelf-like rear-wing help differentiate the GSR from the Super Beetle already in VW’s lineup and indeed, put side-by-side, the GSR does look the squatter, more honed car.

Of course, how much you like the GSR’s looks is always going to depend on whether or not you can take those “I AM BEETLE! HEAR ME ROAR!” graphics. Indeed, there’s probably a reason why so few are being produced; enforcing collector-level status on this particular Beetle was likely high on VW’s list during GSR development.

Or perhaps they wanted to show that the Beetle still has a level of je ne sais quoi that allows it to be brought to dealership lots looking like this right out of the box.

Inside, the GSR effect is more subtle but equally effective, if not more so.

Leather seats, steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake lever come as part of the $3,360 GSR package, but it’s smart touches like contrasting yellow stitching over black upholstery on the seats and flat-bottomed steering wheel (the only available colour combination) that make the GSR’s cabin a truly special place to be; I even like the yellow halo around the gear shift knob you get with the six-speed manual transmission (a six-speed DSG ‘box is a $1,400 option). It may be a little dark in here for some, and I do miss the carbon-fibre dash inserts found on the Super Beetle, but I guess the matte finish seen here is a little more in keeping with the retro feel.

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