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Bug Juice

Just like the wines of Napa Valley, VW’s new Beetle GSR packs a punch

Author John Scott Lewinski


Starting price: $29,995

Sure, the German auto giant makes plenty of other cars, but the Volkswagen prototype is the Beetle, whose bubble-like design hasn’t changed much in 75 years. Recently, we got to test out the 2014 GSR Special Edition in Napa Valley, the perfect setting for a zippy roadster.

The black leather and yellow stitching on the seats, steering wheel and shifter cover echo the exterior, but the dashboard gets away from the bumblebee theme with brushed aluminum and chrome finishes. Wine country might call for earth tones, but not inside of this car.

The GSR comes with a choice of a true six-speed manual or a six-speed DSG automatic transmission. The automatic is fine, but there is something about a classic Beetle that demands a stick shift and clutch—especially along the curvy, hilly roads between Calistoga and St. Helena.

A suite of techie features ranging from sat-nav to Bluetooth connectivity shows how far Beetles have come from that old joke about the Bug’s heaters never working. Throw in a bass-heavy Fender audio system and the toys inside match the fun, flashy exterior.

We’ve test-driven luxury SUVs and supercars, but we’ve never had an auto garner more smiles than this GSR. Maybe it was the way its yellow stood out amid Napa’s green hills and vineyards heavy with purple fruit. Regardless, that’s a ton of visual value for a car starting around $30,000.

While the standard 2014 Beetle offers a 170 horsepower engine, the GSR piles in a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 210 horses, which can go 0–60 mph in 6.6 seconds. Unlike the Beetles of old, the engine is in the front, so open up the rear to store your cases of Napa Cab.

The GSR’s domed, high-swept design makes it a little top-heavy, which VW corrects with multilink rear suspension and a balance that is shifted more to the center. The result is a confident feel in tight turns, which came in handy when passing slow-moving vintners’ trucks.

auto8Wow Factor
No one but a Herbie the Love Bug fan would associate the everyman Beetle with speed, which made it fun to pull up alongside a Porsche in Yountville and, after the driver tossed us a condescending look, leave it in our dust.

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