The Beetle GSR is supposedly tailor-made for racing and timed laps – it even includes a chronometer stopwatch right in the central dashboard and racing stripes outside.
Unfortunately, all who drove it at Road America last week came away with various harsh critiques. Brakes were spongy and non-existent, the tires washed out all sense of grip, it felt pokey, and most damning of all: it handled extremely poorly.
My critique that it felt like a gorilla was on the roof was echoed by a few other auto writers who had taken the GSR out on this tiny, tiny autocross course. It is actually the well-regarded Road America go-kart track – but this time with real-life cars howling around its corners.
Many machines were very fun around this tight course, including the Ford Fiesta as probably the biggest hoot. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR and Subaru WRX STI were quickest, but the Ford Focus ST felt the most aggressively able to put its power down.
Second to the Fiat Abarth 500C, the Beetle should have really excelled in a setup so small and tight. It really didnt.
The above critiques also do not mention the extremely slow steering and very pricey as-tested sticker total: the Beetle GSR with the DSG automatic comes in at $32,000 — which is deep into WRX and loaded Focus ST territory.
The 210-horsepower of the GSR’s R-Line engine felt only sufficient, but never rapid. Same goes for the DSG automatic.
On the plus side? The Beetle GSR is much, much more comfortable than the Abarth 500C and even the feisty little Fiesta ST. It is also much more comfortable than the MX-5 club and Scion FR-S — which I seem to be too fat to fit inside comfortably these days. They fit like a Small t-shirt when I wear an XL.
The Beetle GSR is handsome with its LED lighting and racing stripes – but the yellow color is a wet blanket over the whole proceedings. Trying much, much too hard considering the abysmal pace and handling around the autocross.