Volkswagen Super Beetle Show Car First Test
Make Boost, Not War
A couple months ago I drove a modified Volkswagen Beetle built by our sister publication European Car magazine for the 2012 SEMA Show. You can read my thoughts about the 370-hp retro-cool monster here, but if you don't have time, let me sum up. It looks awesome and gets tons of attention, but it has too much power for front-wheel drive. The Surf Beetle wasn't the only performance Bug at the SEMA show, and it certainly wasn't the most extreme -- the Volkswagen Super Beetle show car is. The aptly named Super Beetle was built by VWVortex and VW/Audi/Porsche tuner APR.
I first got my hands on the Super Beetle at the annual Fastivus event in Southern California sponsored by Volkswagen of America. Among other activities at Fastivus is a full day of track driving around Willow Springs Raceway. Around "Big Willow," I've driven everything from near-stock Volkswagen Golfs to SRT Jeep Grand Cherokees all the way up to built race cars, so this was a great opportunity to see what the Super Beetle could do and get an idea of how it compares to other cars. Before we get too far into the driving, though, let's take a second to understand the car a little better.
The genesis of this particular Beetle started with Volkswagen inviting tuners and media outlets to build vehicles to generate interest in the brand at the SEMA show. I imagine the scene went like this:
Volkswagen Exec: Hey, VWVortex, are you guys interested in building a Beetle for SEMA?
VWVORTEX GUY: Sure, yeah, we know what the kids like — we'll build it nice. I'm sure the guys at APR Racing would love to help us.
*VWVORTEX GUY calls APR GUY*
VWV: Hi APR. It's Vortex. We're going to build a SEMA car together.
APR: Who? That place with the Car Lounge, and guys who say EMM-KAY-FOUR? Have we met?
VWV: Unlimited budget, free car, do it for the kids.
APR: Unlimited budget? Yeah, let's do it for the KIDS! Wait, is it going to be on airbags with a rusted hood with stupid stretched tires? We build race cars, dude.
VWV: Nope. You're taking a brand-new car, cutting it into pieces, and then making a monster performance car out of it with parts from another car. Something crazy-fast. Ya know, like enthusiasts did in the '90s.
APR: Oh, well yeah, we can do that.
I'm sure that's exactly how it went.
APR, the rocket scientists behind Audi's American endurance racing effort with the R8, and VWVortex did, in fact, take a perfectly good VW Beetle Turbo, cut the floor pan out and splice in the bottom half of a Golf R, morphing the once front-wheel-drive Bug into an all-wheel-drive, road-eating machine. To start, the trunk floor of the Beetle had to be cut out and replaced with the sheetmetal from a Golf R. The rear differential, along with the independent rear suspension, requires more space, so the full-size spare tire well in the trunk, no longer fits. It was also needed to make room for the Golf R's saddle-bag gas tank, which straddles the driveshaft. At the front, APR found that the Golf R subframe wouldn't quite bolt into the Beetle chassis.
Surprisingly, the Beetle shares dimensions with the Audi TT and not the Golf, so a cast aluminum subframe and the lower control arms from a TTRS replaced the stamped steel Beetle pieces. TTRS front aluminum spindles were also selected. The TTRS pieces are not only beefier, but change the ball joint and tie-rod locations correcting the roll center, steering geometry, and camber curve on lowered cars. If you have a lowered VW, you might look into these.
The Beetle's EA888 2.0T was maintained, while the transmission and rear drive portion of the drivetrain came out of the Golf R. While the trans was out, APR installed a limited-slip differential to aid in putting down the monster power. The engine uses stronger rods and pistons, while the stock crankshaft is lighter. The Beetle's stock turbo is good for maybe 280 hp with all the bolt-ons. The Golf R's K04 turbo when tuned can see 360 hp. To impress the kids these days, you really need to hit the 500-hp mark, so that of course is where this Beetle went.
APR uses a Garrett GTX2867R turbo that not only flows well on the top end, but spools up quickly so the low-end sacrifice is minimized. The turbo hangs off the head on APR's Inconel investment cast manifold and blows through a giant front-mounted intercooler. Underneath the car, H&R coilovers and anti-roll bars give adjustability in the suspension, and the brakes are upgraded with VW Motorsports rotors and calipers. The wheels you see in these photos are from HRE, but the Beetle also has a set of Fifteen52 multi-piece wheels. Tires are from Michelin and sized 245/35-20.
OK, enough. How does it drive?
My first experience in the car was in an advanced run group on Big Willow, a perfect way to get accustomed to a brand-new car. Did I mention the stability control can be completely disabled? First off, the VW is fast. Not fast-for-a four-banger fast, but properly fast. At the track, the tank was full of race gas and the ECU was in race mode, which means I had all 500 angry ponies at my disposal. In the uphill, on-camber, Turn 3, the Beetle drifted like a Hachi-Roku on a delivery run. I'll be honest, it caught me by surprise, and I found myself steering and pedaling faster than I ever have in a VW. After realizing the car's ability to swing around, I was able to work with the car, getting it to rotate when needed or even getting a little push in the faster stuff.
All the upgrades are well-balanced. The suspension is compliant enough that it doesn't get upset over the bigger bumps at Willow but firm enough to not feel like you're flying away in the faster sections, which is a good portion of the track. The brakes work well, with huge stopping power and good control. Luckily, the long list of vehicle upgrades included a set of Recaro Sportster CS seats, which are plenty supportive and almost mandatory on a car with this performance.
The steering is as good as I've felt on a VW since the MK2 GTI. Thanks to the corrected geometry and stiffer bushings, cranking the skinny-rimmed factory Beetle steering wheel results in immediate action. If you carry the brakes into turn-in, the Beetle responds with a bit of rotation. A neutral throttle returns light understeer, and picking up a tiny bit of throttle while turning in makes the nose scratch for the apex. While it feels unlike a Beetle or Golf, it doesn't feel like a completely different animal. The DNA is still there, but it feels like it's been hit with gamma radiation. This clearly isn't a track car, but would definitely work for occasional track days and HPDE events.
On the street, there is a bit of lag with the larger turbo. The power comes on smoothly and doesn't feel like an on/off switch as in so many tuner cars. It is still nowhere near the linearity of a naturally aspirated engine, but you never feel yourself inadvertently lunging at the car in front of you when leaving a stoplight when the boost builds. After 2200 RPM, it has all the power you could want. On pump gas we estimate the Beetle is producing around 450 hp. Even though our 91-octane California fuel is pretty disappointing, APR has programs to work with just about anything you have locally.
We were impressed with the performance on the track and the street, but we couldn't have this car in our possession without finding out just how fast it really is. Just like everything else we test, the tank was filled with pump gas at a station right down the street from the track, so keep in mind that these numbers aren't at full race gas potential. Let's start with a little refresher on the Golf R. A 2012 Golf R ran 0-60 mph 5.8 seconds and did the quarter mile in 14.2 seconds at 97.9 mph. Those numbers are pretty impressive for a stock, 256-hp, 3390-pound, four-door hatchback. This Beetle is a mere 3228 pounds and should have nearly 200 hp over and above the R.
The Super Beetle ran 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds. Breaking into the 3-second club is impressive, making it neck and neck with a 2014 Cayman S and edging out musclecars such as the Camaro ZL1 and Boss 302 Mustang. In the quarter-mile the Blue Bug ran a 12.6 at 110.2 mph. That means it ties a 2012 Aston Martin but finishes a tenth of a second behind the Camaro ZL1 and two-tenths behind the Boss, both of which trapped nearly 4 mph faster. Never doubt the value of all-wheel drive off the line. In the other direction, the Beetle didn't quite live up to the potential those big blue calipers promised. Our best 60-0 stop saw the Beetle grinding to a halt in 122 feet, an improvement over the Golf R's 128 feet, but not that impressive when you consider the last GTI we tested stopped in 124 feet. The Boss and ZL1 did it in 112 and 107 feet respectively. Also never doubt the value of good weight distribution and super-sticky tires.
The Super Beetle did manage the herculean task of shaving a full 2 seconds off the Golf R's figure-eight time. The Beetle ran a 24.5 while the R ran a 26.5, which is a huge difference. The Beetle pulls 0.99 g in lateral acceleration while the R only manages 0.89 g. Anything under 26 seconds is a fairly serious machine and getting under 25 seconds is flying. Given the car's impressive lateral figure and ability to put power down so well, it stands to reason a little better braking could have shaved another couple of tenths off that time. Behaviorally, the Beetle did about what you would expect. In neutral throttle situations, such as the skidpad section of figure-eight, understeer is the standout behavior. This isn't like a typical street or track situation where you are winding into and then out of the steering during the corner; this is a constant radius, so this truly is what the car does, just turning. If this were my car, I would be tempted to try a slightly wider front tire. It might look funny, but it would work.
After a day at the track, a week on the streets, and then another day at our test track, we loved the Super Beetle. Would we spend the time and money building one? Of course not. You can find used Golf Rs trading hands for just under 25 grand these days. You could probably have probably 90 percent of the performance of this car with another 10 grand. I'll take a four-door in gray, do all these mods, and then maybe put some MK5 Rabbit badges on it for the ultimate sleeper. This Beetle is maybe a bit too extreme for mainstream buyers, but I do wonder why VW holds back on the power of cars like the Golf R. We probably aren't ready for a 500-hp Golf at a dealership, but 350 hp doesn't seem unreasonable. Even if it were offered as a dealer-installed package with the factory warranty, that would be great.
Thanks to VW, APR, and VWVortex for letting us experience the Super Beetle. We're eager to see what you can do with the upcoming MK7 GTI.
|2013 Volkswagen Super Beetle|
|PRICE AS TESTED||If you have to ask..|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 2-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||2.0L/500-hp (est) /490-lb-ft (est) turbo I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3228 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||168.4 x 71.2 x 57.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.6 sec @ 110.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||122 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.99 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.5 sec @ 0.82 g (avg)|