I drive a lot of exotics in my job. Every couple of weeks we have some hyper-dollared, uber-powered 200-mph monster in the garage, oozing sexiness.
Surprisingly, the Volkswagen Beetle you see here received more positive attention than even the most flared and winged sci-fi outcast I’ve driven in years. The complete opposite of a certain long-term, all-wheel drive, Japanese superhero I drove semi-regularly during its year in our care.
The Beetle has always held a special place in the hearts of automotive enthusiasts. The love is certainly stronger for the original air-cooled cars that took the U.S. by storm in the 1960s, but the Golf-based New Beetle that led the charge of VW‘s North American comeback in the 1990s has a following of its own. The Beetle’s reincarnation for 2012 saw a more masculine shape that recalled earlier cars. To reinforce the more performance-oriented slant, VW commissioned some well-known tuners, including our sister publication European Car Magazine, to build their own interpretations of the ultimate Beetle for the 2012 SEMA Show. Since EC is right across the hall, stealing the key to it was as easy as yelling “There’s an awesome MK1 Scirocco on Ronal turbos outside!” and grabbing it off of editor Greg Emmerson’s desk.
“everyone loved the old-school, two-tone BeetlE”
The most obvious thing is the paint. If VW doesn’t start selling a two-tone Beetle off the showroom floor, I’m starting a side business. From kids in the back seats of SUVs, to musclecar-driving, middle-aged men, to the Newport Beach trophy wives in $100,000 beach cruisers, everyone loved the old-school, two-tone Beetle. Even in obscenely affluent Malibu I couldn’t escape from a stop for a $9 latte without spending a half-hour talking V-Dubs with a Mercedes SL-driving local. Why do all these rich guys have stories about driving crappy, rusted-out, air-cooled VWs in college and how much they miss them?
Other modifications are everywhere. Foam Molder and Specialties did the bodywork on this Beetle. FMS isn’t a household name, but it does a great deal of VW’s show cars. The front lip and rear spoiler are custom pieces. The roof rack, which received mixed reviews, is also a one-off and is literally bolted through the roof. As the car was built for the annual SEMA show, we get it. With the surfboard and the water cans that feed the beach shower, it pulls the look together. But with the performance this Beetle is capable of, it is less than ideal for a canyon runner. The wind noise is even less desirable for a highway commuter.
“Hanging off of VW’s ubiquitous 2.0T is a larger K04 turbo”
Under the hood we find the beginnings of the Revo modifications. The biggest piece of performance is hidden between the back of the head and the firewall. Hanging off of VW’s ubiquitous 2.0T is a larger K04 turbo. It’s long been the go-to turbo in VW tuning circles, and a couple of quick blasts justify the choice. Revo rates this car at roughly 370 hp on pump gas. That number is right at the very top of what the stock high-pressure fuel pump can handle. On race gas, it is said to create about 400 angry horses.
During my week with the car, I never had the opportunity to fill it with race gas, but the 370 was more than adequate. To get the most of the bigger turbo, Revo installed a whole host of components:
- A Revo cold-air intake flows a little easier than the factory airbox.
- On the opposite side of the turbo, a Eurojet intercooler keeps intake charge to within a claimed 6 degrees F of ambient temperature. The core is huge and rated at up to 600 hp on a VW’s 2-liter engines
- On the hot side is Revo’s 3-inch exhaust system. It’s definitely louder than stock, especially when driven hard, but it never droned and we never regretted it being there.
- Revo’s software ties it all together, making an engine not entirely unlike the stock car in terms of drivability, just with far more power.
While at one time it was common practice for tuners to use a +1 or even a +2 package when choosing wheels, VW now offers a 19-inch choice straight from the dealer. This Beetle also wears 19-inch wheels, again from Revo. Michelin Pilot Super Sports were chosen for a mix of grip and good manners in daily driving and wet weather. The factory size of 235/40-19 was chosen to avoid rubbing or any other possible issues. Underneath the wheels sit Revo’s 14-inch, two-piece floating brake rotors clamped by monobloc four-piston calipers. Although substantially larger, the front setup is actually lighter than the factory brakes.
So what does all this add up to on the road? In short, wheelspin. This Beetle will absolutely roast front tires at the slightest provocation. This isn’t necessarily a complaint, as there is wheelspin but no trace of torque steer. Other manufacturers of high-power front drivers could really learn something from VW. From a standstill, the Beetle will spin the front tires all the way into third without some throttle modulation. Well, to be fair, it will mostly spin one tire, as the DSG still has an open differential inside and the car can only do so much grabbing the brakes. If you are skillful with the throttle, you can manage the spin and get moving in a hurry.
This is probably one of the five fastest front-wheel-drive cars I’ve ever driven. It’s certainly faster than any stock front-drive car I’ve driven. Sadly, we didn’t have an opportunity to run real numbers.
I did have time to take it through a few favorite canyons. Again, throttle modulation is the key. Going into turns, the suspension is set up to be perfectly neutral. Turn-in is sharp, strong, and more important, predictable. The car definitely favors the front end more in weight transfer, so apexes are easy to reach. Rolling into the throttle slowly puts the car on rails, but wait for the turbo to spool. Once boost hits, hang on, because the front tires will want to exit the turn faster and wider than the rest of the car. This is where a little better linearity in throttle would be nice. The bigger turbo develops an on/off personality when driven hard. It works well on 90-degree turns where the brakes can be carried into the turn and you can get the car straightened out before the boost comes on. In 180-degree switchbacks it requires a light right foot or a lot of patience to pick up the throttle at the very end. As much as I like tuned four-cylinder turbos, at times I miss the subtlety of naturally aspirated throttle response.
Overall this Beetle is all about fun. The suspension rides shockingly well, pun intended, during regular driving and is also impressive when driven hard. It would be fun to get it on the track and see what it can really do at the limits. Those big brakes are never really challenged on the streets and all that power wants to run at much higher than legal speeds. The paint and bodywork, lowered stance, and wheels make this car a hit anywhere it makes an appearance. The performance will shock other sport compact drivers, and it’s still as comfortable as a stock Beetle. Not everyone wants a conventional hatchback but still desires hot-hatch performance. For those people, a GTI in retro clothes might be the answer. If you really want to stand out, get yourself some contrasting paintwork and ring Revo for some go-fast parts.
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