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The Beetle RSi Is The Performance VW You Completely Forgot About

The new VW Beetle isn’t exactly an enthusiasts car, when it was first revived for the 1997 model year the retro inspired New Beetle was a cutesy brand icon that did not offer anything exciting for enthusiasts. Although it drew heavily on the iconic original Beetle designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, the New Beetle was more of a curiosity than a new people’s car. Enthusiasts never flocked to the New Beetle for obvious reasons, like the flower pot or the dainty exterior styling, but VW built 250 examples that are sure to change your mind. VW took some basic hot rodding techniques, and crammed their 3.2 liter VR6 engine and 4-Motion four wheel drive system into the Beetle to create the Beetle RSi, a limited edition track monster looking for redemption.

Although the New Beetle was designed by a man who only possessed the curved half of a protractor, the RSi’s liberal dosage of gaping intakes and wings do improve the car’s overall look. With extended side skirts, and a rear wing that looks more at home on a GT3, the RSi is anything but subtle. It has to shout its sporty intentions to on lookers who would never expect a Beetle to be cool, or offer any sort of notable performance. The new rear fascia features a wind tunnel honed diffuser and dual Reamus exhaust ports to announce the arrival of the uber bug. The RSi also needed massive fender flares to accommodate the OZ Racing 18in wheels. This complete redesign was the most important step in changing the market’s perception of the New Beetle but once you find out whats under the skin it doesn’t matter what this car looks like.

To back up the new vulgar exterior styling VW took out all the stops to ensure this was more than just an appearance package. The RSi is based on the MKIV R32 using the same 225 horsepower VR6 engine, and 4-Motion four wheel drive system which, easily made this the fastest production beetle at the time. The snarling VR6 engine reminds us why turbo charged inline-fours shouldn’t always be the answer, its exhaust note and smooth power delivery give the RSi driving characteristics that cannot be replicated today. The 4-Motion system ensures the added power from the massive VR6 is easily transferred to the pavement and torque steer won’t be an issue. In today’s world of 350 horsepower Focus’s the RSi sounds weak, but back in 2001 when this car debuted it was quite fast. To handle the added power the RSi featured bespoke suspension tuning that made the car very stiff and more suited for a race track than a morning commute. The entire rear suspension geometry has been changed in order to improve cornering and take full advantage of the new four wheel drive system.

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With the power train from the hottest Golf and an exterior that actually made the Beetle look aggressive, the interior was the final step in completely changing the beetle from chic car to track day monster. To start, the front seats were replaced with leather wrapped Recaro buckets to hold passengers in place during spirited driving. The entire gauge cluster was completely redesigned and the radio was relocated to the roof in order to make room for the extra gauges. The center piece of this interior is the 6-speed manual which was the only transmission choice for this car, its short throws and close ratios meant the driver was constantly involved even while driving slowly. The RSi also featured shift lights like a Ferrari to make sure you didn’t bounce of the limiter while running hot laps at the Nurburgring. The interior also features real carbon fiber door cards and aluminum window winders which are oddly beautiful. The interior is clearly centered around function over form and it continues the spirit of the rest of the car.

The Beetle RSi is a car that should not exist and that’s why its worth talking about. Its the classic example of how platform sharing can create some of the craziest cars to ever leave the factory. Thanks to the vast Volkswagen parts bin Frankenstein monsters like the Beetle RSi are always a possibility. Although the new beetle is relegated to the same grave yard as cars like the PT Cruiser, Chevy SSR, and Plymouth Prowler; it stands out as a genuine performance car among retro flops.

About Chris Okula - Contributor

Chris was raised on Top Gear and automotive magazines, which still dominate most of his free time today (he is not a fan of the new TopGear). After he graduated from Desales University, Chris started his career in the pharmaceutical industry, but missed writing which lead him to the creation of his own automotive blog. This blog lead him to work with Road & Track and now as a contributor here at Shifting Lanes. In his free time, Chris is constantly on the popular automotive auction site, Bring a Trailer, as well as Craigslist looking for ways to destroy his savings account and skip student loan payments.

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