Have a baby? A toddler? Looking at crossovers and minivans and SUVs, probably in silver or white? Knock it off, right now. Because this, a bright yellow Beetle with black stripes, is one of the best baby cars you can buy. Because deep down, fun for kid and parent beats practicality, and somewhere inside you know that's true.
I suppose I should be up front here and make it clear that absolute objectivity is going to be tricky with this one. A car company gave me the keys to what certainly looks and feels like a modern version the car that's been my partner for decades. But I'll do my best to be detached as I see how this Beetle hauls my kid around.
Oh, who am I kidding? I was ecstatic to get one of these. And while I know, intellectually, that Volkswagen has based the color scheme of this limited-edition (3500 copies) Beetle GSR on the old 70s Yellow and Black Racer, and this Beetle has vastly more in common with a Golf than my old rattletrap, the similarity of the color scheme to my own old Beetle has most likely clouded whatever perceptions I have. You should see how many of these side-by side pictures I ended up taking.
The redesign of the Beetle from J Mays' original New Beetle I think is, overall, quite good, and not for all the testosterone-injection reasons we've heard. I generally tend to think a lot of the fear of having your sexuality threatened by your car is pretty silly (I mean, your genitals are right there in your seat if you really get confused), but I mostly just like how the redesigned Beetle is a little closer, proportionally, to the original.
In fact, this new one reminds me a bit more of a Super Beetle, which I think is an interesting way to go. I like the flatter windshield, the longer hood line, and the slightly more purposeful stance. Of course, power-wise, this Beetle is the equivalent of 3 1/3 vintage Beetles, making 210 HP (and 207 lb-ft of torque).
Driving this thing around solidified something I've been thinking about for a while. For me, I think the horsepower sweet spot is right around 200 HP. The cars I've driven that range from, say, 160-220 HP (FR-S, Abarth 500, Fiesta ST, etc) have proven to be the ones I've had the most fun in. They have good to very good acceleration, but they're not so powerful that you constantly feel like you're holding back, which is always frustrating.
This Beetle GSR is a hell of a lot of fun to drive. It's surprisingly easy, too, with a light but not overly sensitive clutch, hill-holding (which I've grown to love), and an easy, satisfying shifter. It's quick, pretty nimble, and generally defies you not to have fun while you're driving it, unless you're in a funeral procession or something.
Fun is, of course, fun, but I'm here to talk about the ultimate aftermath of fun, a kid. And sure, Otto's no longer really a baby, he's a 3-year old little loon, but I'm pleased to say the Beetle GSR can be a functional and enjoyable kid/toddler/baby car.
In one pretty important aspect, it's actually one of the best baby cars I've had, thanks to its very accessible LATCH child seat mounts.
I know I probably put in and take out baby seats much more frequently than most people do, so this may be a bigger issue for me, but I'm pretty sure most parents will appreciate this. Most of these LATCH mounting loops on most cars are tucked way deep in between where the seatback meets the rear seat cushion. That means a lot of blind digging around in those tight crevasses while you're holding open a baby seat clip, trying desperately to get the damn thing clamped onto the loop before the force of the seat parts cuts off circulation to your hand, forcing you to give up and chew it off.
The Beetle's unashamed, exposed little loops make latching the seat in a snap. It's so much easier than so many cars I've been in, I have no idea why they aren't all like this. This is a big toddler-car plus in my book.
It's not a big car, and it's a 2-door only, of course, and it has a fastback/sloping roof design — all of which usually means some pretty difficult kid-shoving into car acrobatics. On some cars I've tried, getting a squirmy toddler in the back is like shoving a writhing, fighting shark into a PO box. But the Beetle has a couple of advantages here that make this process not so bad.
First, the seat back release to get access to the back is well-placed and easy to grab, even if you're juggling a kid, a bunch of tiny space toys he seems to want to take everywhere right now, and some beverages or something equally likely to spill down your shirt. It's a nice big, chunky lever, and you can always manage to snag it. Once snagged, it moves the seatback forward, and releases the seat on its tracks so it can slide all the way forward as well, revealing a good-sized opening for kid-cramming.
Plus, the roof arcs up high in the middle, eliminating the point where I've been traditionally most likely to clonk Otto on the head, robbing him of precious future math or social skills, probably. The car is small enough that I can keep a foot on the ground and easily plop him into the car seat without much trouble. For something not really designed for this sort of thing, the end result is pretty damn good.
I was skeptical about the trunk's ability to pass the big jogging stroller test, but despite the dramatically curved lid and seemingly limited space (where, if we're honest, a flat-four really should be living) the stroller fit just fine. The trunk is deceptively deep, and the bulky stroller crammed in there without much fuss at all.
There's some flaws as well, of course. The gas mileage isn't really that spectacular: 21 in the city, 30 highway, and 24 combined. I get that this GSR's 2L turbo is tweaked more for power, but 21 in the city is borderline crappy. The engine note/sound isn't bad, but for a car like this, I'd have appreciated it if VW took a page from the Abarth book and gave a bit more of it. Beetles are traditionally loud cars anyway, and from a kid-car perspective, I know Otto would have loved that.
Also, to whoever at VW is buying your dash-cluster matrix displays, it's time to find someone who isn't reselling you old, repackaged Colecovisions. Actually, Colecovisions could do 16 colors, which is 14 more than VW's do, so maybe they're not even that. They're probably Timex Sinclair 1000s.
Whatever they are, and regardless of the good job VW's designers have done within the limited resolution confines of these screens, VW should peek at what, say, Ford has available in their dashes on similarly cars. Full-color LCDs. It's a little thing, sure, but there's no reason on a premium-small car like this not to have it. Actually, for that matter, VW has a similar crappy screen on the Veyron. So maybe it's a good idea across the board.
Also, a rear-view camera wouldn't be bad to make standard on this car, either. It's an option, but the rearward visibility isn't terrific here, and those cameras do make a big difference.
All in all, I really enjoyed using the Beetle GSR as a primary dad/kid vehicle. I've used my old Beetle for this so often that the ability to have something that at least echoed the style and character of my old car with modern-grade performance and amenities was pretty intoxicating.
It also reinforced my already well-enforced belief that a really good kid car needs to be fun, both for the parent and the kid. Raising a kid — let alone multiple kids — is hard, no way about it. Kid's vast energy reserves and still larval brains cause them to make some really phenomenally bad decisions. It's often like being responsible for a highly emotional, 30 lb drunk. That's why it's so important that after a taxing day, full of highs and lows, you can come back to a car that you genuinely enjoy driving.
If some crossover makes you feel dead inside every time you approach it, who gives a shit how much it can hold? When you can pack your kid into a car with a bit of soul, and hear him say "Daddy, go fast?" and then actually follow through (safely, of course) and everyone gets a little thrill from how you took off from a stop, or the way you leaned into a corner, or the throaty rumble the engine made that your kid will be imitating for weeks — then that pretty much trumps every bit of convenience, at least for me.
Happily, there's more and more cars that are capable of this. I'd love to see more parents choosing cars like this Beetle GSR. Plus, no losing it in a crowded parking lot, right?