Do you know the Incredible Hulk? All it took was a boatload of gamma radiation, and the once soft-spoken, unimposing Dr. Bruce Banner was suddenly a rage-filled green killing machine.
In a way, that’s what Volkswagen is too. Hear me out; I’ve not gone off my rockers just yet. See, talk about VW and you’ll most probably think of sedans (swoopy or otherwise) and maybe some SUVs, but they generally have that serious German doctor demeanour about them.
Once or twice in its history, VW has poured weapons-grade radiation on their modest subjects too, seemingly just for the hell of it. In this context, the modest subject is the New Beetle and by radiation, I mean going ham with performance mods.
Which is honestly what Wolfsburg’s finest did back in 2001. They took a cute Bug, ripped out its puny stock engine, stuffed a bigger one in place, fed it a lightweight alloy diet and fattened it up in all the right places. The result is the Volkswagen New Beetle RSi, aka the Incredible Bug.
An undeniable VW icon
Instead of faffing about with the standard engine, a 3.2-litre VR6 was shoved into the frunk, making 221 PS and 320 Nm. Grip was not a problem, as VW slapped its 4Motion all-wheel drive system on it, and drivers got to bang through six speeds of pure manual joy.
Adding tons of snap, crackle and pop to this is the factory Remus Duplex exhaust system. It should be pretty obvious that it goes like a bat out of hell; the century sprint is dispatched in just 6.4 seconds, and you’ll reach 225 km/h if you keep the throttle pinned. Nothing humbug about this Bug, that's for sure.
They could've called it a day there but is it really German if they didn't go all the way? The folks at 'wagen took liberties to bathe the interior in carbon fibre and strip away any un-racecar bits so sorry Karen, the flower pot has to go.
In place of creature comforts are bright orange Recaros and billet aluminium trim pieces. Though it still looks pretty similar to the bog-standard Beetle, there were delectable details all over - such as the oil pressure, oil temperature and voltage gauges sitting where the radio once did.
But subtle it is not on the outside - its got curves, son! The Bug’s characteristic pumped arches were properly fattened up and it has not one but two spoilers at the back because downforce is very important.
Uprated big brakes hide behind the 18-inch OZ Superturismo wheels affixed on sport suspension - giving it an imposing stance.
Started a hot-hatch revolution
As preposterous as this article's title may seem, it's the truth. When the RSi was first unveiled as a concept in 1999, the media generally brushed it off as a neat design study only fit for a show but audience reaction told a different tale. The public lapped it up, and much to almost everyone’s surprise, VW turned it into a reality two years later.
All 250 units were sold during the model’s run from 2001 to 2003 so it was obvious - the people desperately wanted a hot hatch. VW then took what they learnt from the RSi and applied it to the Golf MK4 platform, thereby creating the similarly VR6-powered, six-speed manual Golf R32.
The R32 was a massive hit, so VW decided to replicate its success again two years later with the MK 5 R32. That also flew off dealerships and with the sixth generation, VW dropped the ‘32’ bit (partly because it didn’t have a 3.2-litre VR6 anymore) and just called it the Golf R.
For a while, VW was barely challenged in the hot hatch arena. Then, you know, other carmakers also wanted a slice of the hot hatch pie and through competition, we got things like the Mercedes-Benz A35 AMG and BMW M135i for example.
So the next time you see a humble Beetle toddling along, don’t be so quick to pooh-pooh it - remember that it is only through its maniacal cousin that we finally got to experience the revival of the hot hatch era again.
Although chances of sampling an original Beetle RSi remains a dream, we've at least got to experience the scalpel-sharp MK7 Golf R recently.
Jason would tell you, but he's still shell-shocked, so the video will have to do. Enjoy!