I’ve chosen to review two cars this time as on their own they wouldn’t be enough to justify a single review, and seeing as they’re both derivatives of the same car, I might as well do them both at the same time.
Firstly, we have the very rare and very ambiguous Volkswagen New Beetle RSi, possibly one of the most obscure and rarest cars you could come across. The New Beetle RSi (Rally-Sport injection) was constructed in 2001 as a limited edition version of Volkswagen’s New Beetle. In total, 250 members of this sporty variant were built between 2001 and 2003 to give the Beetle some hot edge. Structurally, the car was lowered, and the body was made more aerodynamic by smoothing the panels. Suspension was altered heavily, with tighter racing suspension implemented at the rear for greater strength. Other structural changes included stronger racetrack front and rear bumpers, a rear diffuser, an enormous rear wing and race-ready tyres, in this instance, 18x9OZ Superturismo’s with 235/40ZR-18 racing tyres. Internally the car was decked out with carbon fibre trim, bucket seats, billet aluminium, vibrant orange leather (odd choice), and a large rear brace behind the rear seats to increase structural rigidity in the even of a rollover. Power came from a highly modified 221hp 3.2L VR6 engine with Volkswagen’s own 4motion four-wheel drive, resulting in a top speed of a staggering 155mph!
The Beetle RSi was a modest success in its own right, and was notable for being entered in a selection of Touring Car races, but didn’t exactly set the world ablaze. Today they’re very rare cars to find and most are not road-legal due to the amount of modifications needed for track racing.
And while the Beetle RSi was a sadly uneventful sports version of the beautiful VW Bug, the Beetle Dune was an absolute tragedy, not because it was bad, but because it was too good! Launched at the 2000 Los Angeles Road Show, the Volkswagen New Beetle Dune was to be a four-wheel drive, off-road version of the Bug, being powered by a 2.3L Volkswagen V5 engine producing 150hp and giving the car a top speed of 137mph.
To be a true off-roading machine, the body of the conventional Beetle was altered heavily for this work. High strength bumpers were fitted, and ride height was increased by 120mm. Wheel arches were made larger to accommodate the bigger tyres and the car was fitted with air suspension, adjustable by a selection of pre-programmed height settings. The car was fitted again with 4Motion four-wheel drive from VW, and was given a 6-speed manual gearbox. The car was also endearing for its massive electric sunshine roof, which occupied the entire overhead panel and could fold away to let the sun beat in from above. The remaining roof sections either side were strengthened heavily in the event the car should roll over, meaning that even with the roof folded away the cabin wouldn’t buckle, making it incredibly safe. The instrument panel was vastly altered, incorporating a brand new GPS system located between the speedometer and the rev-counter, beneath which were the controls for the car’s adjustable air suspension.
So basically, the VW Beetle Dune was an incredible, endearing car, innovative in more ways than one, safe, practical, great fun to drive and generally an all-round good egg. Yet for some very strange reason, and in spite of all this work, Volkswagen never put this car into production, a decision that has baffled me for years. I have a very strange theory that it may have been the lack of a market that killed the Dune, with a small VW Beetle not exactly being people’s first choice for an off-roading vehicle, especially when other small 4×4’s such as the Jeep Wrangler and the Land Rover had established themselves as countryside champions.
Me personally, I still consider the Dune a tragic waste as it combined some truly wonderful technology with the beautiful styling of the Beetle and the go-anywhere practicality of contemporary Land Rovers. Although a new version of the Dune has been announced, it’s this unfortunate concept car that really holds a place in my heart, a perfect combo of performance and style to combat the desert sands or the California traffic.