Sedans & Coupes

The Volkswagen Beetle RSI: An $80,000 Golf R32 Preview

The Golf name has adorned quite a few high-performance Volkswagens. And before the R, the fastest Golf was the all-wheel-drive R32. But before the hot hatch received its powertrain, another VW product tested it out first. Which led to one of the rarest, fastest, and priciest Volkswagen Beetles ever: the Beetle RSI.

Volkswagen Beetle RSI specs and features

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Though the Volkswagen New Beetle aped its classic forebear in looks and charm, mechanically the two were very different. The original Beetle was rear-engine and RWD; the New Beetle, in contrast, was front-engine and FWD. In fact, it was built on the same platform as the contemporary Mk 4 Golf, The Drive reports. That meant it could use the same engines—or be used as an engine test-bed.

A silver 2001 Volkswagen Beetle RSI in front of a red-brick building
2001 Volkswagen Beetle RSI | Bonhams

Enter the 2001 Volkswagen Beetle RSI. While the standard car offered a variety of turbocharged and naturally-aspirated four-cylinders, the Beetle RSI had a 3.2-liter V6, Road & Track reports. Rated at 225 hp and 234 lb-ft, and linked to a 6-speed manual and AWD, it let the car go 0-60 in 6.4 seconds.

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The powertrain wasn’t the only thing different about the Volkswagen Beetle RSI, though. It had a widebody kit, ClassicCarSalesUSA reports, which included a functional rear diffuser and spoiler. Plus, it had a 3” wider track than the standard car and rode on 18” OZ Superturismo wheels. The Beetle RSI sported Brembo brakes and upgraded suspension. There were rumors that Porsche helped with the suspension, HeritagePartsCentre reports, but that’s actually not the case.

An interior shot of the 2001 Volkswagen Beetle RSI, showing the tan leather seats and carbon-fiber trim
2001 Volkswagen Beetle RSI interior | Bonhams

The car’s interior was also upgraded, Jalopnik reports. Carbon fiber was used liberally throughout. The gauge binnacle (with shift lights), the door trim, and even the shells of the leather Recaro bucket seats are made out of it. And while it doesn’t have power windows, the Beetle RSI’s window cranks, door pulls, passenger grab handle and sun visors are made of billet aluminum.

Does the Beetle RSI drive like a Golf R32?

When the US-spec Mk 4 Volkswagen Golf R32 debuted in 2004, it was a bit faster, Motor Trend reports. Its 3.2-liter VR6 V6 made 240 hp and 236 lb-ft, R&T reports, good for a 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds.

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However, that doesn’t mean the Volkswagen Beetle RSI isn’t fun in its own right, R&T reports. Thanks to the AWD and suspension tuning, the car has very little body roll or lean. It simply grips and goes. But despite this, the ride is never punishing. Add in the very communicative steering and excellent shift quality, and the RSI is a genuine hot hatch. Er, coupe.

A gray Volkswagen Beetle RSI Cup Car with a yellow interior and roll cage
Volkswagen Beetle RSI Cup Car | RaceCarsDirect.com

But for those wanting some extra sportiness, Volkswagen also made several racing-spec Beetle RSIs, Autoblog reports. The Beetle RSI Cup Car had a supercharged 3.2-liter V6 with a stainless-steel racing exhaust and manifold, good for 320 hp. It also had a racing roll cage and wheels, a fiberglass hood, and a stripped-down interior with a racing seat, CarBuzz reports.

Unfortunately, finding a Volkswagen Beetle RSI, racing version or not, can be challenging.

Pricing and availability

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The Volkswagen Beetle RSI was made from 2001-2003, and only in Europe. It also wasn’t cheap. In the US, the most-expensive 2001 New Beetle started at just over $22k, Autotrader reports. But the Beetle RSI started at $80,000—more than some contemporary Porsche 911s.

It’s also extremely rare. Volkswagen only made 317 Beetle RSIs in total, which includes 251 road cars. 1 of those, though, is not for sale. That’s the special blue model made for then-VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech. Every other road-going RSI was painted silver.

Used Beetle RSI prices are a bit more reasonable. A 2001 example sold at a May 2020 Bonhams auction went for just under $43,500. And a Cup Car version sold in 2019 for roughly $16,650.

However, even if you found one, bringing it to the US may prove tricky. That’s because the RSI was never sold in the US. It’s possible it’s similar enough to the US model that you could get a manufacturer letter certifying its crash-readiness. And the VR6 engine did pass emissions in both the Golf R32 and Audi TT. But it’s likely you’ll have to wait until 2026 to experience the proto-Golf R32 in the US.

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