I had a taste of what it was like on the drive up to the Streets of Willow circuit that morning. Finding gaps left by sleepy commuters, I dipped into the Super Beetle's throttle for bursts of speed, and the shots of adrenalin that came with it were clearing my synapses better than the strongest espresso.
There were other clues to the Super Beetle's potential: the VW Racing calipers that clamped hard with the slightest touch of the pedal, the petrified stiffness of the racing clutch and the pronounced whoosh-hiss-psssst of a spooling turbo, heavy-breathing intercooler and exhaling diverter valve.
But those appetizers didn't prepare me for the main entree: hot-lapping at Streets. And after one lap of full-throttle hedonism, it left me muttering in disbelief.
Was this really just two liters? Was APR working with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on advanced techniques in power generation? It was definitely the most violent 500hp I'd experienced. It would pin my head to headrest and its brutal acceleration compared favorably to a 650hp 911 Turbo I'd driven a while ago on the same track.
The Super Beetle started as a project car for VW Vortex and was originally known as the RS 2.0. However, it went through several stages of upgrades and became a showcase for what could be done to the second-gen Beetle.
After that phase was complete, Jamie Vondruska from Vortex was asked by a couple of VW execs what he'd do to the Beetle if given free rein and almost unlimited resources. Vondruska said 500hp and a Golf R drivetrain. Apparently, the VW execs laughed, at first...
Vondruska placed a call to Stephen Hooks at APR to propose the 500hp AWD Beetle with brakes and suspension to match, and he got an enthusiastic response until they realized it needed to be built in three weeks for the 2012 SEMA show.
Many shops would have simply hung up the phone but APR arranged to have the car shipped to its impressive facilities in Opelika, AL, where they assessed what would be needed for the Golf R drivetrain swap.
Apparently, everything seemed straightforward until they tried to mount the R's front subframe into what had become known as Super Beetle. It didn't fit, yet they discovered that an Audi TT subframe would.
At the rear-end, they needed to cut some sheetmetal to make room for the Golf's saddle-style fuel tank, which would straddle the rear propshaft.
With APR's experience of building and racing everything from R8s in the Rolex GT series to GTIs in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, the re-engineering didn't seem to faze them and the car was duly completed in time for the SEMA show.
For the 2.0T engine, they went all-out with the Stage 4 package, which builds upon its Stage 3 Plus package by adding the Garrett Honeywell GTX 2867R turbine. It has a new compressor wheel design where the blade geometry is designed for quick spooling and high flow.
As a fully built engine, the package also uses stronger pistons and connecting rods plus a balanced crank to withstand the boost pressure at high revs. The turbo is mounted on an Inconel exhaust manifold, and there are bigger injectors, a front-mount intercooler as well as APR software.
The company claims 500hp from Stage 4, although it's still technically in development and not currently available to the public. However, the accompanying graph proves it can make that number, it just remains to be seen how much it can reliably produce before the units are sold to customers.
To create an all-round performer, the Super Beetle was also fitted with six-piston front calipers and 352mm rotors from Volkswagen Racing, with Golf R calipers at the rear.
H&R supplied its Street Ultra Performance coilovers and thicker sway bars. And APR replaced the stock uprights with sturdier pieces from the Audi TT RS.
The wheels on the car for our test were 19x8.5" flow-formed HRE FF01 paired with 245/40 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. These replaced the 19" fifteen52 rims seen at SEMA.
You can tell it's not a stock 2.0T immediately after starting it, as the sounds of spinning engine parts emanating from under the hood are louder than the Golf R, due in part to the stiffer VW Racing engine, trans and subframe mounts.
Getting off the line is a little trickier with the stiff DXD stage 3 racing clutch, while low-end torque doesn't really start to happen until later in the rev range. It is, however, sufficiently responsive to consider navigating the morning rush hour or daily driving duties.
You can certainly feel the GTX turbo starting to build boost at low revs, and once past 3000rpm it's like a succession of perfectly timed H-bombs exploding. Where the Golf R excels in low- and mid-range delivery, the Super Beetle flicks the rev counter from 3000-7000rpm faster than any four-banger I've driven.
On Streets of Willow, the Super Beetle ripped a hole through the atmosphere and strafed the straights like a jet fighter, seemingly immune to opposing forces. The H&R coilovers never felt overwhelmed by the g-force generated under acceleration, cornering or braking, allowing the car to attack the turns with hardly a trace of body roll. It remained stable throughout the corners, with the Michelins glued to the asphalt, giving plenty of warning as they approached their limits.
And those limits were high, until mild understeer let you know when to ease off. Then it was a matter of waiting a split-second before feeding in a healthy dose of throttle. You'd then feel all four tires dig in and slingshot you onto the straights.
Like other cars with a similar power-to-weight ratio, it accelerated with such force and traveled from point-to-point with such ferocity that you needed to anticipate the turns faster than normal, always ready to grab that next gear.
Despite 100°F temps, the brakes never faded during my handful of laps, providing a linear rate of stopping power throughout the pedal stroke.
You'd imagine that after building a Beetle fast enough to run with many supercars, Vondruska and APR would rest on their laurels. However Doug McClintock, APR's Super Beetle project manager, said the project was still evolving. Since our drive, APR has designed a new intake manifold for its Max R project with a secondary set of injectors that should be good for another 100hp!
The same intake manifold has been mounted on the Super Beetle and McClintock claimed the engine was now designated as Stage 5. But it doesn't stop there, Jamie hinted at other plans that include a different powerplant making 700hp. It's an idea that seems more fantasy than reality, but since the Super Beetle concept came to fruition, we wouldn't bet against it.
2013 VW Super Beetle
Engine 2.0L four-cylinder EA888 TFSI 16v with APR stage 4 coated pistons and wrist pins, connecting rods and bearings, balanced rotating assembly, balance shaft delete, APR Stage 5 Turbo System including Garrett GTX 2867R turbo, Intercooler, stage 4 low-pressure fueling system, high-pressure fuel pump, rail pressure release valve, APR RSC turbo-back exhaust system, APR oil protection system, VW Racing engine, transmission and subframe mounts
Drivetrain six-speed manual transmission, DXD Racing stage 3 clutch, VW Racing short-shift linkage, Golf R AWD conversion, Haldex AWD Race Controller
Brakes VW Racing six-piston calipers with 352mm two-piece rotors f, Golf R calipers and rotors r
Suspension H&R Street Ultra Performance coilovers, 24mm f, 26mm r sway bars, TT RS front uprights, APR Motorsport bushings, VW Racing StreetSport+ camber plates
Wheels & Tires 19x8.5" HRE FF01 wheels, 245/40 ZR19 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires
Exterior FMS Automotive rear wing, Oracal Matte Azure Blue vinyl wrap
Interior Recaro Sportster CS seats