The confluence of a birthday, Napa Valley and Volkswagen!

By Russ Heaps
Clanging Bell

(September 22, 2013) My birthday this year was such a time.

Almost by design, Volkswagen invited me to Napa for its full-line ride and drive. I chose the wave that landed me in Napa on the anniversary of my birth. Napa, my birthday; what, you thought I'd say, no?

We stayed at the Meadowood Napa Valley. It's in the heart of the wineries that populate Silverado Trail and the arteries that storied boulevard connects.

As is typical with a manufacturer's full-line event, VW offered its full range of products sold in the U.S. for short-route driving. That means my driving partner and I grabbed a car, drove a 40 or so-minute course, returned to the staging area and jumped into a different model. Think of it as a refresher course in all things VW.

I enjoy a fair amount of Volkswagens among my test-car rotations, but it's always fun to immerse oneself in a pool of a maker's various products. One model I had not been in, which I was eager to spend some wheel time with, was the $29,995 — $31,095 if you opt for the six-speed dual-clutch automatic tranny — Beetle GSR.

Quirky looking? Yes. It's what one might imagine a yellow jacket would look like if you were on an acid trip.

Today's Beetle GSR is an update of the 1970 version. VW is only producing 3,500 examples of the 1970 Beetle-like GSR, and that's for world-wide consumption. In addition to the rather unique exterior color combination, the cabin has a few GSR-only tweaks, like yellow stitching on the black-leather seats and steering wheel, special GSR floor mats and a GSR shift lever.

It's impossible to run under the radar in this car. It screams, LOOK AT ME! So, it pays to be prudent and not wander too far afield of the local speed limits, which is easy to do in a car able to accelerate from 0-to-60 in about six and a half seconds. This thanks to a 210-horsepower 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Equipped like an R-Line with the Sunroof and Sound with Navigation package, GSR is nicely outfitted. Its Fender audio system upgrade is easily one of the best sound systems in the industry.

I like the Beetle a lot. Thanks to the second-generation redesign, it looks much better than the "New Beetle" did. I don't think you can quite stretch credulity and call it macho looking, but it certainly has more masculine appeal than the previous version.

We zipped around Napa turning heads and passing wineries my driving partner and I wanted to visit. I must admit, we didn't follow any of the routes VW mapped out for us. We sort of just hit some places with which we were familiar and enjoyed the day.

Before the day was over we also got into a Jetta and a Passat. The 2-liter TDI turbo diesel VW uses to power a number of its models will make a diesel convert out of just about anyone. It is one fine powerplant and good for up to 41 mpg on the highway!

We did cheat and sneak out to Trefefen Winery after we completed our driving in the afternoon. Although my driving partner Mark Elias was familiar with the label, I wasn't. A few tastes later and my tutorial was complete.

So enough about cars, back to my birthday.

Dinner our first night — the actual night of my birthday — was at a hamburger joint called Gott's Roadside. Apparently it's quite popular with the locals and for good reason: The burgers bring tears to the eyes of serious beef-aholics.

VW commandeered a large lawn area behind the restaurant where we were fed from the Gott's food truck and not the restaurant proper. Live music, cold beer and great food: What more could a boy want in the way of a birthday celebration? How about a little tequila? Once back at VW's hospitality area at the resort, we toasted my cheating death another year with sippin' shots of Don Julio's 1942 Tequila. Oh, Momma!

I'm about to get a snoot full of maple-bacon icing courtesy of my buddy Ron Moorhead as VW's Leigh Anne Sessions looks on.

There were no birthday cakes, but among the confections on the dessert table were an assortment of killer cupcakes. I opted for a Maple-Bacon one. Holy snikies it was good. I also had about half of a chocolate-chip cookie that was at least a half-inch thick and as big around as a manhole cover.

Yep, not a bad birthday at all.