By on May 13, 2016

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Low Angle Front 3/4, Image: © 2016 Kamil Kaluski/The Truth About Cars

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

1.8-liter DOHC I-4, turbocharged, intercooled (170 hp @ 4,800 rpm, 184 lbs-ft torque @ 1,500 rpm)

Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

25 city/34 highway/28 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

Base Price: $24,815

As Tested Price: $25,065

Prices include $995 destination charge.

When a concept car is introduced at a major auto show, it provides a glimpse into the future of an automaker’s next model. Some concepts are really cool. Some are not. Most never make it into production. A few do. The Baja Bug-inspired VW New Beetle Dune Concept was unveiled at the 2000 Los Angeles Auto Show. It was an off-road-ready New Beetle powered by a 2.3-liter VR5 that sent its power to all four wheels via a six-speed manual transmission.

More than a decade later, a similar, but water-downed, Beetle Dune Concept was shown at the 2014 North American International Auto Show. That car was raised two inches, had a 210 horsepower engine, a cool ski rack, but was front wheel drive. That concept car finally made it into production this year with relatively minor changes — but should it have?

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Rear 3/4, Image: © 2016 Kamil Kaluski/The Truth About Cars

What makes the production Beetle Dune different?

Its suspension is raised half an inch and the track is half an inch wider. The Dune supplements that with a special Sandstorm Yellow color, stickers, bigger fog lights, and a special grille. Black wheel-arch extensions are supposed to add a rugged looks, and the silver side sills are a throwback to the running boards on the original Beetle. At rear, a whaletail-like spoiler is added, perhaps to improve stability and enhance downforce, but the cool ski rack unsurprisingly did not make it to production. Pure White and Deep Black Pearl colors are also available.

The theme continues inside with more Sandstorm Yellow trim and a badge. The cloth manual seats are supportive and allow easy access to the rear bench. The Dune comes standard with the new MIB II infotainment system. There’s no navigation available in the Dune, but there is an audio system capable of playing tunes via CD, aux input, USB port, and satellite radio. If that is not enough, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink apps allow easy smartphone connectivity. The 6.3-inch touchscreen also works with the backup camera and beep-beep parking sensors.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Interior, Image: © 2016 Kamil Kaluski/The Truth About Cars

That jacked-up suspension and wider track do wonders for looks of many cars and 4x4s, as it gives them a purposeful rally or expedition stance, both of which were applied to the 4Runner TRD Pro, for instance. Dark trim and big fog lights have turned Subaru around from a dying carmaker to an SUV-selling champ. In modern CUV-loving days, numerous other examples exist of added off-road trim turning a conventional vehicle into a huge sales success.

Yet, somehow, it just doesn’t work on the Beetle.

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that this exercise is applied to a vehicle already trying too hard to be cool. Perhaps it’s because most automakers at least attempt to follow-up this stance costume with some all-wheel-drive hardware. But not the Beetle Dune. There is not even a button with a snowflake on it that would enable some kind of a magical snow-belt driving mode. Nothing.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Collage, Image: © 2016 Kamil Kaluski/The Truth About Cars

The Beetle Dune remains front-wheel drive and otherwise mechanically identical to the Beetle 1.8T. The turbo four-cylinder engine makes 170 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque sent to a six-speed automatic transmission. VW decided not to offer the Beetle R-Line 2.0T engine or their fantastic DSG transmission, both of which were present on the 2014 concept car. Likewise, while bigger at 235/45-18, the tires are R-rated all-seasons. This further limits any kind dirt or snow road venturing that any extreme sport-loving outdoorsy dude with a flat-brim hat may attempt.

On the street, the Dune actually drives fine. The suspension does a great job of absorbing road irregularities, providing for a smooth ride. Despite the raised suspension, body roll is minimal, and the car feels very planted. The 1.8T engine makes good power at low engine speeds and pulls this Bug with ease. The automatic transmission shifts quickly and when in sport mode could be mistaken for a DCT. Even though the steering rack feels a bit slow with 3.1 turns lock-to-lock, the Dune is not a boring car to drive.

But here is the Dune’s second problem: the base Beetle does all those driving things better. Some years ago, I reviewed a Beetle TDI (R.I.P.) and it was genuinely fun to drive. But the Dune, due to its suspension changes, bigger wheels, and an additional 80 pounds of trim, marginally loses out to the base Beetle in the fun-to-drive quotient.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Collage, Image: © 2016 Kamil Kaluski/The Truth About Cars

To gather more opinions of the Beetle Dune, I attended a local Cars and Coffee where the Dune intrigued many; some looked closer, few took pictures, and two kids asked to sit in it. When I told them that it had a 395 hp Golf R400 engine and all-wheel drive, they were blown away. In a highly unscientific study on Facebook, the majority of my friends either hated it or were neutral toward the Dune. Roughly half of those that were neutral said that they would like it a lot more with more lift and all-wheel drive, resulting in something similar to a two-door Subaru Crosstrek, or — you know — the actual Beetle Dune Concept car.

The Volkswagen Beetle Dune starts at $23,995. The attention grabbing Sandstorm Yellow Metallic paint is $250. With destination charge, this Beetle Dune came to $25,065, or roughly two grand more that a similarly equipped Beetle 1.8T SE. The only realistic competitor to the Dune seems to be the slow-selling Mini Paceman, which is less expensive in its most basic form but skyrockets from there.

The concept car from 2000 was rather inspirational. It showed that VW could think outside the box, that it was trying to appeal to younger buyers, and that it was willing to take changes. Sixteen years later, the production Dune has a problem: it’s all show, it lacks creativity, it’s trying to highlight a dud, and the young people know it.

But there’s some good news … the Beetle Dune will soon be available as a convertible!

[Images: © 2016 Kamil Kaluski/The Truth About Cars]

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Side, Image: © 2016 Kamil Kaluski/The Truth About Cars

Kamil Kaluski is the East Coast Editor for Hooniverse.com. His ramblings on Eastern European cars, $500 racers, and other miscellaneous automotive stuff can be found there. 

Volkswagen of America, Inc. provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review.

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47 Comments on “2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Review – Pavement-Bound Off-Roader...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    “Dune”? Yaaaaawwwwwnnnn.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    VW did their homework.

    Like “Brodozer” pickup trucks, it’s all about looking cool. The Dune model achieves that without pretensions of off road capability.

    This is a good thing, I think. Doubtlessly it’s more honest than Range Rover advertising off road pedigree for cars which will only see the Starbucks drive thru & Big Als flatbed.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      If this was suppose to be a Baja Bug, then they failed misarebly. There is nothing here that even remotely reminds me of those old cut down VW.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Dude, it says, like, “dune” right on the side!

        In some circles, “sand dunes” mean something entirely different….

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        I think me and you are the only two people here who actually have seen a Baja Bug back in the day when dune buggies were a thing. So, how’s that new arthritis medicine working for you?

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    FATHER! THE SLEEPER HAS AWAKE–oh, wait, we already did a Dune reference. Carry on.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    well $250 is a cheap price for a cool color , outside of that not much to see here.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    I must’ve missed it…but did you mention whether it comes in a convertible?
    I think as a rag top it would be a nice addition to choices.
    But I am one of the few here that likes the bug…especially in convertible.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Ctrl+F “convertible”
      1 result: “But there’s some good news … the Beetle Dune will soon be available as a convertible!”

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      I don’t much like VWs, but if I were to get one, the Beetle convertible would be high on the list. But a Dune convertible would seem to make even less sense than the coupe. It is a nice appearance package, though.

      As others have said, something along the lines of the Subaru Crosstrek would be a whole lot better choice for this type of vehicle. I suspect that’s the niche VW is going for, i.e., VW fanbois who want a Crosstrek made by VW.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Peak Golf remains the Golf/GTI, followed by the A3 sedan. Every other iteration- this, regular Beetle, TT, Q3- fall short. Retro is dead, time to put the Beetle out to pasture. The oncoming Golf SUV will be the true Dune Buggy.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    This was a great opportunity for VW to make something iconic, at the level of the WRX or EVO (the Golf R, while nice, is not ICONIC). I guess they were too busy cheating on diesel emissions tests to make a true Beetle Beach Rally.

    • 0 avatar
      scott25

      The Golf R should be iconic since it reminds everyone you don’t need to put an awful body kit and spoiler on the performance version of a car, just make a few subtle changes on the outside and do the important stuff under the skin.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Well, this is stupid but won’t hurt anybody. Including VW itself, which has sunk approximately $17.34 in development costs into this version.

    Obviously it won’t sell. The market has proven it won’t buy “SUV”-themed vehicles without a wagon form factor. See Subaru Outback sedan, Honda Accord Crosstour, and Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet for examples.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    This would be better implemented on the Golf. With AWD. And called the Country.

    http://bringatrailer.com/2012/01/06/usa-registered-1990-vw-golf-country-4×4/

    Can you picture it? I can. Might as well spend some time thinking about the possibilities there, because this Dune is a useless vehicle nobody wanted.

  • avatar
    hubcap

    I like it. Wouldn’t buy it, but don’t have a problem with it.

    The author stated, “The only realistic competitor to the Dune seems to be the slow-selling Mini Paceman…”

    I don’t understand. Does the Paceman have a slight lift compared to a Cooper and if so, is that why it’s a competitor? If not, why wouldn’t the Cooper, as well as the 500 (particularly the Abarth) not be?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I thought the Paceman was AWD, at least optionally.

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      I wouldn’t call the Paceman a competitor at all, frankly the GTI is more of a competitor than the Pacman, which is an AWD SUV, though admittedly a 2-door one. Probably the Cooper S 2 door Hardtop would be a competitor. But the Dune is more of an answer to a question no one wanted answered. It’s a hot hatch designed to ape an old-style rally off-roader without actually being able to be a rally off-roader in any way.

  • avatar
    LIKE TTAC.COM ON FACEBOOK

    Somehow, VW managed to make a DUNE Buggy that has nothing at all in common with a real dune buggy.
    If it doesn’t drive better on sand than almost anything else, it’s just a normal front wheel drive car with cosmetic trim. There is no reason at all to buy one. It might as well say “MOON ROVER” on the side.
    It needs a lightweight fiberglass body, blue paint with lots of sparkles, a roll bar complete with off-road lights, white five-spoke wheels and off-road capable tires.
    As is, they will probably sell about… seven of these.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I can’t blame Volkswagen for trying to inject a little more life into the Beetle. This will probably do well, despite being mechanically identical to a standard 1.8T Beetle.

  • avatar
    EAF

    Who would take $25,065 and burn it?

  • avatar
    matt3319

    I find the Passat R-line much more appealing for the same price. I can’t believe anyone even buys the beetle anymore. It’s time has come and gone.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    The worm and the spice are the same, the worms are the spice, the spice are the worms.

    FATHER! THE SLEEPER HAS AWAKENED!!!

    • 0 avatar
      npaladin2000

      Wait a sec, are we dealing with the original Herbert-verse or the expanded Herbert-Anderson-verse? Because this could simply be a thinking machine spy after all. :)

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I thought VW was scheduled to pull the plug on the “new” beetle. If so, what is this all about?

  • avatar
    bobmaxed

    I can see it now on the Beetle forums. Modders trying to determine how far to slam one of these while putting in even larger tires.

  • avatar
    Moparmann

    Reminds me of the Corolla ‘S’…no increase in power/options/etc., only the addition of some questionable body trim parts and Toyota charged MORE for this! LOL!!

  • avatar
    scott25

    I understand they tried to make something to cash in on the CUV trend as cheaply as possible while trying to cash in on the beetle’s dune buggy history, but with AWD this could’ve been a huge hit. I know “enthusiasts” will say “sheeple can’t tell whether they’re driving FWD/RWD/AWD” but AWD is all it takes to get people into the showroom, and combine it with a shape that appeals to both young and middle aged women = gold mine, and the cladding and lift just makes it better. Now just paint it red. With black wheels.

    Also I love the Dune decal and striping. Retro in the best way. I wish late-70s/early-80s OEM tape stripes and decal packages would make a comeback. Just imagine a Mirage with a Plymouth Fire Arrow-style paintjob…

  • avatar
    dal20402

    AWD by itself would have taken care of 90% of the problem. And they have an off-the-shelf system that would work. Just dumb that it’s not there.

  • avatar

    This vehicle’s mere existence showcases VW’s complete and utter lack of understanding of the North American market. They would have been better off doing a version in brown and calling it the Dung Beetle.

  • avatar
    shaker

    0.5 inch ≠ “jacked up”
    IMHO

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    I thought the Beetle is getting the axe. VW apparently can’t sell them as they are…let alone with a good looking, but useless, styling package. They are losing money on them as it is.
    Please correct me if I am misinformed.

  • avatar
    legacygt

    This will amount to another bodystyle package for the Beetle of which there are already several. It will sell in some quantity and probably be considered a success because it cost next to nothing to develop. This is a shame because, had they put more effort and investment into it, it could have been a huge hit. The Crosstrek is a great example. It is visually a real departure from the Impreza. It actually looks better than the Impreza. And it has a degree of added capability. VW would have had to do more since the Impreza is already AWD but if they added AWD and some additional ride height/suspension travel, this car could double Beetle sales.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      Why do people think that it’s costs “next to nothing to develop”?

      Unique fenders for the wheel lip moldings to attach to.
      Wheel lip moldings (tooling for molding and packaging required to ship)
      Fascias (which includes tools for molding the fascia, foglamp housing, lower grill…ect. Paint carriers to run down paint lines. Packaging to ship said parts)
      Rockers–mold and paint items.
      Suspension Changes.
      Different Wheel design.

      All of these items require sourcing suppliers, tooling costs…ect.

      It’s never “next to nothing”. Changing a paint color is “next to nothing”.

      Why VW chose to do this is beyond me; that car is lot poison.

      • 0 avatar
        legacygt

        I said “next to nothing” because it is “next to nothing” relative to world of automotive development. Designing a platform has never been more expensive but developing variants on a theme has never been cheaper. The things you mention but these costs are negligible relative to the development of the car. I would even be willing to argue (although it would be more of a stretch) that the Beetle itself costs VW next to nothing to design as it relies heavily on parts and platforms from other vehicles. Yes, designing and sourcing a fender or fascia costs some money but nothing compared to platform and powertrain development.

  • avatar

    I love this new Beetle dune, since it has LED taillights, the spoiler of the car’s rear, and of course, the fog lights.

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