2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Review - Blonde Bug
2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune 1.8T
The youthful squealing could be heard down the long driveway and through several panes of glass. When I told my daughters that I’d be picking them up from the babysitter’s house in something different, they had no idea what chariot would ferry them to softball and cheerleading practice that eventing.
My girls aren’t gearheads by most definitions. While I’m not necessarily brainwashing their preteen skulls with minutiae and data about every car on the road, I’m not letting them become numb to the wonder that is the modern car. My youngest, soon to be eight, ran screaming from the door: “BEETLE!” That’s the power of an iconic brand.
However, I’m thinking the girls reacted most viscerally to the searing yellow paint.
Volkswagen is in need of a hit. They had a hit — using the fuel that shall not be named — for several years, but all that’s left of that is a bunch of checks awaiting the mail. I have to believe that the best chance for survival of the Volkswagen brand here in the U.S. will require a play to consumer’s emotions. Retro cars, such as this 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune and possibly the BUDD-e electric van concept, may very well be the answer to making people forget about last September.
The Beetle Dune rides this retro wave a little bit further than the standard car, evoking the custom Baja Beetles and various home-built dune buggies that enhanced the original, rear-engined Volkswagen Type 1. The changes are basically skin-deep, though, with black plastic fender extensions adding some width, and a brightened sill panel meant to mimic a running board. The “DUNE” graphics on the door sills are a bit loud for this introvert, but will appeal to most of the people who’d be looking at this car anyhow.
The widened track (0.6 inches wider) looks to be the result of the new 18-inch alloy wheels fitted with 235/45-18 tires. The ride height has been lifted four-tenths of an inch. As this tire size is available on the standard Beetle, I’d wager the lift comes from taller springs.
Out back, a rather large whale tail spoiler sits just below the rear window. The tray is basically flat, so it poses no obstruction to the rear view. While it clearly adds no significant downforce, it balances the aggressive front bumper treatment.
While my car-nut friends decried the Beetle Dune as nothing more than a tape stripe package, it’s well put together. It’s no off-roader, certainly, but it’s an attractive, appealing toy that turns heads. I’ve never been in a car that had more passerby talking. From gas pump conversations, to drivers in stopped traffic rolling windows down to chat, to random strangers telling me of their old Volkswagen and the children conceived therein, the Beetle Dune attracts attention.
The Sandstorm Yellow paint doesn’t keep gawkers away, either. Honestly, it’s much more attractive in person than in photos, where it’s basically a metallic ballpark mustard. The Dune only comes in three colors — this yellow, black, or white. I’d have to imagine the neutral colors might be more up my alley.
I dig how the exterior color is carried inside on the dash and atop the door cards. It’s another magnificent throwback to the early cars that were fitted with body colored metal dashboards. It’s potentially a great cost-cutting move, as well. Reviewers love to complain about hard, cheap-feeling interior plastics, but few will complain about a body-painted dash panel.
For what is basically a commuter car, the sport seats have some stout bolstering. The bottom cushion was perfectly sized for me, though some of broader carriage might find the seats confining. I was less enamored by the seatback, as the side bolsters pinched my shoulders a bit too much over long drives. The combo of cloth and leatherette on the seats looks great, especially with the yellowish stitching to recall the exterior color, and was easily cleaned after an assault by a poorly attended Frosty.
The rear seats gained raves from the youngest members of the family. Even my wife was comfortable in the back after losing a bet with our oldest daughter. Volkswagen has a knack for fitting their cars for German-sized people, whether they are built in Wolfsburg or Puebla. One thing about the rear stood out, however: there is no dome light. The only overhead lighting, save the sunroof, are the map lights immediately aft of the rearview mirror. Neither of these are helpful when a kid drops a flip-flop under the seat.
Anyone who has driven a petrol-powered Volkswagen product in the last few years will be intimately familiar with the drivetrain in the Beetle Dune. The 1.8-liter turbo four produces 170 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque at a low, diesel-like (yes, I said it) 1,500 rpm. Mercifully, the 1.8T doesn’t require anything more pricey than regular unleaded. It’s no street racer, of course, but a generation ago we’d have rejoiced at 170 horses in a commuter car. A curb weight of 3,093 pounds does dull the performance a bit, but it’s far from objectionable.
I’m disappointed that the excellent dual-clutch DSG transmission isn’t available in the Beetle Dune — though I have a duty to cry over the lack of a manual transmission, as well. The traditional torque-converter six-speed automatic works well, even if programming overrides the driver’s wishes when in manual mode, which shifts to the next gear rather than briefly holding at redline. Again, it’s not something the typical Beetle Dune driver will be concerned about.
Given the off-road inspired styling, one would be excused for expecting an all-wheel-drive system of some sort, especially the 4Motion system coming soon to the Golf Sportwagen. Certainly, several of those starstruck conversation starters asked exactly that. They were disappointed when I told them that the Dune was strictly front-wheel drive.
New for 2016, the Beetle Dune is fitted with a 6.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system (named MIB II, apparently starring neither Will Smith nor Tommy Lee Jones) controlling a SiriusXM-equipped stereo. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, as is Volkswagen’s own Car-Net apps. I had a few issues getting Android Auto to work consistently with the Beetle Dune, and sadly not enough time with the car to learn my way through the thick owner’s’ manual to work out the kinks.
Beyond my struggle with the smartphone apps, the MIB II infotainment system worked flawlessly. Audio quality was stellar through the Fender-branded audio system, included with the Technology Package in our tester. That Technology Package also includes a keyless access system, push-button starter, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a sunroof.
The upgraded audio system also includes a large Fender-branded subwoofer, which tucks neatly behind the right rear wheelwell in the hatch, taking up some useful width. My kids’ softball, soccer, and cheerleading gear all fit at once, but I’d never fit golf clubs in the rear unless the seats were folded down.
The Beetle Dune drives like a much larger car — and I mean that as a positive. During my brief time driving the Volkswagen, I had a two hour pre-dawn freeway cruise to an early-morning meeting. The compact two-door soaked up the typically awful Ohio interstate without complaint and with remarkable poise. As I normally drive an invisible minivan on this route, I was thankfully reminded of the conspicuous nature of a bright yellow Beetle by a helpful northbound motorist warning me of a speed trap. I quickly engaged cruise control at 72 mph and escaped with no danger to license nor livelihood.
The Dune surprised me while driving on some twisty roads in Southern Ohio. I expected that the taller ride would cause additional body roll, making me seasick whilst heaving the blonde bug to port. It wasn’t to be. The overall goodness of the Golf platform cannot be blunted by a half-inch of extra height.
Would I buy the Beetle Dune? No — it’s not a good fit for my family. At an as-tested price of $26,760 (including $820 in destination charges), it’s a pricey toy that does everything a $20,000 Golf does, just with a bit less room. But for someone who wants incomparable style with their commuter car, the Beetle Dune ticks some interesting boxes.
Just be prepared to spend a few more minutes at each fuel stop talking to strangers.
[Images: © 2016 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]
Volkswagen provided the test vehicle for purposes of this review, as well as a tank of fuel.
Chris Tonn is the Large Editor at Large for Car Of The Day, a classic-car focused site highlighting cool and unusual finds.
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I used to commute to high school 50 years ago in a VW Beetle. A friend of the family drove to my high school 20 miles away. I didn't like them or now. I would say this the color is the worst.