By on September 6, 2016

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune front quarter, Image: © 2016 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune 1.8T

1.8-liter inline-four (170 horsepower @ 4,800 rpm, 184 lb.-ft. torque @ 1,500 rpm)

Six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive

Fuel Economy (Rated, MPG): 25 city / 34 highway / 28 combined

Fuel Economy (Observed, MPG): 24.9

Base Price: $24,815

As Tested Price: $26,760

All prices include a $820 destination charge.

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.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune front

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.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune rear

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.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune dast

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.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Seats

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.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune gauges

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.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Center Stack

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.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune profile

[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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29 Comments on “2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Review – Blonde Bug...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Minimal extra height: Meh.

    Lack of AWD: Meh.

    Combine this with the All-Trak idea for the Jetta and you might have something. This is just a tape and stripe package for an otherwise poorly selling car.

    Who do you think you are VW? The Big 3 circa 1978?

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      “Taller ride” = “half-inch of extra height”.

      And texting passes today as functional literacy.

    • 0 avatar
      SirRaoulDuke

      I agree, that’s crazy coin for an appearance package. Add AWD and I think this is a winner. There’s one in this color here in town, and I think it is attractive enough for me to forget the horrible first gen New Beetle.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Excellent review, Chris!

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    This may be the least desirable car on the market today. It’s a perfect storm of sub-mediocrity. Characterless forced induction engine of meager power combined with a mysteriously high curb weight? Check. Inefficient packaging that trades utility for pointless styling? Check. Missing central feature, in this case AWD to go with the CUV ride height? Check. German quality and engineering? Check. No available manual transmission in a segment that would lend itself to enthusiast interest if not for all the bad choices enumerated above? Check.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      You have a very warped view of the compact car segment if you think 170 hp with 184 lb.-ft. torque @ 1,500 rpm is “meager” power. The 1.8 TSI is a really good engine (honestly probably the best thing about the car).

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        3,100 lb, $25K subcompact with 170 hp? Meager. If it cost $6K less, weighed 300+ lbs less, or was a viable four-adult carrying car; then the price/power equation wouldn’t be as pathetic.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          There exist people out there with money and many have daughters.

          Life has veiled such facts from you, I guess.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Only a socialist would decree that vehicles like the Beetle which are bought on emotion should be removed from the market.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Only a socialist thinks that criticism is equivalent of the wish to eliminate. They can sell as many as the market will buy. You’re proof of the interchangeable nature of socialists and totalitarians.

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          Todd, you’re being ridiculous. Your acerbic decrees on cars can be amusing but you’re caricaturing yourself if you think the powertrain in this car is meager or pathetic. It propels the similarly heavy golf to 60 in just over 7 seconds. Your beef is with the niche Dune trim of this niche oddball car. The powertrain’s fine.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            My sharp and forthright decrees on cars may set me apart from the LCD, but this is no powertrain for a car that hopes to appeal to enthusiasts. If the car is just a costume for dependent young women and said women’s ignorance of virtue in automobiles is to be taken for granted, then I guess the sexists and fascists above have a point.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            I didn’t think the Dune was supposed to appeal to the hot hatch enthusiast set. They offer one with the GTI engine for that, (or for ignorant & dependent young women who want to drive in anger) though I don’t know why that person wouldn’t just get the whole GTI.

        • 0 avatar
          JLGOLDEN

          The Dune is intended to be an emotional-appeal purchase, driven by style / smiles per gallon / image, perhaps in a way that a Kia Soul or Mini Countryman have admirers who purchase based on these cars’ …umm…visual appeal. Not everyone buys cars based on science and spreadsheet data. Hell, look at all the $45K Silverados purchased just for their image, without any use for their towing/passenger/cargo capacities.

    • 0 avatar
      TonyJZX

      Yep. This car makes no sense in the marketplace.

      I dont think VW Bug ‘enthusiasts’ are at all impressed by this.

      The packaging is compromised to say the least. If you want me to drive an FWD platform then I kind of want 4 doors and a CUV like body so I can at least use it in exchange for lack of driving dynamics.

      If you want me to give up any semblence of day to day practicality then I’d want an RWD platform that has ‘peel my face off acceleration”.

      Why am I getting the worst of everything here? And btw. its a VW. No thanks.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I’d say it’s more of a style coupe than a commuter car. People buy them because they like the shape, not for any practical reasons.

    My sister has one, and it’s really a pretty enjoyable ride. She’s single, so the lack of space is not an issue.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “…the best chance for survival of the Volkswagen brand here in the U.S. will require a play to consumer’s emotions”

    Agreed. To do this excellently, look to Subaru. Their schtick is safety, love, and nature – and it works well.

  • avatar
    JMII

    “I dig how the exterior color is carried inside on the dash and atop the door cards.”

    Is this metal? If so just wait until you rest your arm on it and receive 3rd degree burns… then you will not dig it so much. I too like the look but something tells me long term that boring hard plastic would be more user friendly.

    Without AWD this just a Beetle appearance package. However Beetles sell based on appearance alone pretty much (its cute!) so this is a good move on VeeDub’s part to squeak some more sales out.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I’d rather have the yellow Renegade Trailhawk I saw yesterday.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    The Dune package has me scratching my head but I like the Beetle overall. No, it’s not practical, it’s not sporty, and it still carries a whiff of chick car stigma thanks to its dopey predecessor. But the retro interior with body-color dash and door sills is unique and done well, the seats are comfortable, the platform and chassis are sound, and the powertrain is strong and refined. We b*tch about the proliferation of bland flavorless CUVs, so here’s a little dash of variety for our roadways.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Nice review.

    I like the bug. Even an old guy like me loves this car.
    Just not a fan of this hardtop.
    I like the color and that it has rear seating.
    I like that it rides heavier and doesn’t hurt my old bones.

    Like you, the “dune” should be a little less in your face, especially considering it can’t ride in the sand. And never was a fan of spoilers. I never, or ever will, drive a car where a spoiler is useful.

    My only complaint…its not a rag top.
    Any car with anything near dune in its name should be a convertible.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I liked the Beetle GSR more, but that one was like $30k.

  • avatar
    MrIcky

    You’d think with VW killing it in Rallicross, VW would take the opportunity to make the Beetle, well, interesting. As has been said- this should be AWD with “fun” accessories (like a roof rack and such). And a performance model that isn’t a special limited edition should be out there too.

    You have a car that wants to be an emotional purchase, but then the emotion is tamped down by just putting your regular old commuting class drivetrain.

    And yes I know the Beetle’s history is as a working class hero, but that’s not going to cut it anymore because there are cars that are better at that role.

  • avatar
    cls12vg30

    Nice Review. This (and New Beetles in general) is one of those cars I would never buy but I’m still glad exists, if only to make the roads a bit more visually interesting. I’m of the right age that the faux-running boards elicit a twinge of nostalgia for the days of ubiquitous “Herbie cars.”

    I’m also old enough that this line also fired up my mental wayback machine:

    “I quickly engaged cruise control at 72 mph and escaped with no danger to license nor livelihood.”

    It caused me to sit back for a minute and remember the bad old days when doing 72 past an Ohio State Trooper would have been fraught with danger. It led me to recall the thousand-mile family roadtrips of my youth, with the cruise set at 61-62 in order to avoid the attentions of the Double Nickel Gestapo. I gave a silent prayer of thanks that today, I can leave my driveway, proceed a mile down the road and reach an on-ramp to a highway with a posted limit of 70 and a normal traffic speed of 75-77.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      That is, unless the road is filled with those who can’t think for themselves!

      Particularly in the left lane! (The 50mph onramp entrance speeds are no help, either!)

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    3″ of lift, AWD system, “New Beetle XC”.

    Pay Volvo off on the name, sell 50 of them, all the way to the bank!

    Well, I’d think it’s sort of compelling, at least.

  • avatar
    slingshot

    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.


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