By on October 23, 2017

2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (170 horsepower @ 4,800 rpm; 184 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm)

Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

24 city / 31 highway / 27 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

Observed: 29.7 mpg combined

9.6 city, 7.5 highway, 8.6 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $24,815 (U.S) / $30,635 (Canada)

As Tested: $25,065 (U.S.) / $30,635 (Canada)

Prices include $820 destination charge in the United States and $1,745 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada. Because of cross-border equipment differences, the two can’t be directly compared.

It’s clear what Volkswagen is trying to do with the Dune trim level of its Beetle two-door.

The company claims the Dune is inspired by classic Beetles that were modified into “dune buggies.” Which is fine, but all it really is is a current Beetle with a raised suspension, black exterior cladding, rear spoiler, bumpers unique to its trim, unique air intakes, 18-inch wheels, LED taillights, special interior stitching, and cloth/leatherette seats.

Other than that, little sets it apart from its Beetle brethren. It’s powered by the same 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder found in most Beetles (the R-Line has a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder) and mates to a six-speed automatic transmission.

A small, relatively lightweight (it’s still a tick over 3,000 pounds) compact coupe like the Beetle should be fun to drive, even if it’s raised, like the Dune is. But “should be” and “is” are two different things.

With 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, acceleration is solid, though you won’t be blowing anyone’s doors off. The six-speed auto is compliant and serves without complaint.

Handling is this car’s biggest letdown. The body is a bit tippy in corners, and the steering is too light and too distant. No one expects the Beetle to be a sports car, but I was hoping for better. Sure, the R-Line trim might be the answer to my complaints, but even with a raised suspension the Dune should be more engaging in corners than it is.

2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

On the flip side, one might expect a compact two-door coupe with a slightly raised suspension to have a less-than-pleasant ride, but that’s not the case. I drove the car from Chicago to Kalamazoo and back for the Dodge Demon event, and despite a tad bit of stiffness, it was pleasant on the highway.

At least from a ride perspective, that is. Generic road noise leaked in at highway speeds. You’ll need to turn the radio up a bit.

From a comfort standpoint, the Beetle’s shape means it’s roomy up front but not so much in back – the rear seats are basically a parcel shelf. Sure, they’ll hold toddlers in car seats, but adults will be none too pleased to be back there, especially if they’re on the tall side. When it came to shoot photos of the interior, I could not climb in or out without scraping my legs.

Another nitpick – the infotainment screen is small. Easy to use, but small. At least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, and CarPlay’s visuals are bigger and easier to read than VW’s. The infotainment system does have proper knobs, at least.

2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

Not surprisingly, interior storage space is limited. That’s probably not an issue for most owners most of the time, but it was a hassle on a short road trip in which I needed a place to put receipts and find a home for snacks and such.

From a styling standpoint, I like the overall shape of the current Beetle – I’ve found it pays homage to the original well enough without being as overtly cloying and cutesy as the New Beetle. In Dune flavor it’s got just a little bit of aggression thrown in. Enough aggression that it drew the eyes of more than a few folks – someone gave me a thumbs-up on I-94 in southwest Michigan, and when I stopped for water and snacks after the Demon event, a middle-aged man driving a work truck wandered over and peppered me with questions about the car before indicating he’d love to buy one.

I was a bit taken aback by these interactions. The Beetle has been on the market long enough that it shouldn’t generate stares. Nor is it a particularly rare vehicle. Sure, the Dune trim stands out, but I was still expecting to move about the world more invisibly while driving it.

Lack of storage space aside, the interior is attractive, and the Dune-specific trim works. The yellow is probably a bit too loud for some eyeballs, but I didn’t mind it.

2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

The Dune may look the part, but it’s not meant to ever truly go off-road. So it’s essentially a styling exercise that’s meant to appeal to a specific subset of Beetle fans. Based on the reactions I saw, I’d say it does that.

That’s also what it does best. It’s not quite as fun to drive as it promises to be, and while it’s a fine commuter or road-tripper for one or two people, it’s not going to haul rear-seat passengers who are past kindergarten age, nor it will be haul much luggage. At least I saw 29.7 mpg combined while driving it.

2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune

It’s also not expensive (my tester was $25K out the door), but that price could fetch you a basic Golf/base GTI or a Civic Si – sportier, more practical cars that don’t punish at the pump.

If you like the classic Beetle shape, or you miss the dune buggy days of the ‘70s, that’s one thing. But take away the Beetle’s uniqueness, and you’re best served shopping elsewhere.

[Images © 2017 Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]

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38 Comments on “2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Review – A Bug, Not a Buggy...”

  • avatar

    That 160 mph speedometer is just ridiculous. I do like the color. Not a lot of cars could pull that off, but it works on the Beetle. In a world of 4-door coupes and CUVs, I appreciate the bug’s uniqueness. But that’s about all it’s got going for it.

    • 0 avatar

      There is an engineering reason for a wildly optimistic speedometer, and that is that in the middle range (80 mph in this case) is where it will be most accurate. I doubt many Dune owners will be regularly driving at that speed, but a 140 mph speedometer (mid-range 70 mph) would have been okay.

      Quibbles about the speedometer aside, I really like that large fuel gauge.

      • 0 avatar

        Are you sure you’re not thinking of pressure gauges? Modern electronic speedometers don’t have a “most accurate range”, it’s just a magnet going past a sensor. It’s the same hardware that doubles as the odometer which would be all over the place otherwise.

        I think most of the overly-optimistic top speed marker is just aesthetics – put 80mph, the most common cruising speed, in the middle.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Hard to believe this body style is now 20 years old in its ‘new’ form.

    Meh, the Beetle is just profit gravy for VW at this point – a steady 1200 cars in the US every month, dialed-in drivetrain, etc.

    I’d certainly try to beat them down from $30k, though. There are many better options for that money; all you’re really buying here is the Beetle shape.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Who cares about handling with a name like Dune. What it should have is more lift and AWD, decent offroadish rubber with more grunt from the engines.

    Then you could take it out to the beach and dunes and have some fun.

    It would also need fishing rod holders.

    Dune? Wrong name for the vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      “Who cares about handling with a name like Dune. ”

      Only people who plan to drive it.

      I bet a lot of those same people also end questions with a question mark.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        I do realise you need a degree of handling, but how poor is it. I read the article as if the author expected too much.

        The vehicle should be as I described, for the beach, then it would sell in larger numbers to the hairdresser set that buy Wranglers as accessories to make them beautiful people.

    • 0 avatar

      It absolutely should have AWD. I understand why it doesn’t? The effort and cost is not worth it for limited volume. But then I would simply ask, why do it at all?

  • avatar

    Does the car have 205hp or 170hp? The article text does not match the little stats box.

    In 2017, 24/31mpg highway is not that great for a 1.8T anything. Is the Beetle shape not aerodynamic? The Golf and even the GTI do better.

  • avatar

    You’d think that AWD would be optional, without it this is yet another redundant product.

  • avatar

    Yellow?? Better described as baby-poop brown.

  • avatar

    I really want to like this. But it just doesn’t go far enough aesthetically, and if they’re not gonna make it an actual “dune buggy” – doesn’t offroad capability sell in 2017? – it at least needs to look the part.

  • avatar

    I see it actually has a fuel gauge – too fancy for my tastes, but at least the Beetle does make your house look bigger.

  • avatar

    There’s a convertible one from my town I see most days as of a month ago on my commute to work and back. The paint is instantly eye-catching; a bright dark color. I love unique paint like that, but what VW really should have done to set this car off was give this a bit more lift and put in the running gear from an AWD Golf R.

  • avatar

    There’s a convertible one from my town I see most days as of a month ago on my commute to work and back. The paint is instantly eye-catching; a bright dark color. I love unique paint like that, but what VW really should have done to set this car off was give this a bit more lift and put in the running gear from an AWD Golf R. They’re on very similar platforms as it is.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    There was a GSR version a few years ago 2013-15 which was like a Dune without the lift. It had a similar paint scheme as well.

    I want to like it but it needs 4 motion or the Golf R AWD system.
    There has to be a place for a modern Eagle SX-4 coupe hatch.

  • avatar

    If I were the proud owner I might modify the side sticker…change that ‘E’ to a ‘G’, BAM! instant Dung Beetle.

  • avatar

    For $25K, I will expect it to come with a handful of spice.

  • avatar

    I saw one of these on the way to work this morning. I can’t say that it looks much different than a regular Beetle. It didn’t look like the ride height was any different or that the molding around the wheel wells really set it off. I read the Dune on the side or I wouldn’t have known it wasn’t a regular Beetle.

  • avatar

    I thought the comment about this car having only an automatic was a misprint. And VW wants buyers to take them seriously?

  • avatar

    AWD and a tish more Porsche like back. Got pretty close this last design, but just a bit more to give it more of a hatch look and maybe give it a bit more cargo while doing so.

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