Volkswagen Beetle Dune 2016 review

8 Jan, 2016 9:30am Sam Naylor

We hit the road in the jacked-up Beetle Dune - are those sporty looks more than skin deep?


Our first drive in this pre-production VW Beetle Dune impressed us, so long as you discount the US-spec 1.8-litre petrol engine. The Dune looks great, is good to drive and comfortable even on long journeys. For something that looks as fun as this, though, we just wish that the Beetle Dune had a bit more character. From the inside, you might as well be driving a Golf hatchback.

The Volkswagen Beetle Dune has been hanging around in one form or another for about 16 years now. It actually started life as a concept car based on the original ‘New Beetle’ in 2000. After a couple more concept cars, the production versions were revealed at the Los Angeles Motor Show in 2015, and now we've been given the chance to drive an almost-ready prototype.

The Dune is pitched as a jacked-up version of the standard Beetle, but with taller suspension (raised by 10mm), a wider stance, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The subtle changes have a cumulative effect, though, and the Dune looks great - the larger sills and stickers on the side does give it a dose of crossover style, and the LED taillights give the rear a fresh look as well. There's a new grille surround and a big rear spoiler, too, and both help give it a sportier stance.

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Don't expect to be doing any dune hopping in this Beetle, though - there's no four-wheel drive or even a fancy traction control system like in the Fiat 500X. It tackled the bumpy dirt roads of the Mohave desert on our test drive without any fuss - and because most owners will never leave the tarmac it feels unfair to expect anything more.

It's not too different from the standard car inside, but the striking bronze paint scheme makes its way into the cabin via the doors and dash - and there's matching yellow stitching on the seats and steering wheel, too. The new colour looks good, but it's hard to shake the 'unfinished' feeling that body-coloured interior parts bring with them.

We tried a pre-production US-spec 1.8 petrol model in Cabrio form. When the Beetle Dune comes to the UK it will be available as a coupe and a convertible, but we won't get this larger petrol model - instead there will be a choice between a 1.2-litre petrol or a 2.0-litre diesel with either a manual or automatic gearbox.

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The 1.8 petrol we tried had 168bhp, but felt underpowered - we expect that the punchy 2.0-litre diesel that will be available in the UK version will be the one to go for thanks to the extra torque, making overtaking easier. The six-speed DSG is as solid as ever, with quick, smooth gear changes.

On the road the Dune is good to drive, with well-weighted steering and lots of grip. Despite being a pre-production model the Cabrio we tried felt solid, with the vibrations sometimes associated with convertible cars kept nicely in check. The large wheels don't hurt the ride quality too much either. The Dune is composed and comfortable at speed – at least on the American roads we drove it on.

The seats are very comfortable and the driving position is excellent. Even after six hours in the car we felt as comfortable as we did after six minutes. With the roof down in the Cabrio model there's a bit of buffeting, but even without a wind deflector at the back it's still possible to enjoy open-top motoring even on a cold day (plus, the heated seats get rather hot).

The folding roof is the same as on the normal Beetle Cabriolet, so boot space should be the same as well. The details aren't confirmed yet, but with about 225 litres it's much bigger than the MINI convertible. The opening isn't a particularly useful shape, but there’s enough room for a weekend trip or a weekly shop.

It's a shame that the Beetle Dune can't quite live up to its sporty looks, though. VW says the Dune is based on the Baja Bugs of the 1960s and 70s, which roared through the desert chasing race wins - but the Beetle Dune never comes close to that kind of excitement. 

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We expect the Beetle Dune to cost from around £20,500 when it comes to the UK in late spring this year, with the Cabrio we drove likely to be priced at about £23,500. There will probably be plenty of kit included in that price, with the car we tried featuring a Fender sound system, reversing camera, cruise control, auto lights and wipers, DAB radio and smartphone connectivity. There are no UK specification details yet, though.

The Beetle Dune offers something a bit different - on one hand it's not quite as good to drive as a MINI Convertible, but it is more practical. On the other it's not quite as practical as a traditional-but-stylish crossover like the Fiat 500X, but it is definitely better to drive - and we'd argue that it's more stylish than both. 

Key specs

  • Model: Volkswagen Beetle Dune Cabriolet
  • Price: £24,255 (in UK)
  • Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl petrol
  • Power: 168bhp
  • Transmission: 6-speed auto, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 8.5 seconds (est)
  • Top speed: 120mph (est)
  • Fuel economy/CO2: 34mpg/200g/km
  • On sale: May 2016