Volkswagen Beetle Dune 2016 review

Sporty Volkswagen Beetle Dune is finally set for showrooms, and we try drop-top on British roads

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

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As a fashion statement, you’ll be hard pushed to find anything more distinctive for your money than the Volkswagen Beetle Dune. The add-ons give it real presence, while the rest of the package is still as competent as ever. It’s not the most engaging drive, however, while the 1.2 TSI petrol isn’t a good match for the DSG automatic box. But the biggest issue is the price; this is quite an expensive way of getting yourself noticed.

It’s been 16 years since Volkswagen’s first ‘New Beetle’ was released, and it’s always stood out from the crowd. A jacked-up Dune model, harking back to the original Baja Beetle, was almost inevitable, as VW has been teasing it with various concepts since 2000. Finally, it’s hit UK roads.

The Beetle Dune is already a niche prospect in coupe form, but for an extra £2,955 you can have the Cabrio we drive here. There’s no doubting its arresting visual presence; there’s very little else like it on the road, particularly with the lurid gold paint and wheels of our test car.

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Upgrades for the Dune over the standard Beetle include a raised ride height (up 10mm), chunkier wheelarches and a wider track. There are also 18-inch alloys, Dune decals down the side, rugged bumpers, thicker side skirts and a new rear spoiler.

These mods, and the new grille surround, help to create a Beetle with a sportier, more aggressive stance. The best news for some? There are also four more exterior colours available other than this one.

Inside, the changes are far less obvious. There are unique instruments, badging and contrasting leather stitching, plus the body-colour metal-effect trim is carried over from the standard Beetle. Other than that, it’s all entirely familiar, which means it’s well laid-out, if not exactly mind-blowing. It doesn’t feel very retro, despite touches like the facia-mounted glovebox lid. However, that may suit those who want the sensible controls of a Golf wrapped in a stylish body.

Equipment levels are reasonable. You get a 6.5-inch touchscreen with DAB radio and Bluetooth, as well as auto lights and wipers, parking sensors and even three extra gauges on the dashtop as standard. But cruise control is a £240 option. Still, the folding hood compromises the VW’s practicality less than it does in a DS 3 or a MINI. There’s loads of space up front, enough for two adults in the back and a 310-litre boot. A Golf cabriolet it isn’t, but it’s usable every day.

Despite illusions, VW is making no bones about the Beetle Dune being a rough and tough off-roader; there’s no four-wheel-drive option and precious little ground clearance. At least that means it feels largely familiar to drive on the road. The Dune is reasonably comfortable; there’s loads of grip and the steering is accurate, so it’s more fun than you’d expect.

Unfortunately, the loss of the hard roof means some chassis flex is noticeable, and despite the soft suspension, the bigger alloys cause fidgeting over rough roads. Road roar is noticeable on the wider tyres, although the multi-layer hood keeps wind noise at bay. It’s a touch blustery with the roof down, which the optional wind deflector should remedy.

The engine we drove is a bit of a mixed bag, too. It’s the entry-level 1.2 TSI with 104bhp, which is as refined and peppy as it is in the standard Beetle. It’s not quick by any means, but the turbo means there’s enough torque to make it feel nippy.

It’s available with a slick-shifting six-speed manual box, but we tried the seven-speed DSG auto, which doesn’t match up so well. The changes are smooth if you take it easy, and the steering wheel-mounted paddles allow swift manual changes, but it’s hesitant and jerky if you ask for more performance in a hurry. The gearbox is much better suited to more powerful engines.

Dune spec adds £2,400 to the price of the Beetle Design on which it’s based. That’s fair given the extensive exterior changes, but at nearly £26,000, it’s over £5,000 more expensive than an equivalent MINI Cooper Convertible – making it look like poor value.

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