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June 17, 2016

Volkswagen Beetle Dune (2016) first drive: Rugged and ready

by John_A

The Volkswagen Beetle is one of the world’s most iconic cars. It might be available in various models these days, but there is no mistaking that bug shape, whether it’s a 1940s model or one of the more recent variations.

The latest model to join the Beetle line up is the new Beetle Dune. First revealed as a concept at the Detroit Motor Show in 2014, the newest member of the bug club is now available to buy.

The Dune combines the curvy stylings of the new Beetle with off-road ruggedness, for a meaner, more masculine and sportier look.


Volkswagen Beetle Dune: Design

The Beetle Dune is a crossover, designed as a combination of an off-road and on-road car. It comes in coupé and cabriolet models, both of which feature wide tyres to replicate the look of the legendary dune buggies of the 1960s and 70s. Sadly, there’s no engine hanging out the rear for you to gawp at though.

This car might be easily recognisable as a Beetle, but it is also distinguishable from other bugs on the road. The 10mm increased ground clearance with off-road suspension, coupled with a 6mm wider track width at the rear, 7mm wider track width at the front, 18-inch Canyon alloy wheels, black wheel arches and sill extensions add substance to its sporty aims.

Add to that the distinctive bumpers with diffusers at the front and rear and of course the signature retro “Dune” branding on each side with black off-road accents and you’ll be hard-pushed not to recognise this particular bug.

On the rear there is a spoiler, along with new LED tail lights. On the front, the new Beetle Dune carries over the signature round headlights; two matt black inserts house the indicators, sitting either side of the honeycombed central air intake, while an additional air intake sits just below the Dune’s bonnet.

The new Beetle Dune is the bad boy bug. It has a much more rugged look, but it also brings with it some lovely touches. The anodised aluminium side window trim strips help to bring a touch of elegance, while the silver frame outlining the central air intake help break up the front.

There are seven colours available, comprising the new Sandstorm Yellow Metallic and White Silver, which add to the existing Dark Bronze Metallic, Pure White, Platinum Grey Metallic and Deep Black Pearl Effect. The Sandstorm Yellow Metallic has been introduced specifically for the Dune and it’s also possible to order the alloys in the same colour.

The coupé model can be ordered in a two-tone colour scheme but that’s as far as the customisation options go, so despite being a fashionable little car like the Fiat 500, there are less opportunities to make it your own, which is something of a shame.


Volkswagen Beetle Dune: Interior and infotainment

Inside the new Beetle Dune doesn’t disappoint either. The interior is considered, offering a premium look with its own quirks. The yellow stitching on the steering wheel, gear stick, hand brake, seats and floor mats really pops. This is coupled with yellow trim on the dashboard dials and the sports dials that sit above the infotainment system, and together they look fab.

Our test cars all had leather seats, each of which has a panelled finish and a sporty look. They are lovely and comfortable and there is plenty of space in the rear as well as the front. There is the optional extra of sport seats with Vienna leather in Titanium Black, but we prefer the grey with yellow stitching as they are a little more fun, which suits this car.

An enamelled finish is present across the width of the Dune, incorporating all the controls and extending to the glove compartment, door shoulders and into the rear of the car. In most of the seven colour options, this finish is black, offering a lovely glossy look. The Sandstone Yellow Metallic model trades the black for the same yellow throughout the interior too though so be sure you really like that colour before you opt for it.

Above the infotainment system are those sports dials. These comprise an oil gauge, stop clock and turbo gauge, bringing that boy racer feeling to the interior and making the Beetle feel a little more masculine: there’s no flower holder in this bug. The three dials look great but they were a little distracting when driving and difficult to read – perhaps more enjoyable for the passenger than the driver. The steering wheel is lovely and tactile, and we love the additional Dune branding this adopts too.

There are three infotainment systems available for the Beetle Dune, including the standard 5-inch touchscreen Composition Colour system, or the optional 6.3-inch touchscreen Composition Media or Discover Media systems. All three systems operate the latest generation of the Modular Infotainment Matrix (MIB), while the 6.3-inch systems also come with App Connect, meaning MirrorLink, Android Auto and CarPlay is supported.  

The Composition Media system offers Bluetooth, DAB digital radio, a dash-mounted single CD player, USB, SMS messaging and a 400W sound system powered by Fender. The Discover Media system features the same, along with access to a variety of online services such as Car Net Guide and Inform.

The navigation system is good, offering the turn-by-turn instructions on the dashboard that are quicker than some rivals, like the new Fiat 500. The test models we drove featured the 6.3-inch touchscreen, which was very responsive and easy to use. We aren’t super keen on the air vents either side, but the design and functionality of the system itself is good.


Volkswagen Beetle Dune: On and off the road

The new Beetle Dune comes with three petrol and two diesel options, although not all models will appear in all regions. Stop/Start and regenerative braking both come as standard, as does a six-speed manual gearbox, with a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox for those looking to go automatic.

The petrol option includes a 105PS 1.2-litre engine, but those looking for a little more grunt, perhaps uncharacteristically, might want to 2.0-litre diesel, offering 150PS. Both these options are available in the UK. The diesel offers better fuel efficiency and greater speed, but of course starts to push the price up.

We drove a couple of different models of the Beetle Dune, the main one of which was the 2.0-litre cabriolet TDI, which we suspect will be the more popular choice for this model over the smaller petrol. We were impressed with the responsiveness of the automatic gearbox, giving an nice smooth drive and skipping through the seven-speeds with ease. We didn’t get the chance to drive the smaller petrol option.

The extra suspension height makes a difference to the looks, making things a little more meaty, but the car also handles a range of terrain well, including the bumps we threw it at. In comparison to smaller cars, the new Beetle Dune feels sturdier and more capable when it comes to tackling speed bumps and pot holes, delivering a smooth experience, rather than bone jarring. We also took it down a series of dirt tracks and it coped perfectly well here too, swallowing the roughness the surface. It’s front wheel drive rather than four wheel though, so you won’t want to be ragging it along the beach.

All models come complete with cruise control, rain sensors, automatic dimming rear view mirrors, ParkPilot and Hill Hold Assist, making driving a breeze, although it doesn’t come cheap with the petrol engine starting at £21,300 and the diesel version from £23,805. Our test model also featured blind spot indicators on the wing mirrors, flashing orange when another vehicle was close by. The motorbike our driving partner nearly hit would have appreciated how well these worked at least.

First Impressions

The Volkswagen Beetle Dune offers a lovely driving experience, coupled with a great design. It is recognisable, stylish and fashionable but it is more masculine and rugged than other Beetles and we like that about it. That might appeal to a different set of drivers who didn’t quite fancy the dashboard-vase that became the focal point of the Beetle’s relaunch a few years back.

Both the interior and exterior of the new Beetle Dune offer great distinguishable features and although there are a few elements we aren’t quite sure about, such as the extra dials and the air vents around the infotainment system, there is tonnes going for the Dune.

The Beetle Dune is the bad boy bug, but in a good way.

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