When a concept car is introduced at a major auto show, it provides a glimpse into the future of an automaker’s next model. Some concepts are really cool. Some are not. Most never make it into production. A few do. The Baja Bug-inspired VW New Beetle DuneConcept was unveiled at the 2000 Los Angeles Auto Show. It was an off-road-ready New Beetle powered by a 2.3-liter VR5 that sent its power to all four wheels via a six-speed manual transmission.
More than a decade later, a similar, but water-downed, Beetle Dune Concept was shown at the 2014 North American International Auto Show. That car was raised two inches, had a 210 horsepower engine, a cool ski rack, but was front wheel drive. That concept car finally made it into production this year with relatively minor changes — but should it have?
What makes the production Beetle Dune different?
Its suspension is raised half an inch and the track is half an inch wider. The Dune supplements that with a special Sandstorm Yellow color, stickers, bigger fog lights, and a special grille. Black wheel-arch extensions are supposed to add a rugged looks, and the silver side sills are a throwback to the running boards on the original Beetle. At rear, a whaletail-like spoiler is added, perhaps to improve stability and enhance downforce, but the cool ski rack unsurprisingly did not make it to production. Pure White and Deep Black Pearl colors are also available.
The theme continues inside with more Sandstorm Yellow trim and a badge. The cloth manual seats are supportive and allow easy access to the rear bench. The Dune comes standard with the new MIB II infotainment system. There’s no navigation available in the Dune, but there is an audio system capable of playing tunes via CD, aux input, USB port, and satellite radio. If that is not enough, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink apps allow easy smartphone connectivity. The 6.3-inch touchscreen also works with the backup camera and beep-beep parking sensors.
That jacked-up suspension and wider track do wonders for looks of many cars and 4x4s, as it gives them a purposeful rally or expedition stance, both of which were applied to the 4Runner TRD Pro, for instance. Dark trim and big fog lights have turned Subaru around from a dying carmaker to an SUV-selling champ. In modern CUV-loving days, numerous other examples exist of added off-road trim turning a conventional vehicle into a huge sales success.
Yet, somehow, it just doesn’t work on the Beetle.
Perhaps it’s due to the fact that this exercise is applied to a vehicle already trying too hard to be cool. Perhaps it’s because most automakers at least attempt to follow-up this stance costume with some all-wheel-drive hardware. But not the Beetle Dune. There is not even a button with a snowflake on it that would enable some kind of a magical snow-belt driving mode. Nothing.
The Beetle Dune remains front-wheel drive and otherwise mechanically identical to the Beetle 1.8T. The turbo four-cylinder engine makes 170 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque sent to a six-speed automatic transmission. VW decided not to offer the Beetle R-Line 2.0T engine or their fantastic DSG transmission, both of which were present on the 2014 concept car. Likewise, while bigger at 235/45-18, the tires are R-rated all-seasons. This further limits any kind dirt or snow road venturing that any extreme sport-loving outdoorsy dude with a flat-brim hat may attempt.
On the street, the Dune actually drives fine. The suspension does a great job of absorbing road irregularities, providing for a smooth ride. Despite the raised suspension, body roll is minimal, and the car feels very planted. The 1.8T engine makes good power at low engine speeds and pulls this Bug with ease. The automatic transmission shifts quickly and when in sport mode could be mistaken for a DCT. Even though the steering rack feels a bit slow with 3.1 turns lock-to-lock, the Dune is not a boring car to drive.
But here is the Dune’s second problem: the base Beetle does all those driving things better. Some years ago, I reviewed a Beetle TDI (R.I.P.) and it was genuinely fun to drive. But the Dune, due to its suspension changes, bigger wheels, and an additional 80 pounds of trim, marginally loses out to the base Beetle in the fun-to-drive quotient.
To gather more opinions of the Beetle Dune, I attended a local Cars and Coffee where the Dune intrigued many; some looked closer, few took pictures, and two kids asked to sit in it. When I told them that it had a 395 hp Golf R400 engine and all-wheel drive, they were blown away. In a highly unscientific study on Facebook, the majority of my friends either hated it or were neutral toward the Dune. Roughly half of those that were neutral said that they would like it a lot more with more lift and all-wheel drive, resulting in something similar to a two-door Subaru Crosstrek, or — you know — the actual Beetle Dune Concept car.
The Volkswagen Beetle Dune starts at $23,995. The attention grabbing Sandstorm Yellow Metallic paint is $250. With destination charge, this Beetle Dune came to $25,065, or roughly two grand more that a similarly equipped Beetle 1.8T SE. The only realistic competitor to the Dune seems to be the slow-selling Mini Paceman, which is less expensive in its most basic form but skyrockets from there.
The concept car from 2000 was rather inspirational. It showed that VW could think outside the box, that it was trying to appeal to younger buyers, and that it was willing to take changes. Sixteen years later, the production Dune has a problem: it’s all show, it lacks creativity, it’s trying to highlight a dud, and the young people know it.
But there’s some good news … the Beetle Dune will soon be available as a convertible!
[Images: © 2016 Kamil Kaluski/The Truth About Cars]
Article courtesy: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2016/05/2016-volkswagen-beetle-dune-review-pavement-bound-off-roader/?