Test Drive

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Convertible Review: 4 Things We Learned About Showing Off

For one, its drivers probably have better lives than most people.

Lately there has been an increasingly popular trend of lifting wagons giving them names like Alltrack, Crosstrek, All Terrain, and Allroad. Volkswagen is one of many offenders, but when it came time to give the Beetle the same treatment, VW discovered that it couldn’t just call it an Alltrack. Instead, Volkswagen called it the “Dune,” harkening back to the popular dune buggy modifications made to older Beetles. We spent a week with the Volkswagen Beetle Dune, in convertible guise no less, and discovered the 4 things you’ll ever need to know about it.

1) Before getting into the Dune’s driving characteristics, it’s important to know about a Volkswagen’s driving character. For those who have never driven a Volkswagen, the first time can be eye-opening. German cars are proof that the image of Germans as exacting, precise, serious, and somehow still fun, is an archetype rather than a stereotype. Nowhere is this more apparent than behind the wheel of a VW. In a nutshell, Volkswagens are built for those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder yet have an affinity with Hello Kitty. The hatch hiding the incredibly cramped trunk closes with such a harsh yet satisfying perfection that mechanophiliacs will be unable to contain themselves. The same goes for the doors and the way it drives.

Even with electrically assisted steering and a raised suspension, the Beetle, like all VWs, feels so connected to the road that the ride is meditative. The intimacy of the mechanics means that the chassis feels as tight as a race car, however that tightness translates negatively to the relationship between throttle and the 170 horsepower that makes it to the front wheels. Acceleration feels grimy, as if the mechanical parts were wound together so unforgivingly tight that they risk exploding every time the light turns green. Consumer Reports gave the Beetle a worse than average reliability rating in April 2016, meaning that these concerns aren’t exactly unfounded. Still, the Beetle’s pinpoint precision nature is a bit odd for a car that’s little more than a toy.

2) Unfortunately for those hoping that the Dune stickers on the doors meant that this little Beetle could tackle sand mountains in Baja, that is not the case. Even with a turbocharged and intercooled 1.8-liter engine making 184 lb-ft of torque over a wide rev range, power is only sent to the front wheels meaning that crawling over concrete parking barriers at Wal-Mart is about as wild as the Beetle Dune gets. There’s no fancy locking differential, no off-road settings, and even the added clearance seems to only be helpful for clearing curbs that usually claim the underside of the front bumper. As a result, the Beetle Dune is all show and no go, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

3) Given the Beetle’s inability to scour the sand dunes, it’s easy to think that it’s a city car with the front seats being spacious and the ride being so direct, but it’s no people hauler. The rear seats, while not cramped, should only hold people on special occasions. For example, when it’s sunny out and the top needs to go down. In that case, call some friends and turn up the music because there is no better way to enjoy a nice day. The 22.9 mpg we averaged in crowded San Francisco means that Volkswagen’s advertised 27 mpg (24 city 31 highway) is attainable in the average US city. Fuel economy aside, there’s nothing else practical about the Beetle Dune, especially since its trunk holds a measly 7.1 cubic feet of cargo.

4) So if it isn’t any good at hauling people or cargo comfortably in the city and can’t hit a trail to save itself, what is the Volkswagen Beetle Dune good for? Well, as far removed as the two cars are, think of it like a Jaguar F-Type convertible for people who don’t care to go fast. Both cars turn heads wherever they go and inform the rest of traffic that the driver has a sense of humor peppered into their personality, but both cars can only be bought by the those in a unique position to be able to care only about getting themselves from A to B. For the chronic commuter, that’s fine, but when kids, friends, and outdoor hobbies become a part of life, the Beetle’s packaging becomes a limiting factor.

In essence, the Beetle Dune Convertible is a toy, albeit one that costs $31,210. With the $995 Beetle Technology package (which throws in a Fender audio system, keyless entry with push-button start, and a dual-zone climate control system) being the only frill festooning our tester, this car wasn’t exactly fully loaded. The interior was cladded in attractive body color plastic on the dash and stitching that only served to add to its playful image. Given that the Beetle itself competes with a small crowd inhabited by the likes of Mini and the Beetle’s own sibling, the Golf, it’s apparent that this two-door only sells because of its style. Using that logic, it’s easy to see why Volkswagen built the Dune as nothing more than a Beetle with an appearance package.

As much as we’d love it if Volkswagen indulged us with an off-road dune buggy, it just doesn’t make sense for VW to build it. As an enthusiast that finds states of nirvana in something low, powerful as hell, and loud as a volcanic eruption, it’s easy to dismiss the Beetle as another gimmick that tries to pull a fast one on buyers looking for something more unique, kind of like Chrysler did with the PT Cruiser. This, however, isn’t the case. Volkswagen did its homework, designing an impractical but well thought out vehicle that can deliver doses of joy to those with the acquired taste. We can’t hate on that, as long as those who do spend the $31k on a jacked up convertible can have compassion on those that spring for a $90k Jaguar F-Type.

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