It’s been 67 years since the first Volkswagen Beetles began to arrive in the United States. Originally designed in the 1930s, it wasn’t until the 1960s that they really captured the attention of Americans. The high-water mark was 1971, when 1.3 million were produced worldwide.
Along the way, hundreds of special editions and customized bugs have been available – some sanctioned by the factory, and some not so much. In the not-so-much category fall the original Baja Bugs, which were heavily modified for service as desert racers and dune buggies.
After a long hiatus in America, Volkswagen brought the Beetle back to the U.S. in 1998. The engine was moved up front, but the Beetle still had a bud vase on the dash. They followed up with a long series of special editions including retro versions, performance models and some concepts that never quite made it to the market. For 2016, special editions include a Beetle Denim that harks back to the Jeans bug of the 1970s and the Beetle Dune.
Available as either a coupe or convertible, the 2016 Beetle Dune reaches further into the special edition category than perhaps any other modern Beetle. It’s more than a mere appearance package; it’s a way for Volkswagen to reach for the male demographic that the Beetle struggles to gain. While the Beetle will never see the sales success that it once had in the early 1970s, the Dune dramatically broadens the model’s appeal.
Does it go far enough? That question’s hard to answer. Enthusiasts will probably say no, as it’s not high enough to truly go off road and it needs all-wheel drive. However, if its job is to expand the Beetle market, and sell a few thousand more cars per year, then yes, it will do just fine.
The Dune is fitted with unique front and rear fascias, black wheel arch extensions, side moldings and unique wheels. Ride height has been lifted just .4 inches, but the overall design makes it look like substantially more. The Dune appears more planted with a .6-inch wider track, 18-inch wheels and wide 45-series all-season tires.
Not only do the minor changes improve the vehicle’s stance, they seem to improve its manners and confidence on the road. At the Dune’s media launch in Las Vegas, Nevada, we were able to test it on a broad variety of road surfaces and under ever changing weather conditions. Even when we unexpectedly encountered snow, the Beetle trekked on with nary a bobble, unless we induced it with the Dune’s honest-to-goodness handbrake.
Trim-Specific Exterior Styling
A large blacked-out and satin chrome-trimmed air intake blends to a satin skid plate on the lower edge of the new fascia. Fog lights are located in black mesh cutouts either side of the lower air intake. Bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights are available.
At the rear, the fascia features black lower panel trim with a satin diffuser and a skid plate running nearly the width of the bumper and containing the dual exhaust outlets. LED taillights are standard as is a substantial rear spoiler at the base of the rear window.
That same satin metal forms lower side sills below the doors, visually simulating running boards. Just above the satin, you’ll find a black stripe with large letters letting people know you’re driving a Dune. Only three colors are available: White, black or a very gold “Sandstorm Yellow.” One can hope that the special exterior trim features of the Dune will be available in a couple of other colors. Convertible models feature a black roof.
Volkswagen Beetle Dune Interior
Step inside and the special edition motif continues with contrasting seat inserts and stitching. A small plaque on the flat bottom of the steering wheel the carries a bold Dune imprint. Stretching from side to side, a glossy dash panel and door trim mirrors the exterior hue of Sandstorm models, while black and white cars get black dash and door trim.
Beetle Dune models get standard VW Car-Net app-connect technology, USB connectivity and a welcome rearview camera for both the coupe and convertible. It’s especially helpful on the convertible, whether the top is up or down, as even the retracted top sits high on the rear of the car. The Beetle Dune also features VW’s latest infotainment system, with a capacitive touch screen that senses your finger even as it approaches the 6.3-inch display.
All three major telephone app systems are supported, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. During the press launch, CarPlay worked flawlessly, while Android Auto seemed a bit less stable. A great benefit of these systems, however, is their ability to be updated to handle ever-changing technology.
Shared Powertrain and Performance
There aren’t any major mechanical upgrades for the Beetle Dune over the standard Beetle. Power comes from a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine kicking out 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Though it’s a turbo, the VW motor does not require premium gas. EPA fuel economy ratings are 25 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, with a combined rating of 28 mpg.
Those looking for a quicker Beetle will want to forego the Dune and opt for the R-Line model, which has a 2.0-liter turbo under the hood that puts out 210 horsepower.
Unlike the standard Beetle and R-Line, there’s no manual transmission available on the Dune, just a six-speed automatic.
Many have asked whether the Beetle Dune will be available with all-wheel drive. While we’d love to see it (and it’s available with other VWs that share the car’s basic platform,) we’re told by Volkswagen officials that there are some technical difficulties applying it to the Beetle. As the Dune is expected to be a relatively low-volume model, it would probably be a stretch for Volkswagen to invest scarce research and development dollars in an all-wheel drive project for the model.
Dune Safety and Pricing Information
Along with the standard rearview camera, the Beetle Dune carries an array of air bags for safety, plus VW’s post-collision braking system that keeps the car from rolling following an initial impact. Advanced safety tech is not available on the Dune, though it is on available on other Beetle models.
Pricing for the Beetle Dune starts at $23,995. That’s a premium of $4,200 over a base 2016 Beetle, though it’s $2,000 less than a Beetle R-Line. Coupes are expected in dealers this spring, with Dune convertibles following in the third quarter of the year.