The automotive world has a great deal to do with posturing and posing; pretending to be and look like something it’s not. From fake hood scoops to rear spoilers that aren’t at all for downforce but are merely there for show, the vehicular world is rife with “fake it till you make it” models. And that’s OK.
You see, as consumers, we do the same every day. We spend most of our lives posturing and looking the part we probably can’t play at all. However, we want the world to think we do and are with ease.
So, when I was handed the keys to the all-new 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune, I was hesitant to be impressed by this particular model because, to me, it was simply dressed to impress with very little beneath the surface to support its claims.
Lofty dreams of Beetle Baja’s past
In all fairness, Volkswagen is trying its very best here to get us to remember a better time ― a time before Dieselgate, a simpler and happier time in the automotive world, and a time when Type 1 Beetles were modified to hit sand dunes, beaches, and open deserts. These particular Beetles were often stripped down to mere body frame cages, featured much larger tracks and wheels/tires to match, and had the ride height to tackle some pretty groovy surfaces.
Well, that’s not the case with the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune. Sure, this new special edition is 0.2” wider than the standard Beetle, and it also sits 0.4” higher off the ground thanks to a modified suspension, but that’s about it.
While I applaud Volkswagen’s desire to bring back those more carefree days of years gone by, I think they could have made a much more solid effort at the whole ordeal. For example, the Beetle Dune is not equipped with 4MOTION all-wheel drive. Despite following in the footsteps of its Dune Buggy parent, this particular Bug wouldn’t do well at all off the road. Armed with front-wheel drive only and “skid plates” I wouldn’t want to put to the test, it is definitely more show than go.
The engine’s all real and all right
Beyond all of the above fake off-road posturing, the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune is actually a good car, and a lot of fun to drive.
Blessed with Volkswagen’s turbocharged 1.8L mill, the Dune pushes out 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, so it has plenty of get-up-and-go. Only one transmission is available, namely a 6-speed automatic (no DSG can be had, sadly). Left in “Sport” mode, the car’s got a fair amount of character on the road, and does what’s asked when merging into faster traffic or taking a corner in a more spirited fashion.
In normal drive mode, however, when you hit the throttle hard to make a pass or accelerate quickly, the VW Beetle Dune has a hard time choosing gears. This also happens if you ease off the throttle then reapply pressure shortly after; the autobox is never quite sure what to do. As for the brake pedal, it takes a fair amount of pressure to engage and bite. It’s not off-putting, but instantly noticeable when switching from a different Beetle model to the Dune (which I did).
Spreading feelings of nostalgia
One thing’s for sure: The 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune induces smiles, thumbs up, and compliments wherever it goes. Perhaps it was the Sandstorm yellow paint or the exaggerated rear spoiler, larger front bumper, and “DUNE” decals on the side, but this thing gets a lot of attention. On gloomy, rainy days, the Dune somewhat became my bright spot.
That same bright colour is mimicked inside on the dashboard and door inserts, as well as in the contrast stitching on the steering wheel, handbrake (hallelujah, it has a real handbrake!), and shift knob. Piping on the seats is also in Sandstorm yellow. At first, I found the interior design to be a bit much, but it grew on me after a few days.
My young son absolutely loved the car, by the way, from the colour of the large rear spoiler to the kickass Fender sound system playing all his favourite tunes. The Beetle Dune was definitely a winner in his 4-year-old mind.
Given its special-edition status, it has its limitations when building to own. It can only be ordered in three colours: Pure White, Deep Black Pearl or Sandstorm yellow. Also, only 18” alloy wheels are available. And if you think that the Beetle Dune comes with all the bells and whistles, you’re wrong. One technology package is offered for $1,570 that will give you the aforementioned Fender audio system, plus blind-spot monitoring, navigation, and a larger 8.3” colour touchscreen. This single package pushes the price up to just over $28,000.
In comparison, a normal Beetle Comfortline with the same powertrain and technology package costs about $1,000 less.
When you look at it that way, the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune is worth the little bit of extra for that posturing. Aren’t we always told to dress for the job we want, not the job we have? So, who are we to crush the Dune’s dreams of beach drives and desert racing?