You might not be a big fan of VW right now. Diesel has once again become a dirty word, and while the automaker struggles to make things right with the government and the buying public, the brand has been getting the stink eye in a lot of ways.
We’re going to look past the diesel models, because there’s also a lot of goodness in the VW lineup, and we think there are an awful lot of folks who design, make, and sell the brand that had nothing to do with the problems going on. Right now, VW needs a new halo vehicle.
We wonder: can the most charming Beetle since Herbie win back our hearts?
Charm school started out on the auto show circuit – the Dune was originally a concept car, and it proved so popular, VW decided to bring it to production. As you probably guessed from the name, the Dune makes a nod to the Baja Bugs that were legendary off-roaders and fierce competitors – complete game-changers compared to the proletarians and peaceniks that were driving them at the time.
Is the Dune ready to take on the tough deserts of Baja, California? Errr, no. It’s really more of a styling exercise. Mechanically, the Dune has about 0.2-inch wider rear track, and sits about half an inch taller. Mechanically, that’s about it.
It does look capable. Black moldings in the fenders give it a tougher, more muscular presence, and the unique 18-inch wheels are wide and aggressive. A honeycomb front grille, faux skid plates front and rear, a two-tone rear spoiler that would look at home on a 911, and LED taillights help the Dune stand out.
We especially liked the Dune script graphics on the lower portion of the doors. It’s probably the closest we’ll ever get to a shapely German Coupe that says “Carrera” on the side…
Porsche fantasies aside, if you really want to stand out, we’d opt for a Dune in the color of our tester. While it’s called Sandstorm Yellow, it really is more of a gold metallic, and it’s a color you really don’t see often on new cars. (Black and White Dunes are available for you wallflowers). Our tester immediately earned the nickname Goldie.
And Goldie got a lot of attention. People loved the look of our Dune, and that in a world of black, silver and white, someone decided to be bold. It also brought back a lot of memories of Beetles past. As a journo, it was nice to have people talking about VW’s and smiling again.
The smiles continued when they looked inside. The Dune continues the feel-good party with a gold-toned dashboard and door caps, yellow stitching on supportive sport seats wearing a black/gray leatherette with a comfy cloth insert, and a flat bottomed sport steering wheel complete mit Dune logo. It’s very cool.
VW also did buyers a solid, and kept the Dune affordable. Instead of putting the more expensive, high-performance running gear like the Beetle R-Line’s 210 hp, 2.0 liter, turbo, the Dune gets the more affordable 1.8-liter, Turbo four teamed with a 6-speed automatic.
This is a very sweet powertrain combination, and it still pumps out 170 hp. More importantly, it gives you a meaty 184 lb-ft of twist at a low 1,500 rpm. The result is good punch down low, combined with quick shifts from the automatic (sorry, no manual available) that effortlessly zips you around.
It doesn’t have the GTI-baiting performance of the R-Line, but the Dune’s friendly style and comfortable ride – thanks to that extra suspension travel – make for a more relaxed experience. The big wheels and tires give some added feedback to the steering, and it feels confident and composed. You kick back and enjoy the vibe.
Our tester continued with the good vibrations (gratuitous Beach Boys reference, sorry) with the added Technology Package, which includes a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, and a thumping 8-speaker, subwoofered, Fender Premium Audio system.
So how much to put a stylish bug like Goldie in your garage? The Dune starts at $23,995. Opting for the stylish Sandstorm Yellow Metallic will be a well-spent $250. The Technology Package was a good value at $1,695.
Our tester also enjoyed the $795 Lighting Package, that gives you Bi-Xenon headlights with range adjustment, LED Daytime Running Lights, and LED license plate lighting. Impress your friends by telling them it’s a safety feature. You’ll really want it ‘cause it looks cool.
All in, you’re looking at $27,555. Load up a regular Beetle SEL, and you’re at about the same price. Go for a loaded, Gonzo R-Line and you’re looking at, gulp, over $34,000. Which makes the Dune not only a good looking piece, but a pretty nice value, too.
While some have bemoaned that VW didn’t make the Dune a true off-road vehicle, the truth is the market for something like that would have been slim. But a unique, stylish, fun-to-drive and affordable sport coupe – who wouldn’t want something like that? Once again, the Beetle brings smiles to the people, and wins new friends.
Herbie: move over.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.