2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Drive: Far From Baja

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Drive: Far From Baja 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Drive: Far From Baja
First Drive Review

Volkswagen wants all of us to remember the good ol’ days. You know, any time prior to September 2015, when the EPA dropped its NOx-hammer on the company’s dirty-breathing diesels. If you can’t bring yourself to forgive and forget so readily, VW is happy to guide you further down memory lane to the 1960s, when the pollution was hazier and the love flowed freely. After the Microbus-inspired BUDD-e concept—an all-electric mea culpa—VW appears eager to tap the nostalgia ATM again with this new Beetle Dune.

The Beetle Dune, a midrange trim level in special-edition guise, is meant to evoke Baja Bugs. Those modified Type 1 Beetles, created in the image of the Meyers Manx, could be anything from a recreational dune buggy to a bona fide desert racer. While there wasn’t a single blueprint, a Baja Bug was instantly recognizable by the trimmed-back bodywork and swollen tires.

Of course, there’s a reason the throwback is called Beetle Dune and not Beetle Baja. Actually, two reasons: Compared with standard Beetles, the Dune’s rear track width grows by 0.2 inch (the result of wheels with a smaller offset) and its suspension lifts the floor 0.4 inch higher. That’s the extent of the Dune’s mechanical changes. Beaches will not be invaded, sand dunes will not be crested, and deserts will not be skimmed.

We deviated from VW’s prescribed pavement-only route in our Dune, driving down a gravelly access road and making it 50 yards before a drainage gully threatened to tear off the front fascia. While the Dune’s front and rear clips give the false impression that the car is equipped with skid plates, we resisted the temptation to call Volkswagen’s bluff.

The Dune is a car playing dress-up and angling for a starring role in Mad Max: Sesame Street. It will sell on its black wheel-arch extensions and the long, flat spoiler that appears to be inspired by that other rear-engined German icon. The Dune follows the same insincere formula that turns an Audi wagon into an Allroad or a Volvo wagon into a Cross Country—only without all-wheel drive. It exists because we live in a time when automakers believe everything can and should be a crossover.

It may be a disingenuous car, but the Dune is not a bad car. Its virtues are the same as those of any other Beetle. Massive slabs of glass make for an airy cabin and excellent visibility. It steers and rides with typical VW competence. You can choose between coupe or convertible and black, white, or sandstorm yellow paint, but you always get a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic. Our only serious beef: the brake pedal requires an unusually firm and long press before the binders bite hard.

Rather than a Baja Bug, the Dune follows in the recent footsteps of flimsy special editions such as the Beetle Denim, the Fender Edition, and the Classic. That gives us an idea for the next model. If Volkswagen can’t figure out how to sell TDI cars in the U.S. again, maybe it can pay tribute to those torque-rich, high-mpg glory days with the Beetle Diesel Edition, propelled by a zero-emissions battery-electric powertrain, of course.