What is it?
Nothing helps sell vehicles like a good dollop of nostalgia. It’s the reason the previous-generation Volkswagen Beetle sold more than a million units before being discontinued back in 2010. So it comes as no surprise that VW would delve back into its eclectic history to seek inspiration for a new model of Beetle.
With a toughened-up exterior, the Dune pays homage to the iconic Type 1 Baja Bugs; highly modified machines that were designed to take on long-distance desert races back in the late 1960s. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this 2016 Bug is a hardcore off-roader.
There’s no four-wheel-drive system, VW opting for a front-wheel-drive layout in the interest of weight saving. However, with raised suspension (by 10mm), a wider track, and front and rear wheel arch extensions, the Dune certainly has an air of off-road ruggedness.
Aesthetically, the Dune also receives a plethora of changes including redesigned bumpers, smart LED taillights, a whale tail-esque spoiler and whopping 18in ‘Mythos’ alloy wheels. Combined with the striking optional Sandstorm Yellow paint, the Dune, to these eyes at least, is a cohesive and rather handsome looking package.
What's it like?
On the road the Dune is surprisingly well polished. Any worries that the added ride height might corrupt the handling are quashed within the first few miles of country road. Body roll is minimal, the steering is well weighted (if a little vague off-centre) and, thanks to a widened track, there are impressive levels of grip.
Unfortunately, ride quality isn't as good as that of a comparable Golf; a problem no doubt exacerbated by the 18-inch wheels. However, once up to speed the Dune settles down nicely and the damping is just about spot on for British B-roads.
In the UK, Dune buyers get the choice of two engines: a 1.2-litre 104bhp petrol or a more powerful 2.0-litre 148bhp diesel. We had the former and were impressed with its gutsy nature and appetite for revs. Disappointingly, throttle response was rather poor around town, but that’s to be expected from such a small-capacity turbocharged engine.
Interior wise, the cabin is fairly similar to the standard car, with some nice touches to set it apart as a premium model. The bold paint scheme is carried over into the cabin thanks to wrap around inserts, the seats receive attractive contrast stitching and the multifunction leather-trimmed steering wheel gets a decorative 'Dune' insert - just in case you forget where you are. Ultimately, this is a far more characterful interior than you’ll find in the Golf or Scirocco.
Ergonomically, the car is typical Beetle: plenty of space up front, good visibility and a decent driving position. The boot is also plenty big enough for the odd trip to the beach, at 310 litres. However, rear space is limited, with only two seats and not much leg room.
Should I buy one?
On paper the Dune doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s £2395 more than the similarly equipped Beetle Design and offers no extra practicality. But you don’t buy this car for its off-road prowess or sporting credentials, you buy it because you want something a bit different. Something to stand out in.
Ultimately, the choice for most will come down to personal circumstance. If you have a family and want some (very) light off-road ability you’d be better off with a Fiat 500X or Mini Countryman. But if that’s not a factor, we'd pick the Dune. It’s better to drive, looks infinitely more distinctive and in 1.2 TSI guise manages to be impressively frugal.