Rugged, high-riding Beetle variant is about 18 months away from planned production, but on this evidence it could become the pick of the range

What is it?

The Volkswagen Beetle Dune is a toughened-up, high-riding version of the German manufacturer's three-door hatchback.

First revealed at the Detroit motor show back in January, it is one of a number of new crossovers models presently under development at Volkswagen, which is keen to build on the sales success of similarly conceived front-wheel drive offerings such as the CrossPolo, CrossGolf and CrossTouran.

Officially, the Dune is a concept that awaits production approval. However, Wolfsburg officials have confirmed to Autocar that moves are already underway to place it into production at Volkswagen’s Puebla factory in Mexico alongside the standard version of the Beetle in late 2015, both in coupé and cabriolet bodystyles.

While the one-off concept is meant to provides an idea of how the showroom version of Volkswagen’s latest crossover will appear when it goes on sale, indications are it will be toned down slightly before it hits showrooms.

“There are regulatory measures to consider that will see certain details altered. However, the spirit of the design will remain,” says Ingo Bruechmann, who was among the in-house team of Volkswagen designers who contributed to its design.

To keep costs down and streamline production, the stylistic changes over the standard Beetle centre mainly around non-steel body panels. Included are new LED headlamps graphics, a new front bumper with a prominent grille, round LED fog lamps housed low down within the outer air ducts and a silver protector plate.

The bonnet has also been modified, with added contouring and a pair black air ducts that serves to providing it with added height. Along the flanks, there is black plastic cladding within the wheelhouses and, in a move harking back to the original Beetle, a running plate underneath the doors.

At the rear, Volkswagen’s design team have provided the Beetle Dune with a prominent roof spoiler and large rear wing – the latter housing extendable blades either side to allow the external storage of surfboards, skis, snowboards and the like.

Other changes? The tail lamps receive new semi-oval LED graphics, giving the car additional visual width. There is also a more structured rear bumper than that adorning the standard Beetle. It receives a deep licence plate recess that mirrors the shape of the front grille as well as protective cladding that houses two reasonable sized round chromed tail pipes.

Power for only fully built up Beetle Dune in existence right now hails from a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine tuned to deliver 207bhp, making it more powerful than any of its standard siblings, which offer a maximum of 158bhp in turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol guise.

No official torque figure has been revealed, but we’re told the early concept driven here packs somewhere “in the region of 206lb ft on a characteristically wide range of revs”.

Although it channels its reserves exclusively to the front wheels, Volkswagen claims the high riding hatchback boasts more than a modicum of off-road capability. Helping the Beetle Dune to venture away from the bitumen and into less forgiving terrain is Volkswagen’s XDS electronic differential lock and a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.

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What's it like?

Quite convincing – more so in its natural environment out on the road than on a clinical motor show stand, for sure.

With 180mm of ground clearance, the Dune sits 50mm higher than the standard Beetle. The addition of cladding within the front and rear wheelhouses has also enabled the fitment of lower offset wheels that effectively widen the tracks by 29mm to a respective 1607mm and 1573mm.

The wheels, styled to resemble the optional 18-inch Twister rims available on other Beetle models, measure 19-inch in diameter and are shod with 235/45 profile Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres – not exactly off-road grade, then.

The big surprise when you see the Volkswagen concept up close alongside other cars is just what that added ground clearance does for its appearance. It might only be 50mm, but the added ride height gives the Dune an instantly more imposing and more purposeful air than the standard Beetle. And these impressions continue as you swing the driver’s door open and step inside.

The added ground clearance sets the driver’s seat at the same height as the Volkswagen Tiguan, giving you a commanding view of the road. There is also sufficient height adjustment within the seat itself to further raise the squab and sit even higher still.

As with the exterior, Volkswagen has reworked various elements of the interior, although the basic design and architecture of the standard Beetle is retained. Among the exceptions is the addition of a grab handle in the facia ahead of the passenger seat, more sporting instrument graphics and lovely cross stitched leather seats.

With 207bhp and a solid slab of torque on tap, the Beetle Dune accelerates with a good deal of vigor. Volkswagen points to a 0-62mph time of 7.3sec, which makes it comfortably quicker than any existing Beetle model off the line and through the gears.

It also quotes a top speed of 141mph. Not that we got anywhere near this on the slip roads leading to our photographic location on the German island of Sylt. However, it is already clear that, with the promise of turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder power, the upcoming production version of the Beetle Dune will not want for performance.

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It won’t be the only engine on offer, though. Volkswagen hints the existing turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol and turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel units will also be on offer.

Forget any notion the raised ride height might be aligned to four-wheel drive to give the toughened up Beetle proper off-road credentials; the Dune retains the same front-wheel drive set-up as its on-road biased siblings in the interest of weight saving.

Direct and light steering properties combine with the excellent vision afforded by the raised ride height to provide the new Beetle with excellent manoeuvrability and, despite increased lean angles, quite engaging handling.

What does need sorting is the ride. The added ground clearance has robbed the suspension of crucial wheel travel, giving the concept a firm and rather brittle ride. Don’t be surprised to see the ride height dropped slightly in production guise, if only to improve the compression and rebound characteristics. If other crossover models from Volkswagen are any indication, the Beetle Dune will likely end up 30mm higher than its standard sibling.

Should I buy one?

You can’t, not right now. But with Volkswagen planning to crank up production of the Beetle Dune following a world debut that is tentatively scheduled for the 2015 Los Angeles motor show, you can expect it to reach the UK in less than two years from now. If early impressions are any guide, it could well turn out to be the pick of the range.

Volkswagen Beetle Dune

Price TBA; 0-62mph 7.3sec; Top speed 141mph; Fuel economy 34.9mpg (US cycle combined); CO2 194g/km (US cycle); Engine 4 cyls, 1984cc, petrol; Power 207bhp at 5300rpm; Torque 206lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 6-speed dual clutch automatic

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Add a comment…
pauld101 23 June 2014

Sales desperation...

This model has a strong aroma of desperation about it. And as VW group sales slide further around the world, we'll probably have to suffer even more of these minimally tarted-up 'niche' vehicles. Groan.
Will86 21 June 2014

Pointless Tinkering

The Beetle needs a lot more than a ride height increase and some plastic cladding to make it interesting. Hardly flying off the shelf at the moment.
catnip 20 June 2014

Even if it does make

Even if it does make production, will we see it in the UK? VW deprive us of the other Cross models, which is a shame, as I think they add a bit of interest to models which are otherwise rather dull.