Even before setting off, the Beetle Dune has real appeal. It looks far more aggressive than the standard Beetle, and even in soft-top form cuts an impressive figure.
The theme continues inside, and while Volkswagen's interior modifications for the Beetle Dune might seem minor, they do make all a difference. The bespoke instrument cluster graphics, contrasting stitching, Dune badging and soft-touch plastic console give the impression of a car that can tackle the same off-road terrain that made the Baja Bugs of the 1960s famous.
Trouble is, an impression is all it amounts to, because while the Beetle Dune may look like an off-roader, it has received no real mechanical upgrades to help it deal with difficult terrain. It's being sold exclusively in front-wheel-drive form, too, so don't expect to be tackling any sand dunes in this Beetle.
Observations on the 1.8-litre petrol engine in this prototype car are of little value, given that it will never be offered here in the UK, but even with 168bhp it felt sluggish in this larger, heavier Beetle. We wonder, then, whether the 1.2 and 1.4-litre petrol engine-equipped Dunes set to be offered in the UK will prove to be underpowered.
The Dune's raised ride height does bring advantages for the driver. Even 10mm extra gives you a much clearer view of the road ahead, and there's good all-round visibility. The seats are comfortable, too, although as in the standard car the rear bench is best reserved for luggage or children. There's a useful amount of boot space, however, but it's no more than is already found on the Beetle Cabriolet.
On asphalt, the Dune handles well. The steering is light and precise around town, weighting up well at higher speeds. There's also little body roll through the corners. The ride is slightly firm in town, but at cruising speeds bumps and road imperfections are absorbed well, even with 18in alloys fitted. This all leads to a relaxing and even enjoyable driving experience.
The soft-top folding roof is easy to operate and stows itself behind the rear seats, allowing drivers to enjoy the same open-top driving experience offered by the regular Beetle Cabriolet. It's enjoyable, and the Dune looks arguably at its best with its roof down.
We didn't get the chance to test the Dune in a fully off-road environment, but we did take it along some gravel tracks deep in the Mojave Desert in the US. The Beetle felt sure-footed here, and considering this is the toughest challenge many owners will expect the Dune to take on, it passed with flying colours.