Review: The Beetle Dune Doesn’t Agree that Cars Should be Serious

The roads today are a symphony in gray. Gunmetal, charcoal, glaucous, slate, ash, battleship, etc. And don’t get me wrong, grey is a fine color for a car. But you know what isn’t gray? The Beetle Dune. It’s Sandstorm Yellow.

The Dune is an oddball car with an oddball color (the funny shade of yellow is only one of three colors available, but it’s the one that VW are pushing) that you stand very little risk of losing in a parking lot. On the road, too, it garners attention. In my short time with the car I saw a number of people craning their necks to get a better look at the peculiar car going by. The Beetle Dune is one of the least boring cars on the road today.

DSCN2011

The Beetle Dune drives like any modern VW—that is to say, well. Endowed with the 1.8T engine, a nice little unit that delivers swelling, predictable, ample power (170 hp/185 lb ft) with little effort. When you put your foot down you hear a pleasant thrum from under you, and the sound of air being inhaled in front gives the car with a certain personality.

The Dune is a few fractions of an inch (6mm, to be precise) higher than its Beetle siblings. The change is just enough to notice from the outside and makes a difference inside. The springs are softer, something for which James May will be worshiping at the altar of VW and, frankly, I’ll join him there. The softer suspending is actually really nice. Although the regular Beetle is a comfortable enough thing, this is even more so, and when you get to a dirt track or a rutted gravel road it does feel much more at home.

More than that, though, it’s kind of fun. When you accelerate around a corner the outside back corner dips ever so slightly. It doesn’t dip much, but driving onto the highway I had fantasies of being in one of those stadium SUPER trucks. In fact, if this thing had 4motion, the engine from the R-Line, and a manual transmission (which sadly isn’t an option for the Dune) the name could easily be replaced with RX and/or homologation.

IMG_20160702_150553114_HDR

At any rate, for now it’s the Beetle Dune, a chance for VW to cash in on America’s infinite capacity for nostalgia, which it does well. The shape, of course, is more like the original Beetle’s than the old New Beetle, and the handsome new grille and big spoiler really suit it well. So the look is good from the outside, and inside it’s even better. Everyone who got into the Dune was charmed by its body-color accents, its vertical dash with two gloveboxes, and the overall build quality. Unlike a Type 1—or, frankly, the old new Beetle—the Dune is remarkably quiet inside. As with all Beetles it feels cavernous from the driver’s seat, but little road noise made its way in and quiet conversations could be had at highway speed. As with all recent VWs, the air conditioning is exceptional. You better be wearing a sweater if you turn the dial all the way into the blue. The Fender sound package, too, is a nice touch. The sound quality is great, and something about the brand fits the overall theme of the car.

2016_beetle_dune_5754

What isn’t quite as old fashioned is the infotainment system. With a 6.3” screen in the middle of the dash, the system is easy to read. Volkswagen’s use of physical menu buttons with the touch sensitive screen means that it’s intuitive and easy to use. You can, for instance, go from the navigation screen to the radio screen, change the station, and go back to navigation while driving, which isn’t always an easy thing to do with other systems. It’s not the most dazzling infotainment system I’ve ever come across, but it works well, and that matters a whole lot more.

The system also connects to your phone in all the usual ways (USB, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto are all supported). Make no mistake, but for the manual adjusters on the seats (which I, personally, prefer) this is a premium offering in the Beetle lineup. If this was another car, from another manufacturer, it would probably be an LX model. But that’s not really VW’s jam, so instead we get something fun.

IMG_20160702_155535839_HDR

As it says on the can, the infotainment makes entertainment easy. In many ways, it’s like the rest of the car, which does everything it can to keep you from being bored. The color makes it stand out in a crowd. The handling, thanks to some wide 235/45 all-season tires attached to lovely “Canyon” aluminum alloy wheels is good, but the suspension gives it a sense of occasion driving around at reasonable speeds. The power is ample, the engine active. The steering is direct, albeit not exceedingly communicative.

The Beetle, on which the Dune builds, is a lot like a Golf, except less serious. The looks are less serious, the practicality is less serious, the speed and handling are less serious. But serious is boring. And the Beetle Dune isn’t. And that’s pretty charming.

Prices start at $23,995 in the US and at 26,990 in Canada, but it comes well equipped as standard, so prices don’t rise much higher.