Test Drive: 2017 VW Beetle Dune Convertible

Test Drive: 2017 VW Beetle Dune Convertible

April 20th, 2017 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

Beetle Dune Convertible

Photo by Mark Kennedy /Times Free Press.

UPDATE: For 2017, Volkswagen is adding a convertible option to the VW Beetle Dune line-up. We were able to drive a pre-production version recently, and came away impressed with both its functionality and eye-catching design. 

Few cars we have ever driven have attracted as much attention at Beetle Dune Convertible, which includes all the masculine styling cues of the coupe with the bonus of a rag-top that can be dropped or raised in a few seconds.

While back-seat passengers get buffeted a bit by wind turbulence at highway speed, folks in the front tuck cozily behind the windshield. 

Pricing for the convertible is not yet available, but some have estimated the cost (based on similar models) at about $31,000. 

The Dune Convertible is mechanically similar to the Dune Coupe reviewed below.

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The 2016 VW Beetle Dune has design echoes of 1960s.

The 2016 VW Beetle Dune has design echoes...

Fast facts

- Model: 2016 Beetle 1.8T Dune

- Exterior color: Sandstorm Yellow Metallic

- Interior color: Dune Gray and Black

- Engine: 1.8-liter, four-cylinder turbo

- Horsepower: 170

- Transmission: Six-speed automatic

- Fuel economy: 34 mpg highway, 28 mpg city

- Local Dealer: Village VW of Chattanooga

- Price (as tested): $25,065

PREVIOUS STORY: The 2016 VW Beetle Dune has true animal magnetism. Everywhere we drove around Chattanooga last week, our little VW with paint the color of spicy mustard attracted thumbs-up and enthusiastic nods.

"Love the color," was the most common comment, although the Sandstorm Yellow Metallic paint would appear, at first blush, to be a polarizing hue. If the paint grabs your eyes, then the Beetle Dune's beefy tires, manly wheel-arch extenders and jazzy wheels will hold your gaze.

The full effect is to turn the iconic Beetle — which has gained a reputation as a model that mostly appeals to women — into a butch little four-passenger runabout with a direct-injected turbo-charged engine and an oversized rear spoiler that would look at home on a Porsche 911.

If mustard — um, Sandstorm — yellow is not your kettle of fish, the Dune also is available in basic black or white.

The Beetle Dune, which is inspired by the VW dune buggies that crawled California's Sonora Desert in the 1960s and 1970s, offers a custom look at a reasonable price — our tester lists for $25,065. Fuel economy is stellar as well, as the Beetle is expected to average 34 mpg highway and 28 mpg city.

As of Friday, there was one Sandstorm Yellow Beetle Dune available at Village VW of Chattanooga, according to the dealership's general manager, Jeremy Holsomback.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

STYLING AND FEATURES

If you like the Beetle Dune, it might be best to get it while its hot, since VW is calling it a special edition. Incidentally, it's hard for us not to refer to this little car as a Dune Bug, which derives from dune buggy and rhymes with June Bug.

Volkswagen has given the 2016 Beetle Dune design cues that toughened up the over-all look of the car. The modifications to the more pedestrian Beetle models include a wider track, a slightly raised suspension, upscale LED taillights, a honeycomb grill and the aforementioned wheels.

The tweaks continue inside the cabin with sports seats with yellow piping, yellow accents on the dash gauges and a flat-bottom steering wheel. For a bit more, you can add a tech package that bundles a sun roof, a climate control feature and keyless entry.

The dash features painted plastic panels that mimic the exterior color and give the illusion of metal construction, in keeping with the more masculine design theme. Analog gauges are highly legible, and a 6.3-inch touch screen contains the audio controls, smartphone interface and rear-view camera.

Because of its high, arched roof-line the Beetle offers great visibility. The front bucket seats are generously proportioned and well-bolstered. Space on the back bench, however, is limited and knee room is about average for a subcompact coupe. A great car for singles and empty-nesters, families might want to look at more spacious choices in the VW line. (The Chattanooga-made Passat, for example, has an expansive back seat.)

Typical of Volkswagen, the interior materials seem a class above and fit-and-finish is first rate.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The Beetle Dune is powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower. The 3,000-pound Beetle darts through traffic and accelerates briskly after a half-count of turo-lag — that fraction of a second needed for the turbocharger to spool up.

At a lean 3,000 pounds, the Beetle has quick reflexes and taut driving dynamics. It's a thoroughly modern car and a far cry from the tepid little rear-engine Beetles that conquered the world in mid 20th century.

The six-speed automatic transmission ticks through its gears with German-engineered precision. Like all small VWs, the Beetle's drive-train is so silky you wonder how the company keeps these cars so inexpensive. There is no diesel version of the Beetle Dune at present, as the company seeks to re-engineer its TDI line to comply with U.S. emissions standards.

Although the suspension has been raised a bit, the Beetle Dune is no off-roader. It will feel most at home on our mountain roads, where its short wheelbase and precise handling can be showcased.

BOTTOM LINE

Can a car like the Dune broaden the audience for the VW Beetle?

In our view, it should. With its more masculine styling cues, spirited driving dynamics and iconic branding, the VW Dune is one boss baby boomer buggy.

Now, try saying that three times fast!

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.


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