2017 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T Dune Review

It doesn't get more niche than this gold bug


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Good powertrain that makes driving fun, sporty aesthetic inside and out, more interesting than the standard Beetle.
Negatives: No all-wheel drive option, too youth oriented for most to take seriously, painfully cramped back seat, backup camera noise in reverse is annoying.
Bottom Line: It's hard to say what the Dune is actually for. It's clearly meant to be a fun, recreational-seeking vehicle, but it lacks VW's great 4Motion all-wheel drive system that would make it purposeful for more than just pavement. It's not as sporty as it could be, either. Aside from decent driving dynamics, comfortable front seats, and a fun-loving aesthetic, there's not much this specialized Beetle pulls off.
 View Our 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Overview
The Dune pays homage to the original Beetle Baja from the 1970s that was a ruggedized version of the iconic VW Beetle. This time around, though, the formula is a bit different. The new Beetle recipe includes a wider track, higher ride height and some very special trim and graphics that set it apart from more pedestrian Beetles. It is more about a spirit of fun than it is about any off-road capability, though, since the Dune doesn't even offer their 4Motion all-wheel drive here, and the appearance of skid plates in front and back is merely for aesthetic purposes. We drove the Dune to see if it might tickle our fancy. Read on for our full review.
 

Driving Experience

8.6

 

The Dune is a fun car to drive, but it's not better than the Golf GTI, which only costs a thousand dollars more. That being said, the Dune does have one of the better four-cylinder engines we've comes across with smooth power delivery and great shifting. It does well in the turns, but it totally lacks any all-wheel drive option, which would make this more of a dune buggy that would be true to the name.

Ride Quality: It's on the firm side but not jarring. The car feels sporty like its ethos communicates.

Acceleration: The turbocharged mill moves the car quickly, but it's not overwhelmingly fast. The car's engine is smooth and provides more than adequate power. The transmission shifts incredibly well with no hint of gear-hunting.

Braking: Brakes modulate well, and the pedal is progressive with no detectable mushiness.

Steering: Steering is a bit on the numb side, but the car is more than manageable in turns with decent turn-in.

Handling: The Dune rides higher than its base sibliing, but the wider track helps get it through turns well.

Technology

6.5

 

Whether it's the Golf, the Passat or this Dune, VW needs to spend more time on its interior tech. Everything works just fine, but it all just seems dated, small and far less attractive than its competitors.

Infotainment System: The tiny screen seems out of place in an edgy two-door. Though the system is pretty intuitive, it just seems a bit dated.

Controls: The buttons that flank the screen are small, as are the round audio knobs. Using these while driving at highway speeds is difficult.

Bluetooth Pairing: Our smartphones paired easily with the system, and the Dune recognized our phones when re-entering the vehicle.

Voice Call Quality: No issues with the phone call sound or transmission.

Styling

8.8

 

It's hard not to like the Dune, especially if you're not the owner. The gold paint attracts attention, as does the more pronounced body and styling. VW did an excellent job of making this version look special, even if it is a bit kitschy. Though not many will be drawn to buy something this niche, it's nice to see that VW has tried to do something different. Unfortunately, most of the changes are reserved for the eye of the beholder.

Front: The large lower grille gets brushed metal-look trim and black mesh. We would've liked to see more black on the bumper and lower trim to match the rest of the car.

Rear: We like the back end thanks to the large black-trimmed spoiler, the simple LED taillights and the VW badge. Too bad the skid plate is fake.

Profile: The Ragster Concept's shape is carried over here very well, and it's bolstered by big black fenderwells that actually belie the car's lack of any off-road prowess.

Cabin: Though the cabin is very plasticky, the build quality is pretty good. VW did a nice job of matching the colorway of the exterior. The tasty Dune seating surfaces with yellow piping and gray inserts look fantastic.

Comfort

7.2

 

Overall, the Dune delivers good comfort, at least for the front seat passengers. It's not a capacious vehicle, but it is airy and attractive inside, making it a fun environment. Ergonomics are decent, but VW erred more on the side of aethetics than comfort.

Front Seats: The Dune has good seats that are supportive and decently bolstered. Too bad they're manual.

Rear Seats: There's not much point in talking about them since they seem like afterthoughts. There's virtually no legroom to speak of.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The cabin is well-built, and there's no errant noise or harshness within.

Visibility: It's one of the Dune's strengths thanks to the big glass sections that make visibility all around excellent.

Climate: The system works, well, and there are heated seats, but the old-school twist knobs seem outdated.

Safety

8

 

Safety ratings that include the Dune are for the Beetle line as a whole. Though the Dune doesn't have a robust set of accident prevention technology, it does do pretty well in crash tests.

IIHS Rating: The Beetle scored "good" in all crash tests besides the small front overlap, where it attained a "marginal" score. Accident Avoidance and Mitigation technology are not available on the Dune.

NHTSA Rating: The Beetle scored 5 Stars in the overall crash rating.

Standard Tech: The Dune comes with the basics and some nice additions: Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR), Brake override system, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), including Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution (EBD), Engine Braking Assist (EBA), Hydraulic Brake Assist (HBA) and a post-collisoin braking system

Optional Tech: None

Storage/Cargo

6.4

 

The Dune is spacious inside but lacks capacious storage options. At least the hatchback configuration allows some rear cargo space for those weekend trips.

Storage Space: The center armrest is virtually useless due to its small size. There are two small cubbies beneath the armrest but only for small items. The binnacle under the center stack is good for your phone and keys, at least.

Cargo Room: 7.1 cubic feet with the rear seats in place and 29.9 cubic feet with the seat area. Not huge but usable.

Fuel Economy

8.8

 

The spritely engine and excellent transmission also happen to provide for very good fuel economy numbers. It's one of the Dune's strengths that you don't really expect from a novelty car.

Observed: 26.8 mpg

Distance Driven: 173 miles

Driving Factors: Most of our miles came from suburban driving, so our mileage numbers were pretty good.

Audio

6.2

 

Our tester didn't come with the Tech Package, so it didn't have the premium Fender audio system. The base system was decent, but we didn't find it to be all that impressive in terms of fullness and bass.



Final Thoughts

We're not quite sure who the Dune is made for aside from those who just want a fun-looking, trendy car that sets itself apart from its more boring basic sibling. At the very least, the Dune is very affordable for its unique styling and its wider and taller stance. The car drives well, too. The fact that it's really geared towards young people means that most car shoppers will look elsewhere toward hatchbacks that blend it better and offer more practical space and all-wheel drive.
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