VW Beetle Dune — A real head-turner

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It's been five years since the Volkswagen Beetle experienced a major redesign, so it's incumbent upon Volkswagen to issue special editions to keep the iconic Bug in the crosshairs of new-car shoppers. The latest special edition reaching showrooms this spring is called the Dune, inspired by the California desert Baja Bugs of the late 1960s. And based on the super-cute "Duned" out Beetles we drove, Volkswagen has hit a home run.

The Dune seems to be a an excellent fashion statement for the cost-conscience shopper coming in at under $25,000, which includes the head-turning Sandstorm Yellow (leaning more toward a copper/orange) with matching Sandstorm Yellow interior trim. The Dune is also available in white and black.

What's also different with this Beetle is the Baja look that wraps around the lower body adding 0.6 inch to the overall width. Simulated skid plates, fender extensions, polished sills and an attractive-looking spoiler round out the look. The visual transformation is completed with a 0.4-inch taller ride height.

The seats are upholstered with attractive leather-like vinyl with orange stitching, which is also used on the steering wheel and the shifter fabric cover. The Sandstorm Yellow theme is carried through the dashboard and door panels. And orange highlights are used in the center gauges. If we were in the market for a Beetle we could be swayed towa
rd the Dune because of its unusual, but attractive appearance. The question, would it grow old and dated after a few years?

Underneath the attractive paint job and slightly altered body was a standard mid-trim-level Bug with the base 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. We like VW’s turbo four-cylinder gas engine, one of the best small powerplants on the market. It provides more performance than its 170 horses and 184 pound-feet would suggest with the ability to complete a 0-to-60 scoot in an impressive 7.4 seconds as measured by a major automobile magazine, and with a quarter-mile time of 15.6 seconds at 90 mph.

If you think these times are a good indicator of snappy passing on a two-lane road or quick, effective merges into onrushing interstate traffic, you are correct.

What makes these statistics even more impressive is the EPA-rated gas mileage of 25 mpg city, 34 highway and 28 combined on regular gasoline, important to the cost-conscience driver with the rapid price escalation of premium fuel.

If you expect the Dune's hot looks to bring Golf GTI sports car handling traits, however, you may be disappointed. That being said, the Dune's handling is reasonably adept with good on-center feel. The suspension provides a comfortable ride for cruising city streets or hurdling down an interstate highway. And the Beetle provides pleasing quiet living quarters compared to others in the segment.

Because of the Beetle's rounded design, cargo space is a bit short of other small hatchbacks — but you probably already know that since the iconic half-moon design has been around longer than a majority of car buyers have been walking the planet. But you can still get 15.4 cubic feet of stuff in the trunk — as much as a mid-sized sedan — which expands to a useful 30 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

On the plus side, front-seat headroom is in skyscraper abundance while rear-seat room is adequate. Although the Beetle is a compact design, two adults can ride in relative comfort in the back seat with decent, if not abundant, legroom. Taller people may have to negotiate for space, but that's the case in most cars this size.

All Beetles come with Volkswagen's new touchscreen interface with VW Car-Net-App-Connect smartphone connectivity features. One of the few options on the Dune edition is the Sandstorm Yellow paint at $250 — and in our opinion it's worth the cash because the copper-orange color makes the vehicle. Standard equipment is substantial including hot-looking 18-inch alloy wheels (one of the most outstanding designs in the VW parts bin), cruise control, rearview camera, air conditioning, an eight-speaker audio system with satellite radio, USB connection, tire pressure monitoring, leather steering wheel, and remote keyless power doorlocks.

Safety includes the aforementioned backup camera, four-wheel antilock brakes, emergency braking assist, a post-collision safety system, traction and stability control, and a full array of airbags.

While you can't go four--wheeling over the sand dunes like the Baja Bugs of old, the new Dune, with its attractive color scheme and exterior add-ons, would make a charming addition to any driveway. And if you want some open-air fun with the Dune look, it comes in a convertible format as well.

Base price: $24,815; as driven, $25,065
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged four cylinder
Horsepower: 170 @ 4,800 rpm
Torque: 184 foot-pounds @ 1,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 100 inches
Length: 168.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,012 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 15.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 29.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 34 highway, 25 city, 28 combined
0-60: 7.4 seconds (Car and Driver)

The Good
• Attractive upgrade to base Beetle
• Powerful turbocharged engine
• Stylish interior

The Bad
• Ordinary handling traits

The Ugly
• Luggage capacity falls short in segment