LAS NEVADA, Nevada — As Jim Graham helps us tighten the five-point seat harness in his Baja Bug racer, he casually tells us about the time he rolled it at 45 mph, breaking a few ribs in the process. We’re hoping to avoid a similar fate in this classic, stripped-down, dirt-friendly Volkswagen Beetle as we trundle around a housing development in Pahrump, Nevada, in search of a muddy field.
With the air-cooled engine fluttering away behind us, we find a dirt road and bounce the Bug along it for a little ways, imagining we’re driving the Baja 1000. Graham competed in the epic race in Baja California with this very car, but we find ourselves thinking 33 hours would be a long time to spend in this loud, slow Beetle with weak brakes and a rusty floor pan that’s gradually filling with rainwater.
Tougher look, but same cute Beetle
Turning a regular 2016 Volkswagen Beetle into a Dune takes very little work. There’s a new fascia front and rear to make this Beetle look a little more butch. The track is wider by 0.6 inch, and requiring fender extensions of black plastic over the 18-inch “Canyon” wheels. The ride height has been raised a modest 0.4 inch to provide 5.9 inches of ground clearance — plenty for dirt roads but hardly enough to go rock crawling. Skid plates provide a measure of protection for the undercarriage. There are Dune graphics on the doors, three unique paint choices, and matching color trim inside the cabin. And you can have all this in a coupe or a convertible.
The modest tweaks have not corrupted the Volkswagen Beetle hatchback experience we know and like. The front-wheel-drive Dune tracks well on the highway, mutes out bumps from cracked pavement, and even delivers a bit of fun when you push hard into a corner. We’re pleased VW didn’t fit knobby off-road tires, because the Continental ProContact all-season tires make barely any noise on the road and grip just fine when we take curves briskly. Other Volkswagen Beetle virtues are also in place, including attractive interior materials, plentiful cargo room (in the hatchback, at least), and good visibility through the large rear window.
The only powertrain option is the turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine matched with the six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, a combo that works perfectly. The 170-hp engine is gutsy and eager, so even though the Beetle Dune is not particularly fast, it’ll pass slow-moving minivans on an uphill grade without issue. Fuel economy is no different than a standard Beetle 1.8T at 25/34 mpg (city/highway), despite the fact that the Dune is a bit heavier (3,093 pounds versus 3,021) and less aerodynamic (a 0.39 Cd versus 0.37) than a regular Beetle 1.8T hatchback.
Great big sunroof available soon
After lunch we switch into the Beetle Dune convertible, which arrives a few months after the hatchback. It will likely cost a bit more, though exact pricing won’t be announced until later this year. With El Nino dumping rain over Nevada, we don’t bother lowering the power softtop, but our experience with a Four Seasons Volkswagen Beetle convertible says it will be a fun way to soak up UV rays without breaking the bank. Just like the hardtop, the Dune convertible is calm, quiet, and composed at 70 mph on the boring arrow-straight highways outside Las Vegas.
Like most 2016 Volkswagen models, the Dune also has a slick, new, MIB II touchscreen-operated infotainment system that’s far easier to use than the radios in prior Beetles. The Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality makes accessing your phone’s navigation app, text messages, or Pandora radio a breeze.
Lots of stuff for not many dollars
Essentially fitting in between the 1.8T SE and SEL trim levels, the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune demands only a little more money than a standard Bug for its unique design, with the Dune hatch starting at just $24,815. Standard equipment includes the 6.3-inch touchscreen interface, LED taillights, Volkswagen Car-Net telematics, a backup camera, and parking sensors. A $795 Lighting package adds bi-xenon headlights and LED foglights; the $1,695 Technology package has dual-zone climate control, a Fender sound system, push-button start, and a power sunroof.
2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Specifications
|On Sale:||March (hatchback), Fall 2016 (convertible)|
|Engine:||1.8L DOHC 16-valve I-4/170 hp @ 4,800 rpm, 184 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm|
|Layout:||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback or convertible|
|EPA Mileage:||25/34 mpg (city/hwy, hatchback)|
|L x W x H:||168.7 x 71.7 x 59.1 in|