Review: VW’s New Beetle Dune Is A Worthwhile Distraction

The Volkswagen Beetle Dune is yet another reminder that life’s too short to be cautious.

Even if you’re the almighty German god called the Volkswagen Group, you don’t exactly find $15 billion under the couch cushions to pay roughly 500,000 U.S. customers who have emissions-cheating diesel cars. It’s been widely publicized that VW will divert more attention to electric cars, models that sell well and cut numerous slow-selling niche cars. And the Beetle is likely one of them.

The (new) Beetle as we’ve come to know it over the last couple of decades is doomed, a victim of taking too long to figure out how to stay relevant or trendy and a parent with too many problem children. And with that, the Dune is the most compelling Beetle I’ve seen in years.

Good day, sunshine

Ever since the Beetle was reincarnated in 1998 – on a Golf’s platform with the engine in the wrong place – there have been two distinct camps who either think it’s adorable or roll their eyes at it as if it were a talking stuffed animal. VW tried to make it more butch somehow with the 2012 redesign, but that didn’t really work, either. It’s still unmistakably a modern interpretation of the original original. 

It is pretty easy to see the attempt at recreating the Baja Bug and its lack of frills and off-road readiness. And to be fair, the Dune is about as competent on dirt and gravel as other front-wheel drive crossovers with similar faux skid plates and cladding.

And something about it feels a little crossover-y behind the wheel. Its half-inch gain in ride height combines with an upright driving position that’s less carlike. Between this and the tall doors, however, this is the car I would recommend to someone with bad knees.

Splashes of painted plastic and color-coordinated accents on the gauges don’t move the Dune away from how utilitarian it feels inside. Major controls feel like they came out of a very old VW parts bin and that doesn’t help any Beetle feel like a particularly new car. Worse, the design is more boring than ever. At least the Dune’s rugged overtones compensate for some of the scratchy plastic.

And while rear visibility sucks, two adults with heads can be somewhat comfortable in the back seats. Entry and exit isn’t the embarrassment it is in most two-doors, either.

But the Beetle gets basic stuff pretty much right, and you can’t be mad at it for that.

Something in between

It was never a hot hatch, but making it a Dune has potentially relaxed the Beetle even more and that’s a mixed blessing.

The added ground clearance allows for a little more give in the ride, but the 19-inch wheels mitigate that when you go over broken pavement. The suspension was firm as is, so the Dune isn’t exactly the most comfortable car if your commute is over various potholes.

Good steering feel makes you think it’s happy in corners, but the generous body roll convinces you to back off a little. And while the seats ultimately hold you in place, it isn’t something begging to be pushed.

All that said, the driving experience is better than a lot of sporty coupes of this price. This 1.8-liter, 170-horse turbo four impresses me in every application. Even with the slushy six-speed automatic that’s mandatory in the Dune, a meaty torque curve means the engine is rarely caught breathless. Better still, it’s hard to get much less than 25 mpg when pushing this thing, and 30 or higher was no problem in more realistic combined city/highway drives. What TDI?

Driven enthusiastically along the Pacific Coast Highway’s turns and I laughed out loud more than once. It isn’t a thrilling experience, but a happy one. Which is what you should expect from a four-wheeled sunburst.

Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time

This is far from the first special edition Beetle, but it’s the first one in a while that’s more than a paint job, upholstery and a bubbly name (looking at you, Vapor and HashtagPinkBeetle). It’s also the first Beetle in recent memory that evokes the original’s rugged nature and simplicity. They should’ve done this Dune sooner and called it a subcompact crossover. It’s something VW needs right now.

It isn’t cheapest compact coupe at its $25,000 base price, although it’s not wanting for many options. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio, front and rear parking sensors and a backup camera – they’re all nice to have and they all come in the standard Dune package.

I know, a base Golf GTI is way sharper to drive and isn’t even $2,000 more expensive. But if you’re considering one of those, you weren’t a Beetle shopper in the first place. The GTI is a hot hatch and the only hints of humor are the plaid seats your butt covers up when you drive it.

Outside of the car world, plenty of people just want a car that makes them feel happy on their way to work, the Beetle does a surprisingly good job that while also being good transportation in the way a Civic Coupe or Hyundai Veloster don’t. And no one looks at it and sneers, “Ooh, is it a diesel?”

Instantly recognizable as its own entity, the Beetle Dune conjures up memories or incites ridicule among those who hate the paint or its fake off-road chops. Whatever the opinion, the discussion wasn’t about VW’s problems of the moment.

If and when the Beetle is re-birthed again, it should be more like the Dune.

Photos: Keith Moore/

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  • chippers

    Good review. I’ve never seen one of these in person.

  • Obsequious Lickspittle

    this is the car I would recommend to someone with bad knees.
    Have you thought about a career in advertising?

  • I made a rendering of what a new Scirocco might look like here,

    imo, it’s about time they replaced it with a new generation.

  • Michael_66589

    I generally don’t like German cars, but this Beetle has very nice styling. If they make something like Fiat 500L with VR6 engine, it even should be nice ride.

  • Mickey Jones

    After my dual-mass flywheel clutch failed after 30K and VWUSA did nothing about it, I wrote off VW forever. Ignition coils constantly failed or were recalled too.

    • Ty


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