ONTARIO – Canada – For several years now at least 40 or more weeks out of every 52, I arrange and drive a vehicle provided by an automotive manufacturer. Sounds pretty cool – and indeed it can be.
Vehicles of all sizes, all colours, some with three cylinders, occasionally a unicorn with 12.
Every vehicle driven, regardless of the manufacturer and the price point (price as tested) varies. One thing they have in common: they have been designed, engineered and built for a specific purpose. Extreme examples might only have a handful built for a discerning clientele.
In today’s markets, there is really no such thing as a “bad” car. Some may be considered “better” than others, but that might often be subjective.
Most are made for the masses. Some built one at a time in deliberate limited quantities to add to their cachet.
Beauty is invariably in the eye of the beholder.
That being said, the car I returned earlier to Volkswagen Canada, the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune is one which, to date, registered more obvious double takes and admiring glances from pedestrians and other drivers on the road than anything I have driven worth 10 times more.
Introduced to an eager German buying public before the Second World War, the Beetle has a long history in the automotive world.
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In fact, as a young child in Scotland, Mum and Dad owned a 1963 green/turquoise rear-engine beast that transported six of us – me, three siblings and my parents to Normandy in France and the small town of Houlgate, from Glasgow Scotland complete with a huge tent, provisions and clothing for a full two weeks camping abroad. To this day, I still marvel how we accomplished this feat, but indeed we did. A tale for another time.
My memories of the car are still quite fond and when I picked up the Dune from VW headquarters in Ajax, Ontario, they came flooding back.
Much has changed since that memorable road trip all those years ago: some things, not so much. The engine has moved and the back seat is still as cramped as I recall. We actually stored canned goods under the rear seat to cross the English Channel!
Designed to pay homage to the classic Baja Bug racers that became a pop culture icon in the 1960s, the 2016 Beetle Dune is one of the first VWs to get the new MIB II infotainment system, including navigation in this version thanks to the technology package, that finally adds a USB port instead of a proprietary device connection, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.
Here’s the thing: overall, it’s a fun car to drive, and just as much fun to be seen in as witnessed by many enormous grins and thumbs up received while driving around. The styling is, to say the least, iconic. In fact, from a design perspective, the 2016 Beetle Dune has a slightly wider stance and elevated ride-height compared with other Beetles, and the inclusion of one or two off-road-inspired touches, such as a huge, maw-like air intake below the front bumper. This Dune also stood out because of its exterior Sandstorm Yellow paint that carries through to the relatively sparse, yet practical interior, a black honeycomb front grille, and a unique wheel design. For such a small car, the interior, from the driver’s seat feels roomy with a great deal of available light, thanks in no small part to the large front windscreen and the panoramic power sunroof. Visibility is, to say the least, excellent.
The Beetle Dune remains front-wheel drive and otherwise mechanically identical to the Beetle 1.8T. The turbo (TSi) four-cylinder engine makes 170 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque sent to a six-speed automatic transmission.
In spite of name and appearances, taking this auto off road or even onto a beach may present more issues than it’s worth, so stick to the road and enjoy it for what it is: a reasonably comfortable, funky-looking car – with one heck of a heritage.
Talking of roads, the Dune drives quite well. The suspension does a great job of absorbing road irregularities, and manages to provide a reasonably smooth ride. Despite the raised suspension, in corners or under severe maneuvering conditions, body roll is minimal, and the car feels planted – like the slot car it resembles! The 1.8T engine performs well at low engine speeds and propels this Bug with ease. The automatic transmission shifts quickly and when in sport mode could be almost mistaken for a more expensive dual-clutch transmission (DCT). Cabin noise at highway speeds is a little harsh, but after an hour or two behind the wheel, it blends into the background – thankfully.
As I said, an overall pleasing package. Some nice touches with the inclusion of the technology package. Overall, this creates a general impression of a car punching above its weight. That’s good. From a pricing point of view, competition in the just under $30,000 mark is huge, however, and therein lies the rub.
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Here come the “I-loved-it-but…” moment.
Regardless, the choice anyone makes in any vehicle invariably is subjective. While it’s unlikely you will get whiplash counting Dunes on the highway this summer, those behind the wheel are no doubt enjoying themselves – and that’s a great part of any driving experience.
While I really liked my time behind the wheel, there were occasions when I felt the car, although there are few complaints (save for terrible reception on the AM band via the Fender Premium Audio System and a “buzzing” speaker) may well be perceived as a novelty vehicle – which would be unfair. It does have much going for it.
Perhaps it was the colour? It is also available in a Deep Black Pearl or Pure White, but then it might be mistaken for a mobile Darth Vader or an Imperial Storm Trooper!
Drive it for yourself and make your own determination. The overall attributes of the engineering may well be sufficient to make its own case. And let’s face it, since the world first saw these cars over 80 years ago, there has always been an emotional attachment to this quirky-looking auto. After all, you do not sell more than 20 million plus units worldwide of any automobile without there being something of substance that continues to compel ownership.
2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune – with the technology package (includes: blind spot detection; 6.33″ touchscreen infotainment system with proximity sensor, CD player, satellite navigation and two SD card slots; and, Fender® Premium Audio System – 8 speakers plus subwoofer).
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BODY STYLE: Two-door coupe.
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic.
ENGINE: 1.8-litre DOHC turbocharged, intercooled four cylinder engine (170 horsepower, 180 lb.-ft. of torque).
CARGO CAPACITY: 15.4 cu ft., 50/50 split, rear folding seats.
FUEL ECONOMY: 87-octane fuel is recommended: 9.6/7.0L/100 km (city/highway).
PRICE: $28,560 as tested. Freight and PDI – $ 1,605; Excise tax on A/C – $100. HST extra.