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The 2016 Beetle Dune is a Built-for-Battle Baja Bug from a Bygone Era

In a number of ways, it seems like the Volkswagen Beetle is in a league of its own. It has been a propaganda tool for a fascist regime, a cultural icon for carefree hippies, the basis of one of the greatest sports cars ever made, and a desert racing machine for the most rugged of off-road adventurers. That, of course, was the original beetle. Does the current generation of beetle bring the same versatility to the table?

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Well, for starters, I sincerely hope this Beetle is never used for propaganda (off to a great start so far), and a sports car designer in the same league as Ferdinand Porsche would not be basing a sports car on this front-engine front-wheel-drive platform. Also, while this revamped Beetle is really good-looking and is a much more desirable car than the second-generation Beetle was, the fan following will never be on the scale of the original Beetle. So, let’s just not compare this car to its older brother. Nothing will ever be the original Beetle again, but luckily 21.5 Million  were made, so finding a used one shouldn’t be too hard.

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So now the question is; why would customers buy the Dune over the normal Beetle? For starters, it looks pretty cool. The extended fenders add just over two inches to the body width overall, and the way the rear fenders flow into the bumper is more aesthetically pleasing and simultaneously reminiscent of real Baja Beetles.

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Because of its simple air-cooled engine and rear-engine rear-wheel-drive layout, the original Beetle is ideal for making dune buggies and Baja racers out of. Approximately none of those attributes are present in the 2016 Beetle Dune. The ground clearance is about two inches higher thanks to the larger, fatter wheels and raised suspension. The track is widened just over an inch overall.

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There are fun styling accents all over the body including trim on the running boards and bumpers, Dune written on each side just behind the doors, and a cool not-quite-on-the-roof rack. The special wheels on the Dune are pretty neat as well. The engine offered with the 2016 Beetle Dune is the turbocharged 1.8 liter 4-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower found in the regular Beetle, though there are rumors that 210 horsepower 2.0 liter power plant from the R Line Beetle will be offered.

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The third-gen Beetle does offer a heck of a lot of features that would never be available in the original. Fully loaded, the Dune will sport a touch-screen controlled, Bluetooth enabled entertainment center connected to a sound system made by Fender. The climate control, start button, ergonomic seats, and keyless entry system are not bad touches either.

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I really think that the Beetle Dune has solid potential to be a really unique, likable car. That said, I think it is too moderate. Why doesn’t this car have all-wheel-drive? I mean, I know why it doesn’t; that would push the price too high. But it should have AWD. It really really really should have AWD. The reason Baja Bugs are cool has everything to do with how accessible they are to those with a low budget or just starting out. The motor is rugged and the weight distribution is perfect for the desert landscape. But the Beetle Dune could be a Baja Bug for people who want a real, practical car with the same appeal. A FWD beetle is just not the same thing. Even with bigger wheels, bigger fenders, and raised suspension, it’s nowhere near the same thing. The ski rack built into the spoilers is super cool, but what skiers and boarders are going to choose this over a Subaru?

But maybe, just maybe, if Volkswagen was bold and took the AWD from the RS1 Quattro or the Golf R and stuck it up under the Dune, and engineered the suspension to accommodate more travel, then this car would really be something special. I know I’m crossing my fingers.

Categories: Production Cars

Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.