Car Reviews First Tests

2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Convertible First Test Review

Bug Infestation

Bug Infestation

Just like any proper Volkswagen Beetle, the special edition Dune conjures up many pleasant thoughts: the open desert, the popular science-fiction novel series from Frank Herbert, and the Baja Bugs that began surfacing in the late ’60s. After VW introduced the 2016 Beetle Dune coupe earlier this year, it added a convertible to the lineup for the 2017 model year.

In addition to the Dune drop-top, we recently had the pleasure of entertaining two other special edition Beetles in the Motor Trend garage: a #PinkBeetle coupe and a Denim Beetle convertible. Although the Dune was probably my least favorite of the three in terms of its drive experience, it has its own merits nevertheless.

The Dune is the most athletic of the group, you could say. It features a large central air intake in the front bumper, black wheel arch extensions, aggressive 18-inch Canyon aluminum alloy wheels, and a bold rear spoiler. The body is 0.6 inch wider, and the ride height has been raised 0.4 inch over the standard model. Despite the off-road cues, this obviously isn’t the vehicle you’d take trekking through Arrakis. The upgrades are primarily for show, and because it’s a Beetle, that’s just fine with us.

2017 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible Dune front three quarter

The Dune convertible is powered by the same 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder engine offered in the standard Beetle. It produces a familiar 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, and in our tests it managed to hit 60 mph in 7.4 seconds. That made it 0.2 second faster than the Denim Convertible with the same engine but slightly slower than the mighty #PinkBeetle coupe, which is also equipped with the 1.8-liter turbo engine.

Compared to other affordable roadsters, the Dune convertible was faster than a 2012 Fiat 500c we tested (11.6 seconds) but slower than a 2016 Mazda Miata (5.8 seconds) and a 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth (6.3 seconds). It also ranked behind a 189-hp 2015 Mini Hardtop four-door in Cooper trim (6.6 seconds) and a 160-hp 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth (6.8 seconds). Still, the Dune convertible comes in the middle of the pack compared to more conventional small cars, beating the pants off a Corolla S (9.8 seconds), for example, but not a Civic Turbo (6.8 seconds).

Like its numbers suggest, the Dune packs enough power, but its ride is stiffer than we would have liked. It handles road imperfections with less poise than the other two Beetles we tested and even feels a bit creaky and brittle over imperfect surfaces. Given it’s a nonluxury convertible, you can hear plenty of road and wind noise with the top up or down. Quiet and smooth on the freeway and on city streets, the #PinkBeetle coupe (or any other similarly equipped Beetle coupe) is the choice for those looking for the most refined ride.

The Dune comes with a flat-bottom steering wheel, but that doesn’t make its steering particularly sporty. We found its steering to be vague and unsatisfying at moderate speeds. Unfortunately there’s no manual transmission option, but shift from D to S on the six-speed automatic, and the Dune is especially peppy and eager to move. It’s a great city dash-about.

And fortunately, the little dune buggy is significantly more fuel-efficient in the real world than EPA numbers would have you believe. In our Real MPG testing, we achieved 25.7/36.6/29.6 mpg (9.2/6.4/8 L/100km) city/highway/combined, an increase of 1.7/5.6/2.6 mpg (138.4/42/90.5 L/100km) over EPA numbers.

Design is the area in which the Dune excels the most, however. Inside, the Dune is refreshingly simple. Other than the old-world climate control switches, there are few buttons cluttering the center console. Instead, VW focused on drawing the observer’s eyes toward metallic accents, the yellow-coated dashboard and doors, yellow seat piping, and yellow contrast stitching on the gearshift and steering wheel. Its drop-top is also simple to operate; with the push of a button, you can lower the top in 9.5 seconds and bring it back up again in 11.0 seconds.

2017 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible Dune front end in motion

The iconic Beetle is struggling as of late. Sales were down 22 percent in the U.S. last year and about 34 percent during the first 11 months of this year. Rumors have been floating around that VW will discontinue the model in the next few years, but we hope they aren’t true. (VW won’t comment on the matter.) The Beetle remains an important part of VW’s brand identity, even if the much newer Golf has surpassed it in refinement. We’d like the Beetle to stand the test of time because even though the current generation is 5 years old, its drive experience belies its old age, particularly when it comes to the coupe model. And it makes you feel special every time you open the door in a way other cars simply cannot.

2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Convertible
BASE PRICE $30,215
PRICE AS TESTED $30,465
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 4-pass, 2-door convertible
ENGINE 1.8L/170-hp/184-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,261 lb (60/40%)
WHEELBASE 100.0 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 168.7 x 71.7 x 58.7 in
0-60 MPH 7.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.7 sec @ 88.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 118 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.85 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.1 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 25.7/36.6/29.6 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 24/31/27 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 140/109 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.73 lb/mile