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2017 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO

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Great fun, good performance and fuel economy - with the top up or down


               • SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Research and Buyers Guide

Volkswagen has heritage. Back in the 1960s, the original Type 1 sedan, more commonly known as the Beetle for its shape, was the basis for fiberglass-bodied dune buggies and offroad racers, commonly known as Baja Bugs after the Baja 1000 race down the Baja California, Mexico, peninsula. None of these were factory-built, but the Beetle’s low cost, simplicity, ubiquity, and a strong aftermarket for do-it-yourselfers made them popular. Some have even survived to this day.

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More recently, Volkswagen has been successful in the Red Bull Global Rallycross (GRC) series, winning the 2015 and 2016 championships with (highly) modified Beetles of the current variety. GRC courses are short, with a mix of asphalt and dirt, and jumps. GRC cars start life on the production line, but are highly modified after that, with extra ground clearance and suspension travel, heavy-duty suspension components and chassis reinforcement, 600-horsepower turbo engines, and all-wheel drive.

The Dune, introduced partway through the 2016 model year, builds on both aspects of VW history. It’s a cosmetic variant of the current Beetle, with more aggressive bodywork reminiscent of the GRC car. Ride height is greater, with 5.9 inches of clearance versus the stock 5.6 — so no, it isn’t really offroad-ready, although there is a steel skid plate under the drivetrain. Don’t be expecting 600 horsepower and all-wheel drive, as affordability is part of the VW scheme of life. Power, 170 horses worth, is from the current 1.8T turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine, delivered to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. A sedan was the original version, joined later by the convertible.

So, no extra performance, but the Dune is still fun, both to look at and to drive. If of average performance by today’s standards, with a 0-60 time around eight seconds and a top speed in excess of 100 mph, it’s a Top Fuel dragster compared to an old air-cooled Type 1. My 1969 example was good for 0-60 in maybe 15 seconds, maybe. Top speed? It could cruise at 70 as long as the hills weren’t steep. And I’ll take the current Beetle’s four-wheel antilock disc brakes to the originals four mostly-worthless drums…

The Dune that showed up in the driveway was the convertible, in handsome Sandstorm Yellow Metallic. The weather forecast was: a few days of warm Fall sunshine, and then rain. Figures… But no problem, as the top goes up or down in about ten seconds, with merely the touch of a button at the center of the windshield frame. No manual latching necessary, and the car can be moving at speeds up to 30 mph. Top-down in the sun, great fun and unlimited visibility. Top-up in the rain? Snug as a bug… it’s a well-insulated, multi-layer cloth top with a heated glass rear window. Use the mirrors and your head properly and no problem. Cold and wet out, snug, warm, and dry inside! Sun’s back out? Hold the button and take advantage of that! Good fuel economy is a longstanding VW virtue, and the Dune doesn’t disappoint. EPA ratings are 24 mpg city, 31 highway. I got 28 for the week, without any more highway than usual. My old Beetle? 20 around town and 30 on the highway unless there were hills. I’ll take the new one, thank you very much.

APPEARANCE: All Beetles get freshened front styling for 2017, but the Dune got it first. And is still a bit different. The large upside-down trapezoidal intake in the bumper fascia, flanked by “vents” holding the foglights originated in the GRC cars and saw first street use in the Dune. For 2017 it will be on all, but here the intake is trimmed in matte-silver plastic that blends into the skid plate under the engine. The small slot at the top of the bumper is unique to the Dune. So is the black cladding around the wheel arches and lower perimeter of the car. And the “Dune” stripe job on the sides. The rear bumper has a faux venturi/skid plate look. A medium-sized “whale tail” spoiler is found at the top of the trunk lid. A chrome trim strip separates the top from the body. Top-up, the convertible’s profile is very similar to the coupe’s.

COMFORT: Retro-modern has always been the Beetle’s style, and this one is no different. The instrument panel face and top door trim are body-colored, and the main instrument cluster is reminiscent of the original Beetle’s, if more comprehensive. No tachometer or fuel gauge in the olden days — but both are in all current Beetles. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is manually-adjustable for tilt and reach, and has a stitched leather rim and controls for audio, cruise, and information systems on the horizontal spokes. Cabin electronics are controlled via the touchscreen and surrounding well-marked hard buttons in the center of the instrument panel. Audio choices are everything current — AM, FM, and Sirius/XM radio, CD, Bluetooth streaming, an SD card slot, and USB and jack inputs. Unique to the Dune are front sports seats with leatherette bolsters and houndstooth cloth seating surfaces, separated by curry-yellow trim. They are quickly and easily manually adjustable, including lumbar support. Front seatbacks tip forward and the seats slide for access to the two rear positions. Outboard cutouts with armrests and a design similar to the front seats mean good comfort and support in back, although the near-vertical backs detract a bit. Headroom was a virtue of the original Beetle, and this one as well. Even with the top up. The top does not use any trunk space. However, the default storage for the included tonneau cover is in the trunk, and it does not pack small. Leave it at home. The windblocker is also stored there, taking about four inches from the top. If luggage space is needed it can be stored with the tonneau. The rear seatback is split 50/50, but both the trunk and passageway openings are pretty small. Um, large, bulky items in a convertible? Not in the mission statement. Top-down, buffeting is minimal; top-up, little difference from the hardtop.

SAFETY: The Beetle Convertible’s unibody structure was designed for safety, with ultra-hight strength steel used in crash-load paths. The windshield frame acts as a roll bar, and if airbags are deployed, twin roll bars concealed behind the rear seat are deployed up. A full complement of air bags and safety harnesses provides more protection. The Automatic Post-Collision Braking system is new and standard for 2017, and will automatically apply the brakes after a collision. The Intelligent Crash Response System turns the fuel pump off, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard lights. A standard wide-angle rearview camera helps when backing.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The Beetle Convertible is not a GTI, so its suspension is tuned more moderately, if slightly more firmly than the standard car. Like other Beetles, suspension is fully-independent, with struts at the front and a multi-link system in the rear. The Dune gets a larger front anti-roll bar than other models in front. Ride height is raised 0.4 inches, not enough to affect handling. That’s more for looks than any offroad ability as clearance is only 5.9 inches. It’s convertible so relax, put the top down, and take the scenic route at a pace that allows you to enjoy the scenery! Watch the road, to, please. Steering effort is moderate, and the four-wheel antilock disc brakes work very well.

PERFORMANCE: Again, it’s not a GTI. But the Gen 3 EA888 engine provides a fine balance of performance and economy. Some other automakers are touting the combination of turbocharging and direct fuel injection as the best new technology ever; VW was the first mass-market automaker to use that technology, and has been refining it ever since. The 1.8-liter engine was designed and built for turbocharging and direct injection. A dual overhead cam, four valve-per-cylinder design, it has variable cam phasing on the intake cam for a broader torque curve, improved economy, and reduced emissions. There is no need to rev it, as maximum horsepower 170, comes at a low 4800 rpm, with torque peaking at a healthy 184 lb-ft at 1500 rpm and not dropping off much after that. Think diesel that runs on unleaded regular… The transmission is a smooth six-speed torque converter automatic, with regular and sport automatic and manual shift modes. Sport was a slight improvement on country roads, as shifting is biased toward optimum fuel economy. Manual mode was entertaining but never necessary. I used Sport around town and in the country, and D on the highway — and still averaged 28 mpg. Better than my old Bug, and better than a 2004 New Beetle Cabrio 1.8t in my records. With a similar weight, and the old 1.8t engine making 150 hp at 5800 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque between 2200 and 4200 rpm, that car’s 0-60 time was 9.6 seconds (over a second and a half slower) with a 24 mpg average. Progress is good.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Convertible provides open-air fun with good performance and fuel economy. And no drawbacks with the top up.


2017 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune

Base Price $ 29,395

Price As Tested $ 31,210

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve turbocharged and intercooled inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and variable intake camshaft phasing

Engine Size 1.8 liters / 110 cu. in.

Horsepower 170 @ 4800 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 184 @ 1500 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 100.0 in. / 168.7 in.

Curb Weight 3280 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 19.3

Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P235/45R18 94H Continental Pro Contact TX m+s

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD and ESC standard

Suspension, front/rear independent strut / independent multilink

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 24 / 31 / 28

0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec


Dune Convertible Technology Package — includes: Climatronic® dual-zone automatic climate control, Kessy® keyless access with pushbutton start/stop, Fender premium audio system with subwoofer $ 995

Destination Charge $ 820