Duke’s Drive is all about my experiences with driving new vehicles. It truly is a privilege to be able to drive a brand new vehicle for a week and share my thoughts with you. It is a responsibility that I don’t take lightly, or for granted. I know the pains of wanting to test-drive a vehicle you’re interested in buying, and it’s not an enjoyable experience. These are the stories of my experiences.
Few cars seem to be made for the express purpose of being fun. Sports cars and super cars are made to be insanely fast and bursting with adrenaline. But, especially over the past 10 years or so, it has all become hugely technical, highly sophisticated and a bit too serious. Very, very impressive? Sure. But not exactly fun. Alas – there is still plenty of hope. Because arguably the most “fun for fun’s sake” car ever – the VW Dune Buggy, has had a spiritual rebirth. Meet the 2017 VW Beetle Dune Convertible.
It’s no surprise that every BMW or Mercedes-Benz you see is black, white or silver. They’re all business, so those color schemes are fitting. Which is why I couldn’t have been happier when my VW Beetle Dune tester rolled up in a funky shade of yellow. Before you even get close to turning the key, this car goes out of its way to make its purpose known: getting you to smile. A task it easily accomplishes, particularly in this spec of Sandstorm Yellow metallic over a black and grey interior with yellow piping. It’s an awesome color combo, and turns heads at a relentless pace.
So, what exactly separates the Dune Edition from a standard VW Beetle? The major changes include raised suspension, exclusive bumpers, rear spoiler, cloth/leatherette seats, and steering wheel stitching. Under the hood you’ll find the same 1.8L four cylinder turbo, putting out 170 hp and 184 lb-ft. of torque. Not exactly staggering numbers but I wasn’t left longing for power like I am in other sub-200 hp rivals. Side note, that “Turbo” badge is the coolest thing this side of a 1980’s Porsche 911 Turbo. All boosted cars should be lucky enough to have such effortlessly cool insignias.
For a while, the automotive cool kids table has been the stuff of Mini and Fiat. Between the JCW Minis and Fiat 500 Abarths, they have been the standard bearers on how to make small cars unbelievably cool. Well it’s time to pull up another seat, because VW has absolutely joined the club. From door and speaker LED lighting to bringing the exterior paint color inside (via the dash and doors), the Beetle Dune feels like an incredibly personalized, very, very cool place to spend time. I’m also a big fan of the Fender stereo, which I haven’t seen in another car up to this point. A VW Beetle Dune convertible with a sound system by Fender. Seriously, how much cooler can it possibly get??
When I had the car on test, the forecast was almost exclusively rain. Weirdly, that’s actually a bit of a great thing. If you want to truly test a convertible, taking one for a weekend of beautiful southern California roads and weather is a terrible idea. You’ll just fall in love with the experience, but probably not walk away with an honest appraisal of the car. A convertible in poor weather, on the other hand, forces you to review the car in its most realistic state. I’m happy to report that the Beetle Dune is very nearly as much fun top-up as it is top down. During both city and highway cruising, the interior is surprisingly quiet with the roof up. There’s some outstanding sound deadening going on, because it’s nearly as quiet as the average hardtop.
Of course, when you do have some sunshine and can drop the top (one-touch operation, by the way), it’s SPF 30 and smiles sunrise to sunset. Unlike most current sports cars that require “how many points will this add to my license” considerations to have fun, the Beetle Dune is a blast at any speed. It’s less of a play thing and more of a cruiser, and is substantially better off for it. What an absolute riot.
While I do appreciate the purpose of the raised suspension, I’m a sucker for less wheel gap. Throw on some mild lowering springs and it’ll be that much closer to its chop-top beach cruiser brethren. For the power hungry among us (myself very much included), I’d also go for a little extra power and more aggressive engine soundtrack. These 1.8L VW four bangers respond incredibly well to an aftermarket ECU tune, especially when paired to a quality intake and exhaust setup. For under a grand of investment, you’ll have a VW Beetle that can give new Porsche Boxters a run for their money.
It seems like every time I read a sports car review, the takeaway is “this is the most fun you can have for X amount of money”. That may be true but – spoiler alert – many of those reviews are done on race tracks where the cars can be pushed to their limits. Not exactly realistic day-to-day situations and as a result, those great performance cars can be substantially less thrilling in the real world. Which is why I’m so happy the 2017 VW Beetle Dune Convertible exists. This is a car with one mission: be outrageous fun, whether in rush hour traffic or on a spirited backroad blast. It’s a hugely welcome dose of pure fun in a market that can, at times, feel a little short on it.
Plus, my pretty well spec’d tested came to a grand total of $31,210. Not bad at all, especially not when you consider that a Mini Cooper S can easily exceed that number when fully equipped. No matter what you think of the Beetle, this is one you just have to test drive at least once. When it comes to love at first drive, this VW may just have the market cornered.
On The Radio
I’m also a co-host on the syndicated radio car show “The Drive“, hosted by my Motorz co-host, Alan Taylor. Here’s what we said about the 2017 VW Beetle Convertible Dune Edition on the air, February 4, 2017 (listen at 21:40)!