First revealed at the Detroit auto show back in January, the toughened up two-door hatchback is presently undergoing development at Volkswagen, which is keen to build on the sales success of a number of similarly conceived front-wheel drive offerings already offered in European markets, such as the CrossPolo, CrossGolf and CrossTouran.
Officially, the Dune is a concept that awaits production approval. However, Volkswagen officials have confirmed that moves are already underway to place it into production at Volkswagen's Puebla factory in Mexico alongside the standard version of the Beetle in late 2015, both in coupe and cabriolet bodystyles.
While the one-off concept driven here for the first time is meant to provide an idea of how the showroom version of Volkswagen's latest crossover will appear when it goes on sale, indications are it will be toned down slightly before it hits showrooms.
“There are regulatory measures to consider that will see certain details altered. However, the spirit of the design will remain,” says Ingo Bruechmann, who was among the in-house team of Volkswagen designers who contributed to its design.
To keep costs down and streamline production, the stylistic changes over the standard Beetle center mainly around non-steel body panels. Included are new LED headlamps graphics, a new front bumper with a prominent grille, round LED fog lamps housed low down within the outer air ducts and a silver protector plate.
The hood has also been modified, with added contouring and a pair black air ducts that serves to providing it with added height.
Along the flanks, there is black plastic cladding within the wheelhouses and, in a move harking back to the original Beetle, a subtle running plate has been added underneath the doors.
At the rear, Volkswagen's design team has provided the Beetle Dune with a prominent roof spoiler and large rear wing – the latter housing extendable blades either side to allow the external storage of surfboards, skis, snowboards and the like.
Other design changes? The tail lamps receive new semi-oval LED graphics, giving the car additional visual width when viewed from the rear. The Dune also wears a more structured rear bumper than that adorning the standard Beetle. It receives a deep license plate recess that mirrors the shape of the front grille, as well as protective cladding that houses two round chromed tail pipes.
Power for the only Beetle Dune in existence right now hails from the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine as found in the Beetle 2.0 T. It is tuned to deliver 210 hp. No official torque figure has been revealed, but we're told the early concept driven here packs somewhere “in the region of 207 lb-ft on a characteristically wide range of revs”.
Although it channels power exclusively to the front wheels, Volkswagen claims the high riding hatchback boasts some off-road capability. Helping it venture away from the bitumen and into less forgiving terrain is Volkswagen's XDS electronic differential lock and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The Dune carries the same turbo charged four as the Beetle Turbo.PHOTO BY VOLKSWAGEN
What's it like to drive?
The Dune is more appealing in its natural environment out on the road than on a clinical auto show stand, for sure.
With 7.1 inches of ground clearance, the Dune sits almost 2 inches higher than the standard Beetle. The addition of cladding within the front and rear wheelhouses has also enabled the addition of lower-offset wheels that effectively widen the track.
The wheels, styled to resemble the optional 18-inch Twister rims available on other Beetle models, measure 19 inches in diameter and are shod with 235/45 profile Dunlop Sport Maxx tires – not exactly off-road grade.
The big surprise when you see the Volkswagen concept up close alongside other cars is just what that added ground clearance does for its appearance. It might only be 2 inches, but the added ride height gives the Dune an instantly more imposing and more purposeful air than the standard Beetle. And these impressions continue as you swing the driver's door open and step inside. The added ground clearance sets the driver's seat at the same height as the Volkswagen Tiguan, giving you a commanding view of the road. There is also sufficient height adjustment within the seat itself to further raise the seat and sit even higher still.
As with the exterior, Volkswagen has reworked various elements of the interior, although the basic design and architecture of the standard Beetle is retained. Among the exceptions is the addition of a grab handle in the dash ahead of the passenger seat, more sporting instrument graphics, a high-gloss surround for the touch-screen infotainment monitor, elastic door pocket straps and lovely cross-stitched leather seats.
With 210 hp and a solid chunk of torque on tap, the Beetle Dune accelerates with a good deal of vigor both off the line and through the gears. Volkswagen points to a 0-62 mph time of 7.3 sec, which is 0.2 sec faster than the standard Beetle despite the increased drag brought about by the added ride height. VW also quotes a top speed of 141 mph.
The turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder won't be the only engine offered: Volkswagen hints the existing 170 hp turbocharged 1.8 liter four-cylinder gas and 140 hp turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder diesel units will also be available when sales begin in 2016. Forget any notion the raised ride height might be aligned to four-wheel drive to give the toughened-up Beetle proper off-road credentials; the Dune will retain the same front-wheel drive set-up as its on-road biased siblings in the interest of weight saving.
Direct and light steering properties combine with the excellent vision afforded by the raised ride height to provide the new Beetle with excellent maneuverability and engaging handling. What does need sorting is the ride: The added ground clearance has robbed the suspension of crucial wheel travel, giving the concept a firm, brittle ride. Don't be surprised to see the ride height dropped slightly in production guise, if only to improve the compression and rebound characteristics.
Volkswagen hints that the Dune may come with the option of a diesel variant.PHOTO BY VOLKSWAGEN
Do I want it?
With Volkswagen planning to crank up production of the Beetle Dune following a world debut tentatively scheduled for the 2015 Los Angeles auto show, it should reach North American showrooms in less than two years.
It is not the resurrection of the classic Baja Bug many had yearned for. And without the choice of four-wheel drive it is going to struggle to get real credibility in the burgeoning crossover ranks. But if early impressions are any guide, the high-riding Dune could well turn out to be the pick of the Beetle range.
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