(Contributing Editor: George Straton)
Cover art on political rock singer Neil Young’s 1974 album “On the Beach” prominently features a 1960’s vintage Cadillac buried nose first into a beach, with only the rear tail fins above the sand. That image along with lyrics “I see bloody fountains, and ten million dune buggies coming down the mountains…” heralds the decline of American traditionalism and the rise of the anti-establishment movement particularly on Southern California beaches.
The traditional donor for the “Dune Buggy” was an air-cooled engined VW Type I Beetle with greater suspension travel, thus AKA “Baja Bug.”
Recently automaker Volkswagen has confirmed what has been common knowledge for a while now. The new anti-establishment individualism in Southern California and pretty much elsewhere favors the Sports Utility Vehicle. Has the time has come to bury the Beetle nose first in the sand?
If one counts rolling over granules of remnant sand on the Highland Park Beach asphalt parking lot of Chicago’s Lake Michigan North Shore, Roadblazing.com occupants set off for beach adventures in a saffron 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune 1.8T. Staring wistfully at the sand, the sand glared back, “Real Baja Bugs only need apply.“
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WHAT: 2018 Volkswagen Beetle Dune 1.8T sub-compact coupe.
Standard Power: transverse 2.0L intercooled turbocharged EA-888 DOHC 16V DI gas I-4 = 170 hp/ 184 lb-ft + 6-spd. Tiptronic manumatic shifting automatic planetary transaxle.
GONE for 2018: Manual transmissions & last year’s more powerful RS model.
WHAT [A] STYLING [DIFFERENCE]: √ 2013 brought a “Manned-Up” Mk. II restyle of the retro arc hooded and roofed Kafer Type I People’s 3-door coupe partly by lowering the stance and widening the body and track; √ Conjuring images of even more intrepid beach racing meant raising the chassis up again by 1/2″; √ Dark honeycomb lower fascia grille and accents; √ Imitation brushed metal skid-plates; √ Ruggedized integrated side skirts pay tribute to Classic Beetle’s running boards; √ Wheel arches cladding stands in high contrast to Sandstorm Yellow Metallic paint-job; √ Lettering “Dune” inscripted on each door; √ Upper half of round headlight housing trimmed in white LEDs for halo effect;
WHY: A New Beetle which inspires dreams of Hanging Ten.
WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since Autumn 2017
WHERE: VW new vehicle dealers
WHERE MADE: Puebla, Mexico
HOW ROADWORTHY: a 2.0L turbocharged DOHC EA888-3 gas inline 4-cylinder with lower turbo boost makes decent shove at low engine revs. There’s even a pseudo rear air cooled boxer-4 sound; The 6-spd. Tiptronic transaxle is no DSG, it sacrifices super quick for super smooth.
The tuned for compliance fully independent front strut control arm suspension, is a relic from Mk. VI Golf days; Longer suspension travel copes with the fractionally higher clearance; With linear but numb steering, turn-in is ponderous and an abundance of understeer awaits; Yes it feels worlds’ behind the ability of the new MQB platform; Pedal reaction from 4-wheel disc brakes is somewhat daft; Slight wind whistle penetrates the frameless door windows into an otherwise placid cabin.
HOW FAR: 29 combined miles per gallon
HOW BIG/ LITTLE: √ It’s a personal coupe; +1 Front seats fold and slide forward for rear seat access, something that no Ford Mustang can boast; +1 Survivable 2nd Row headroom; –1 Personal coupe scant rear seat legroom.
HOW USEFUL: √ It’s a Hatchback. A liftgate opens to a deep but narrow cargo space but liftover is excessive ; √ 50/50% split folding rear seatbacks for cargo expansion; Low cowl & belt-line = +1 Forward visibility & minimized side; -1 Thick B-pillar rear side blind-spots; –1 Rear seat backs don’t fold flat; Tow Rating: Not Rated.
HOW SAFE: √ 6 airbags; √ IIHS Safety Pick +; √ Rear camera (available Driver Assist pkg. = forward collision warning, Park Pilot sonar park guidance & adaptive cruise control
HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY: √ Heated, manual adjust sport front bucket seats; √ Front seat rotary knob lumbar adjustment; √ Leather w/ yellow contrast stitching tilt/ telescoping steering wheel with spoke integrated tactile redundant controls; √ Oversized analog speedometer w/ embedded Trip Meter, flanked by analog tachometer and fuel gauges; NEW FOR 2018: 2-zone auto climate control & keyless access / push-button ignition.
Cool Gizmo(s): √ Variable color night door speaker housing illumination; √ Classic Beetle style rear seat access B-pillar grab straps; √ Felt lined door pockets minimizes change or keys jingle jangling; √ Retracting liftgate VW emblem release lever conceals rear camera lens.
Details Done Right: √ Matching Sandstorm Yellow Metallic cabin dashboard and door panels; √ Yellow contrasting seat piping & accent stitching; seating surfaces w/ metallic controls; √ Broad tight webbed pillar & headliner fabric;
Nearly Non-Descript: -1 Low-contrast faux carbon fiber appliques; -1 Coarse grain plastic cabin trim.
HOW “APP” -LICABLE: √ 6.5″ capacitive touch LCD infotainment screen w/ gesture control; √ Voice command hands-free communications; √ Android Auto, Apple Car Play & MirrorLink smart phone apps; √ Subscription based VW Car-Net telematics; √; 400W 9 speaker Fender audio pounds out taut depth but loses on separation, √ USB x 1, 12V x 3, 115V x 1.
HOW MUCH: $26,685 = 2018 Volkswagen Beetle Dune 2.0T; Now monospec.
WHAT’S MISSING: Manual transmission; Dune buggy lift & dune tires;
ANY COMPETITION: FIAT 500C: +1 Italian flavor; MINI Cooper: +1 “on rails” handling, enthusiast cult following