First drive: VW Beetle Dune Cabriolet

By topgear, 22 August 2016

What is that?

The VW Beetle Dune Cabriolet. A gold-on-gold Beetle Cabriolet that was initially a concept at the 2014 Detroit motor show, but is now available in the UK as an actual car to tempt people with a sliver of California dreaming, even if they live in Solihull.

Umm, brave colour scheme.

You're not wrong there. Gold cars are daring no matter the weather. Though in the perfect light conditions of the marketing pictures above, it looks somewhat agreeable.

But in the UK, on a drab August afternoon, the Sandstorm Yellow metallic paint doesn't quite match the zing of the ever-gold alloys. Rather, the paint has a browny gold hue not unlike the cough medicine you seemed to get as a child.

And if you thought you could get away from it on the inside, you're wrong. The Midas Touch has been applied everywhere: on the dial surrounds, the cladding of the dashboard, the door cards and piped into the seat surrounds ' you really can't escape it.

Luckily, four less gaudy colours are available.

OK, enough about the colour, what's the deal with it?

It's a jacked-up (10mm) slightly more off-roady VW Beetle that's meant to channel the spirit of the original Beetle 'Baja Bug' conversions that tottled across the dusty wastelands of the Baja peninsula back in the Seventies.

In reality, it's a kind of spiritual successor to the incredibly ahead of its time (yet completely forgotten) VW Polo Dune.

With chunkier wheel arches and a 7mm wider track, it looks slightly more ready for the rough stuff. But where the old Bugs used to be rear-wheel drive, with air-cooled motors slung over the back, this one has its engine up front with power going to the front wheels ' so don't count on conquering any dunes anytime soon.

Other visual cues for the Dune are those spangly 18-inch alloys, Dune decals, rugged bumpers, thicker side skirts and a new rear spoiler.

What engine has it got?

You have a choice of two: a 104hp 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol, or a 148hp 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel. Both are available with either a 6spd manual or an optional 7spd DSG auto. We tried the diddy petrol engine with a dual-clutch 'box.

What was it like?

Luckily England tried its very best Californian impression while we tested the car, so the roof was off straight away.

The interior is still part new-VW, part-retro with enough space for four people, although the three dials atop the dash (turbo pressure, stopwatch, oil temperature) feel a bit of an odd fit. You sit slightly high and a bit uncomfortably with doors that come up to your shoulder line – so, in this colour, you feel like you're sat in a Victorian copper bath.

Fortunately, it handles rather better than a bath. The steering is incredibly light but doesn't offer a whole lot of communication through the thin rim. And despite having multi-link rear suspension, the ride soon gets unsettled quite easily over broken streets. But it cruises well.

However, with a tiny 1.2 TSI engine, the engine feels wheezy and the car heavy. If you mash the throttle from a standstill, once you've got over the turbo lag it winds out and with the auto gearbox doing its thing you'll see off the 0-100km/h sprint in 12.1secs.

The roof folds down quicker than that, in 9.5secs and pops back up in 11. Roof up, the three-layer fabric insulates well too but there is notable tyre roar from those bigger wheels.

Although the folding roof operation is seamless and very quick, the way it ruffles onto the back deck really is a bit pastiche now.

Yes, it harks back to the original Bug, but back in the Forties people had more important things to do than engineer things properly.

We now have the skills to stealthily hide the roof away – which would improve rear visibility and tidy up the scruffy lines of the rear of the car when the roof is down.

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