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2014, Mar - Apr

Dune buggy with a twist at the Detroit Auto Show 

By Tom Janiszewski

Volkswagen continued that theme at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit with Dune, a sporty, off-road take on the Beetle. This is not the first time we've seen a Dune concept: Volkswagen unveiled a New Beetle-based Dune concept at the 2000 Los Angeles Auto Show. Sadly, that Dune concept never made it to production.

Fast forward 14 years, and Volkswagen is once again looking at Baja Beetles and dune buggies of the '60s and '70s as inspiration for a potential extension of the Beetle product line - something Volkswagen has said it would be doing throughout the lifecycle of the current design. Watching the car drive onto the stage, the first question that comes to mind is whether the Dune is all-wheel-drive. Sadly, it is not. If Volkswagen is paying attention to comments on social media platforms, the people want AWD on a vehicle that suggests off-road driving.

The first thing that catches the eye on the car is its metallic yellow-orange "Arizona" paint. Love it or hate it, the color attracts attention like none other now available on a production Beetle.

Exterior modifications make the car stand out from current production models. A new front apron incorporates a large central air intake grille framed with a chrome surround, which transitions into the car's underbody protective plate. Innovative matte finish LED fog light rings flank the air intake, and they contrast nicely against black panels.

Dune features a new hood, which now includes a raised center panel creating two attractive body lines running fore and aft.

Although Volkswagen made no mention of it, these lines are a subtle reminder of those on the original air-cooled Beetle's boot lid. Alongside each of these body lines is a cooling vent located just ahead of the base of the windshield. The Cross Blue "crossover" concept unveiled in Detroit last year featured similar vents, so perhaps these will start appearing on production models. The vents have a honeycomb appearance and are accented with a central chrome strip and (whether functional or not) are yet another nostalgic nod to the air-cooled Beetle.

The side profile also features several unique modifications. All four wheel arches feature black extensions adding 2.2 inches to the Beetle's width, and are reminiscent of arch trim used on Mk1 GTI models. The arch extensions feature contrasting matte and gloss black surfaces that surround large, 19-inch wheels. Similar in style to the production "Twister" Beetle wheels, the Dune's wheels feature black painted inserts contrasted with polished aluminum spokes. The center caps are color-keyed to the car's metallic orange bodywork.

The front and rear wheel arches are tied together with brushed aluminum sill panels. Just above the sill panels are gloss-black strips like those on the high-performance production Beetles. A new Dune logo appears on the lower rocker panels just ahead of the rear fenders. The use of chrome and contrasting matte/gloss black continues on the rear bumper cover. The chrome underbody panel transitions into a chrome lower panel housing the car's twin tailpipes. A matte black panel fills the license plate panel.

The rear fenders feature a new twist on the production tail lights. They feature a built-in black surround contrasted against a silver strip that frames the dark red tail lights. If nothing else, these tail lights would make welcome additions to Volkswagen's accessories catalog. The most prominent feature at the rear of the car is the ski rack built into the rear spoiler. While the rack is said to accommodate either snow/sand skis or boards, the show car was equipped with a pair of custom sand skis. The outboard segments of the spoiler pivot outward to release the skis, and hold them securely in place when closed. Along the top edge of the rear window, the skis slide into a receptacle in a roof-mounted spoiler. Just ahead of the ski rack, the car features a glass tilt-and-slide sunroof. It's worth noting that the trunk lid can be easily opened while loaded with the skis.

One of the boldest elements Dune concept unveiled 14 years ago was the interior, which was radically different from that of the production car. Carpeting was replaced by moulded plastic for ease in cleaning, and the rear seat area was vastly redesigned to fold into a storage area with a flat cargo floor. While the 2014 Dune's interior is nowhere near as radically different than a production Beetle of today, it does have a number of unique features. Most noticeable is the passenger-side grab handle, which has replaced the upper glove box. The handle is wrapped in soft-touch matte black material that contrasts nicely with aluminum accents and body-colored elements.

A high-resolution 7.7-inch touchscreen infotainment screen dominates the center of the dashboard. It features an Active Matrix Organic LED display, which renders in extremely high detail, and in addition to radio station and navigation info, it can displays the car's pitch and roll. The system also runs the Volkswagen Sideways app, which actively integrates points-of-interest into the navigation system.

The press release explains that not only can the system display the types of and locations of nearby restaurants, but it will also show whether your friends are there - quite handy when, depending on the friends, looking for which destinations to take in or avoid. It also makes one wonder how the system determines your friends' location, but I digress. In addition, the system incorporates current weather conditions, which also impacts suggested destinations (if, for example, it's winter, the system would exclude outdoor swimming pools in the points-of-interest list).

Other subtle differences on the Dune's dashboard include revised climate control knobs under the touchscreen and color-keyed accents on the all of the car's gauges.

Plain fabric map pocket panels have been replaced with ones featuring the car's name, and the seat upholstery has been modified as well. The outer surfaces of the front and rear seats are upholstered with black leather while grey breathable "sport fabric" is utilized for the seating surfaces.

Mechanically, Dune features the same 210-hp turbocharged direct-injection TSI 2-liter engine found in the Beetle R-Line. The gasoline engine is mated to VW's 6-speed DSG gearbox. In lieu of AWD, the car retains the Beetle's front-wheel-drive layout with strut-type front suspension and multilink rear axle. Despite the existing driveline, designers increased the car's ground clearance by 2 inches, and the car is 0.8 inches taller.

Overall, the Beetle Dune is certainly production-ready, just as Volkswagen states.

Internal and external modifications are largely bolt-on items, so it wouldn't require the level of engineering necessary to create, say, a convertible or true off-road Beetle. While the concept of off-roading in a Beetle is old, it certainly is given a new twist with Dune. Reactions were positive, so time will tell whether a production model becomes a reality. VWCA

Tom Janiszewski | volkstom@sbcglobal.net

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:

* RACING STRIPES: At Chicago, VW boosts its association with Andretti Motorsports.
* CONVENTION 2014: We take a road trip to check out this summer's Convention site.
* LABOR STRIFE: VW's hope to establish a union shop at its U.S. plant take an odd twist.
* GR8-PL8S REVISITED: More members share their vanity plates.

PLUS OUR REGULAR COLUMNS AND FEATURES:

* Driver's Seat - VW news & views by Cliff Leppke
* Frontdriver - Richard G. Van Treuren
* Small Talk - VW and Audi news - quickly
* Retro Autoist - From the archives
* Parting Shot - Photo feature
* VW Toon-ups - Cartoon feature by Tom Janiszewski

 

 

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