2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Hybrid Concept First Review: Rugged meets frugality
First shown as a concept at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the production version of Volkswagen's Beetle Dune is expected to hit showrooms in early 2016.
The example we were offered maintains the dramatic Mad Max facelift seen on the show car, including a lift to overall ride height of roughly two inches, 19-inch wheels surrounded by black-trimmed fenders, unique bumpers and eye-gouging metallic orange paint. The difference over the standard Beetle is still primarily cosmetic though, so we wouldn't recommend roughing the Sahara just yet. On one hand, this new styling is a fun change of pace and pays homage to the Baja Bugs of times gone by. On the other, it's rather in-your-face and we could predict the loud orange skin becoming downright mocking after a few years of sleepy-eyed commuting. Let's hope there will be some other colors available come the 2016 launch.
As opposed to the 1.8T and TDI powertrain offerings that we'd expect to see duty in the upcoming production model, our car was fitted with something entirely unexpected - the gas/electric powertrain of the Jetta Hybrid.
You're probably asking why. So were we. The answer we received was essentially, "because we can." The use of this powertrain in our test car can be read as a representation of the automaker's views on the greener future of the industry, as well as a bit of subtle chest-puffing on the product flexibility and relative ease with which the Volkswagen line works as one. As such, it seems the prototype we drove was doing a bit of double-duty - it's a look at the car we'll be seeing next year, but it's also meant to serve as standing proof that hybrid power can - and will - be trickling its way into the lineup for years to come thanks to Volkswagen's emphasis on modular platform design.
As a refresher to anyone who missed that day in class, the aforementioned hybrid powertrain is a 1.4-liter turbocharged gasoline engine mated to a 20kW electric motor and 60-cell battery. Total system output is 168 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque.
We found it drove more or less like the Jetta Hybrid - which isn't a bad thing - and it did feel like some previous nuisances had been addressed. For starters, the programming of the 7-speed DSG transmission didn't frustrate us once this time, and made us wonder whether it was possibly due to Euro-spec differences. We also were pleased to see the off-the-line sluggishness we noticed in the Jetta was all but gone. At least during our brief drive, the acceleration and performance of the hybrid Beetle Dune was totally acceptable and felt a little zippier than the Jetta counterpart. Given they weigh nearly the same and Volkswagen says the programming is similar, we're left shrugging our shoulders as to why.
There's little point going on about the hybrid powertrain's cameo appearance here though. It suited its new role without issue and it further reinforces Volkswagen's commitment to modular design and development. We continue to have slight concern with this Lego mentality potentially hurting the vehicles' abilities to stand apart from one another and offer unique personalities, especially given how quickly a Beetle driving experience became a Jetta one after swapping a few blocks around.
Regardless of the powertrain within, we're generally onboard with the Beetle Dune. When the New Beetle was introduced in the late '90s, it was groundbreaking. Everybody noticed it, and it nearly singlehandedly kicked off a global retro styling craze. But since then, its updates have largely been evolutionary. This Dune addresses that, as it legitimately turned heads as we drove around - something the Beetle hasn't enjoyed in years. It's a playful dash of freshness for the model, and that might be exactly what it needs.
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