When the affable James Taylor asks me to review a new car I’m always keen. All cars are interesting, every new model a fresh challenge, nothing I could conceivably be asked to drive would necessitate me asking “what is it?’ before committing.
This time I should have asked. Regret flooded my body fester and more comprehensively than a shot of anabolic steroids through a pre-event athlete. This – despite my innate insistence not to pass judgement until tested – would likely not end well for this special edition of the ageing second-gen ‘new Beetle’.
For one thing, Volkswagen spuriously claims the Dune is somehow inspired by (and pays tribute to) the achingly cool and oft-competitive Baja bugs of old. This gaudy, marketing-mobilised, street-going pram could do them no justice.
The Dune also clocks in more than the equivalent regular Beetle Cabriolet, yet its equipment list is ominously devoid of the likes of climate, cruise control and heated seats. Perhaps – you would assume – compensation comes in the form of a set of skid plates, a decent lift and all-wheel drive? I could see the appeal in that concept; an easy-going soft-top that you could easily mooch around on the beach in, revelling in our microfortnight-lang summer.
Alas, the Dune’s premium nets you a fruitless 10mm lift in ride height, ‘off-road’ bumpers, arch protectors, bespoke wheels and paint. You get some decals to inform other motorists just how awry your purchasing decision has gone, too.
If you don’t like the looks, you’ll find little solace elsewhere. The 1.2-litre TSI, tasked with dragging all 1.5 tonnes of Dune around, feels inadequate out of town and teeth-grindingly coarse when pushed. It’s not aided by the light-duty seven-speed DSG, which seems calibrated to provoke the engine into delivering noise but not motion. A 2.0-litre TSI would transform this car, at least into something capable of getting you and it out of sigh t quicker. Then there’s the dated instrument cluster, rear seats that are more upright than a flagpole and a boot aperture that apes the slot on a postbox to perfection.
There are, however, elements that deserve praise. Powertrain aside, it’s pleasant to drive (provided you cut big enough holes in your paper bag) with easily judged responses and a solid, steadfast feel. It’s also comfortable at motorway speeds with the roof down, and you don’t have to crank the stereo to eleven to reach an audible volume. I even like the comparatively thin-rimmed wheel, reminiscent of many a motor past, which is perhaps the sole personally pleasing design choice in the entire car.
Make no mistake, the regular Cabriolet with the right engine is a serviceable drop-top. If you want one – which is the only reason to buy one – you won’t be disappointed by it. But please, avoid the Dune and save yourself a lot of money. Perhaps you could put it towards a better car.