2018 Beetle 2.0T Dune: More Power But Still No AWD

Last year when we reviewed a very similar looking Beetle Dune, we loved the funky and retro aesthetic but lamented a lack of power and traction. For a vehicle that looked like it had off-road capability, the front-wheel-drive and mediocre all-season tires really were a let down. The 1.8-Turbo engine was peppy enough, and the car drove well – as you would expect given the platform sharing with the Golf/Jetta – but still left us wanting more. For 2018, VW gives us the 2.0-Turbo which has 174hp, but more importantly 184 ft-lb of torque. That extra pulling power is really noticeable at lower speeds, but it also highlights the lack of AWD even more.

There are lots of cars out there which have appearances that aren’t fully backed up by their performance. SUVs fit that description in many ways as an entire class – built on car chassis with only marginal upgrades for off-road performance but styled to look like a purposeful off-road vehicle. In this case, you have the same conundrum. A car that looks like the old ‘Baja Bug’ which people would bomb around the sand-dunes of Southern California with in the 60’s and 70’s, but is really just a slightly taller regular road car.

Finding the drivetrain to put into the car is often a reason why these types of cars aren’t offered in the proper configuration, but in this case the Golf platform has an AWD variant – several, in fact. So it’s completely plausible that they could engineer an AWD model. And that would be extremely compelling, because it would be what it looks like.

Speaking of looks, the dark mustard yellow metallic paint is perfect on this car. If you’re going to have a bold design, put a bold color on it. The only other available colors are black and white, so your choices are limited. The interior has some fun finishes too, with the signature body-color on the tops of the door panels on top of some really great materials. Even the steering wheel, with its thumb grips and contrasting stitching adds an element of design to the interior. The seats are a two tone style with yellow piping to tie the whole thing together. On the outside, Dune-specific front a rear bumpers/facias add way more visual interest. In fact, design is the Beetle Dune’s best attribute.

In a close second is the workmanlike drivetrain, plucked from the high production Golf/Jetta and Passat models. There’s a refinement with a mature engine and transmission package like this, you can really feel the years of improvement. We are wishing that with a pretty steep entry level price tag of $27k for the hatchback and $32k for the convertible, that you’d see more features and technology. Other than the mandated back-up camera, there’s just not much in the way of active safety measures. For a car with this price tag, there should at least be an available option. Also conspicuously missing are the popular smartphone connections Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

When taken as a whole, we’d be willing to forgive some of the lack of technology if it had AWD and some more off-road capable tires. And we’d be able to forgive the lack of AWD if it had more safety and entertainment technology available. As it stands, we had a hard time with this one. It’s a car that we love the idea of, and love the looks of – but just feel like it’s missing something. We felt the same way last year when we drove it, and VW gave us part of what we were asking for. How about it, VW? Next year give us AWD!