2017 Volkswagen Beetle: Spry, sporty, vital at age 72

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Picking the most recognizable vehicle on the road is endlessly fun. The engine growl of a Maserati heard from another zip code? The near-silent elegance and design of a Tesla? The off-the-hook, testosterone-loaded design of a Hummer?

They’re all unique, worthy selections. But like it or not, the Volkswagen Type I, predominately known as the Beetle or Bug, gets the honor. With its high, severely rounded roofline, protruding fenders, distinct lights and overall bulbousness, the 72-year-old Beetle is alone in the auto industry.

The 2017 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T Convertible Dune is retro-styled to pay homage to the Dune Buggy.
The 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune is retro-styled to pay homage to the Dune Buggy. All images © James Raia/2017

The VW’s weird pedigree — commissioned by Adolph Hitler in the 1930s to adopted by the Hippie movement in the 1960s and 50 more years — further defines the car’s improbable legacy. It’s the second best-selling car in history behind the Toyota Corolla.

The 2017 Beetle Convertible is two-door, four-seat and versatile. It’s available in six trims, most notably the 1.8T Dune. It won’t get lost in the Beetles’ long history of successful and unsuccessful styles, production stoppages and reboots.

All Beetle trims operate with a turbocharged, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower and six-speed automatic transmissions. The Dune trim adds excitement with a slight increase in ground clearance, flared fenders, more aggressive fascias, trim-specific 18-inch wheels and “Dune” graphics parallel to the rocker panels.

The Dune trim is available in black and white. And there’s the wildly hued Sandstorm Metallic Yellow, the exterior color of my test vehicle. Combined with its black vinyl seats, gray fabric centers and orange stitching, it attracts its share of attention.

Like all convertibles, the Beetle Dune is more fun to drive with its ragtop down. The cloth top is operated with a switch above the rear-view mirror. It opens in about 10 seconds and closes slightly slower. Both directions can be accomplished while driving as fast as 31 miles per hour. Fuel economy is 24 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the freeways and 27 miles per gallon combined. The car’s price as tested was $30,464.00.

The Dune is also a homage to the Dune Buggy, the niche open-air, wide-wheeled machines designed for negotiating deserts and undulating beaches (dunes). Rear-wheeled Beetles dating to 1961 are often a customizer’s choice for creating a Dune Buggy. The versatile and sturdy beasts were called Desert Patrol Vehicles for military use.

While not as quick as its trim would suggest, the sporty Beetle Dune accelerates adequately and advances without issue at freeway speeds. Steering is tight, but there’s a slight body roll while cornering.

The Beetle Dune is among a small corps of new vehicles with retro styling. The Mini-Cooper and Fiat 500 are in the club and in the same car segment, too. But the Beetle provides a quieter and more comfortable ride than its top rivals.

The navigation system is intuitive and efficient with one exception. While driving in the sun with the top down, the display is hard to read. Two other shortcomings: All Beetle models are only available with automatic transmissions. The Dune seems ideally suited for a manual transmission. It’s also not available with all-wheel drive, which further limits thoughts of event driving in mildly difficult terrain.

The 2017 Beetle Dune convertible won’t change anyone’s mind about the brand. You either like Beetles or you don’t. I do and the Dune only added to my fondness for the enduring little machines, all 21 million.

Likes:

Fun to drive.
Two glove boxes.
Efficient, quick convertible top mechanism.

Dislikes:

Hard to see navigation system screen with the top down.
Snug backseats.

Facts & Figures: 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune (Convertible)

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 7.9 seconds.
Airbags: 4.
Fuel economy: 24 mpg (city), 31 mpg (highway), 27 mpg (combined) six-speed automatic transmission.
Horsepower: 170.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $29,395.00.
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.vw.com
Price As Tested: $30,464.00
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 12 years/12,000 miles.

What Others Say:

“Ultimately, the Dune convertible comes across as more kitsch than competence. Still, consumers who regularly commute on bumpy roads, as well as those hellbent on driving something different, may find the Dune to be an appealing option.” — caranddriver.com.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“The 2017 Volkswagen Beetle Dune convertible won’t change anyone’s mind about the brand. You either like Beetles or you don’t. I do and the Convertible Dune only added to my fondness.”

 

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