Detroit 2014: Volkswagen Beetle Dune May Move From Desert To Dealership

It might be titled the Volkswagen Beetle Dune Concept, but the “concept” suffix might soon be dropped. The worst-kept secret at Volkswagen’s stand at the 2014 Detroit auto show is that this butch, off-road-oriented Bug may be the next special-edition Beetle variant to reach production.

Well, perhaps it isn’t really a secret. VW insists no decision has been made on actually pushing the Beetle Dune into series production, but the company’s own press release repeatedly refers to the show car as a “possible future Beetle variant,” and even notes the car is far more production-feasible than the original 2000 Beetle Dune concept, which debuted at the 2000 Los Angeles auto show. Its powertrain and driveline are carried over with no change, and most modifications are cosmetic in nature. Given Volkswagen’s history of building cosmetically-altered soft-roaders and breathing life into the Beetle by way of special edition models, you can easily read between the lines.

Seeing the Beetle Dune debut in Detroit triggers a bit of nostalgia for me. Not because I have fond memories of Type 1-based dune buggies, as Volkswagen’s press materials suggest, but because as a car-crazy kid, I fawned over the original Beetle Dune concept at the 2001 Detroit auto show, months after its original debut. I dug just how weird the thing was, with its flared fenders, stratospheric ride height, translucent roof, all-wheel drive, and even an in-dash inclinometer. Who else but VW -- who seemed to have a thing for off-road passenger cars at the time judging by the likes of the Audi Allroad and the Steppenwolf concept – would have dreamed this up?

In most ways, the new Beetle Dune concept follows in the footsteps of the original. It stands taller and wider than a stock 2014 Beetle, and seems as if it has a little more machismo than the already “masculine” second-gen Beetle. As my colleague Jake Holmes notes, the ski rack integrated into the rear spoilers is a neat trick, and I do like the air intakes placed atop the hood. But I’m not sure it’s quite wild enough. My eye was caught more by the luscious “Arizona” gold paint than any body modification. Paint the car a more conservative shade, and from afar, it looks just like an unusually tall Beetle R-Line with some new bumpers.

In a sense, that’s all it is.

Maybe it’s my inner child talking, but I wish VW went a little more out there with the new Beetle Dune. I understand fancy-pants things like air suspension and translucent plastic roof panels aren’t necessarily feasible in a production car, especially if you’re trying to keep costs down in order to price it properly to attract the thrifty young active lifestyle buyers VW desires. All-wheel drive would probably fall into that camp as well, through it isn’t as impossible, given the Beetle shares a platform with the previous 2013 Golf R, which boasted 4Motion. Volkswagen geeks may also love to point out the Golf Country production car - which made about as much sense as an off-road Beetle does - also boasted all-wheel drive. An all-wheel drive Dune would stand apart from so many of the faux-off-road vehicles in this world, whose off-road enhancements amount to little more than big wheels and simulated skid plates.

But in the real world, money talks. Given most theoretical Beetle Dune owners would rarely use, let alone truly need, the added traction of all-wheel drive, nixing it from the business proposal in favor of front-wheel drive and an electronic limited-slip differential makes sense. But I’ll still wish Volkswagen’s unusual twist on the “cute ute” formula was just a little more different.

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