In Detroit, Volkswagen Dune sifts the sands of time

Volkswagen of America’s product pipeline is sucking air at the moment, as the company awaits the US arrival of the seventh-generation Golf, leaving the company to show off a Beetle R-Line model wearing an off-road-inspired paint job.

The Golf R also made its US debut, along with a concept edition of the US-market Passat, called the Passat BlueMotion, which aims to highlight VW’s fuel-sipping gasoline-engine technology.

VW calls the Beetle Dune Concept a “Baja Bug for the 21st century”.  Of course, real Baja bugs were heavily modified rear-wheel-drive Type 1 Beetles, fortified for desert racing in Mexico’s Baja California. The front-wheel-drive Dune Concept is an aesthetic statement only, with no desert-strafing aspirations.

The car on the show stand wears a desert-hued paint VW calls Arizona – a yellow-orange metallic – with matte-finished two-part fender cladding on the wheel arches intended to convey a bolder stance than the base Beetle musters. The larger, 19in wheels have increased offset to visually fill the fender openings and push the wheels to the corners of the car, while a custom raised hood and rear spoiler that doubles as a ski rack round out the appearance changes. The Dune does sit two inches higher than the 210-horsepower Beetle R-Line, on which the concept car was based.

Unsurprisingly, VW says the Dune “looks production ready”, since it is basically an appearance package, but the overt hint suggests a production version may come along.

Meanwhile, the company showed some real hardware whose performance is no mirage: the US version of the Golf R. Though the car is a full year from American dealers, where it will arrive in the first quarter of 2015, the new R adds 34hp and 4mpg on the highway to its spec sheet, relative to the outgoing model.

At 290 horsepower, it will be VW’s most powerful North American Golf ever, thanks to a turbocharged EA888 TSI 2-litre four-cylinder engine.  Mated to a six-speed manual or dual-clutch automatic transmission, the Golf R drives all four wheels through a Haldex 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. The car rockets to 62mph in a manufacturer-estimated 4.9 seconds with the automatic transmission, or in 5.3 with the shift-it-yourself version. That manual transmission is predicted to achieve 31mpg in highway driving, the company said. No word on its likely price, but something in line with the $35,000 figure of the current model is expected.

The Passat BlueMotion concept employs VW’s thrifty 1.4-litre EA211 direct-injected turbocharged gasoline engine, a dual-clutch automatic transmission, automatic engine stop/start technology and a cylinder deactivation system that lets the four-cylinder engine run on two or three cylinders when less power is needed to deliver 42mpg in highway driving.

That’s an impressive number for a mid-size family sedan without the aid of hybrid-electric drive or a diesel engine. And despite the engine’s small size, it musters 150hp and 184lb-ft of torque, giving it very acceptable power for a fuel-saving family car.

VW isn’t talking about the possibility of production for the Passat BlueMotion, but does allow that the car’s Reef Blue Metallic paint colour will reach showrooms on production Passats.