We go dune-bashing in a VW CC! (Video)

How far would a road going saloon get in the sand dunes? Further than you’d think in the right hands

By Shahzad Sheikh & Fraser Martin

Shahzad Sheikh:

Ever since I watched an infamous YouTube video, several years ago, featuring a luxury convertible GT merrily cruising through some fairly significant dunes, seemingly at one with the terrain it frankly should not be accustomed too, I’ve been wanting to try this.

My initial approach was to the manufacturer of the same car featured in the video, which after all, did feature All-Wheel Drive. No names shall be mentioned [though their emblem has wings and a B in it] but for some reason they didn’t appear very keen to indulge me, despite my persistent badgering. And despite since then having given a car to a certain TV programme to rag on a rally stage.

No matter, it wasn’t the only road car featuring All-Wheel Drive. A not too distant relative is the Volkswagen CC with a Haldex 4WD system dubbed 4Motion, and kudos to the VW Middle East team, they were not only up for it, but wholeheartedly embraced the concept of taking the sleek and sporty saloon where few like it had gone before.

Volkswagen CC driven in the desert on sand in UAE

Now before you mumble something like, ‘yes well it has four-wheel drive doesn’t it?’ and click away to a different page, allow me to just put what we’re doing into some technical context for you.

The CC has front and rear overhangs of around a metre, whereas something like a Touareg 4×4 off-roader for example has shorter overhangs which are higher at both ends to allow for steep approach and departure angles. As for the all-important ground clearance, a Touareg has nearly 75% greater ride height than a CC.

And talking of height, a car also doesn’t have the benefit of the taller seating position of a typical SUV, which generally allows the driver a good view directly ahead and around the vehicle of the terrain immediately beneath the car’s wheels.

Volkswagen CC driven in the desert on sand in UAE

In addition to all that, the sending of torque to all four wheels on a road-going car is normally referred to as All-Wheel Drive (AWD) rather than Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) which is the distinction usually given to serious off-roaders.

The main difference being that AWD doesn’t feature low range and manually lockable differentials, and is more geared toward on-road grip either for enhanced cornering performance, or to overcome the challenges posed by slippery conditions such as rain, snow or even loose sand coating the road surface.

It’s simply not designed or engineered to cope with challenging terrain away from flat tarmac, likewise cars are fitted with regular tyres tailored to on-road performance and road-holding. Adding to the difficulties is an automatic transmission which is focussed on either being fuel efficient or achieving quick gear changes, plus traction systems that, these days, don’t ever really seem to switch fully off.

Volkswagen CC driven in the desert on sand in UAE

So with all that in mind, and knowing how easy it is to get even a regular SUV stuck in the sand, and with the potential of seriously damaging a car’s bodywork, radiator, tyres, wheels or even the drivetrain and axles, I wasn’t about to actually attempt this daunting task myself. Especially considering we were going to be using the AED162,297 ($44,103) top-of-the-range CC with a 300bhp 3.6-litre V6.

We needed someone with years of off-roading experience in our local environment, a wheelman with an acute sensitivity and intuition for sand driving bordering on mystical. We had to have the guy that once told me he used to marshall on the Masafi Rally in a Toyota Crown and has tackled an off-road course in his Honda Jazz! We needed the legend that is, Fraser M Martin.

Volkswagen CC driven in the desert on sand in UAE

Fraser Martin:

Nice wee challenge this, I thought, when it was first suggested by The Boss, and I had a hankering to do something similar for a while. The odd excursion on the edges of the desert, when you can get a decent run at some windblown sand is one thing – this was to be a bit more serious: it was organised for a start!

The Volkswagen CC as Shahzad has pointed out was not perhaps the ideal steed, but it had all the bits we needed. We had it swopped on to standard 17-inch wheels and tyres from the sexy 19’s it was originally specce’d with (Press cars are always top end kit) but otherwise did nothing to it bar reduce the tyre pressures to get us a little bit more flotation.

Conditions were not as ideal as they looked. There had been rain, so the sand was well compacted, but it had also dried out quite a bit; we were treading carefully so that we did not hit slopes that were too dry. Likewise, with the front and rear overhangs and sports-car approach and departure angles, I had to think quite quickly whilst keeping up momentum. Sometimes going round something a couple of times is better than trying to get over it!

Volkswagen CC driven in the desert on sand in UAE

It was all rather undramatic to be frank. As the session continued, we got bolder and bolder as it became increasingly evident that the 4Motion system is actually rather good – every bit as good, in fact, as a number of SUV models available from other stables.

Inevitably though, and with the encouragement of photographers (whom I should NEVER have listened to!) we reached the bridge too far. Having climbed around a particular pocket in the higher dunes, it was ‘decided’ that a better angle of shot could be achieved by ‘going this way, please’.

I should have stopped and had a look – it’s the first thing I advise anyone to do if they are not sure – but in the heat of the moment, I carried on over a rather sharper edge than anticipated and did not see which way to steer in time. Result: VW CC balanced neatly on front and rear bumpers with no wheels touching anything!

Volkswagen CC driven in the desert on sand in UAE

This is what we used to call ‘the cigarette moment’: rather than panic, you get out, light up and have a walk round to see what’s what before diving in with shovels. I don’t smoke now, but with enough bodies on hand all giving advice at once, I was able to shut them all out and have a think.

The bowl I was now in was shallower on the exit than on entry, so in theory, if we cleared the front bumper sufficiently to give it somewhere to go, the weight of the car would give it enough momentum to drop it back on its wheels, and if timed just right get some power delivered to pop the car out. No one was more surprised than me that the 4-Motion system did exactly as I hoped, and we powered out and carried on to do the closing shots.

Volkswagen CC driven in the desert on sand in UAE

Damage? The front bumper took a bit of a crack on some of the blades on the drop, but it all sprung back into place – you’d be hard pressed to see the damage from these final shots. Otherwise, the car was fine, and with the tyres back up to normal pressures I ran it for the next ten days without a noise or a complaint.

Oh yes – and the Volkswagen CC has the most comfortable seats in anything I have driven in a very long time!

Volkswagen CC driven in the desert on sand in UAE

Shahzad Sheikh:

Well there you go, after all the pushing and pleading, the planning and proceeding, apart from the one contretemps, Fraser took a low-riding sports saloon into the dunes, drove it around for a morning and made it all look easy. Too easy.

A deft hand and a soft touch ensured he kept up momentum, and with his skilled eyes accurately reading the lay of the land he largely stayed out of trouble apart from that one moment – which I have to concur, wasn’t entirely his fault.

From the passenger seat the car felt smooth and only the occasional thud or the muted grating of the electronic systems compensating for a situation they weren’t programmed to compensate for, indicated that we were doing anything out of the ordinary. The CC performed better than myself or even Fraser had dared hoped (though he’d been quietly confident from the start).

Volkswagen CC driven in the desert on sand in UAE

Make no mistake though, this was a difficult and dangerous thing to do – we had two support vehicles, a load of people, and virtually the whole of Volkwagen Middle East on call should anything have gone wrong.
At this point it’s worth making clear that we absolutely DO NOT recommend you take your road-going car, all-wheel drive or otherwise, into the desert. Always use a good off-roader, and never go deep into the sand unaccompanied.

So why did WE do this? Many reasons actually: to prove it could be done; to explore the limits of road-going all-wheel drive; to give Fraser a challenge; because there’s a lot of sand here and we all do like to go play in it every now and then; because no other motoring media had done it; because VW’s Middle East office were bold enough to risk it; and because we could.

But mainly because the next time you’re in the sheesha café and someone pipes up that you can’t take a luxury sports saloon into the dunes, you can retort that it is possible – because the boys at Motoring Middle East went and did!

Volkswagen CC driven in the desert on sand in UAE

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We drive the legendary Top Gear truck. It’s been to the North Pole and on a live volcano, but how will it get on in the desert?

6 responses to “We go dune-bashing in a VW CC! (Video)”

  1. jatin says:

    Beautiful photos!!! now eagerly waiting for the video to go viral 🙂

  2. Omar Helmy says:

    Video please!!!!

  3. Arif Al Yedaiwi says:

    Now that I have a VW CC at home for the Mrs, our next trip to the desert will be in this masterpiece lol. Of course, the Land Rover Defender will always be there as a support vehicle :p

  4. Ironman says:

    Had a laugh reading .. “the cigarette moment” 😉

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