Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet (2011) review
by Mike Grundon (7 September 2011)
Here's a pretty thing. Volkswagen has launched a new Cabriolet version of its Golf family hatchback, and while it has less space for passengers and cargo, and fewer doors, than most other Golfs, it has much more spirit, fun and, let's be honest, sex appeal than even the most powerful hard-top alternatives.
It's nine years since the last rag-top Golf was in production. Volkswagen preferred to go down the folding hard-top route to open-top motoring with the development of the Eos. But this return to a fold-back fabric lid for the old favourite is a thing of great beauty.
Apart from the obvious, there are some significant other differences between the Golf and this cabrio version. The window frames, underbody, side panels, crossmembers and doors have been reinforced and modified to make up for the loss of structural support you'd get with a solid roof and side pillars. But most strikingly different is the laid-back front window which sweeps up almost seamlessly from the slope of the bonnet.
Even with the black double-skin roof up this is a handsome beast with more of a coupé than a hatchback line to it. The silhouette shows a substantial wedge-shaped piece of metalware with the cockpit sweeping smoothly over the top. The side is clean and uncluttered with big doors set into the gently sculpted flank that barely bulges over the wheelarches. The tail is arguably a bit anonymous but the nose has the corporate VW scowl. It's one of those rare cars that can appear both masculine and feminine.
But this car is meant to have the roof down as often as possible, and when it has been folded away - a quiet, one-button operation that takes less than ten seconds – the car takes on a completely new aspect. In short, it's gorgeous. The Golf is going through one of its most attractive phases at the moment and going topless does it plenty of favours. Even from the back it's now a joy.
As with all VWs I've driven, the Golf Cabriolet is very comfortable in the driving seat. The surroundings in this car will be familiar to anyone who's driven any of the latest crop, but while they're not very remarkable, they're not disappointing. There's leather where you touch the wheel, stick and brake, and there's plenty of adjustment in the seat and the steering wheel positions.
With the roof up, visibility is limited out the back but that doesn't come as any surprise. The view out the front is slightly impeded by the toughened, steeply raked windscreen pillars, but again that's no surprise and it's rarely a problem on the road.
The two seats in the back have just about enough knee-room for an adult, but when the roof is up, I'm scrubbing what's left of my hair on the fabric.
Storage space is limited, but because the folding roof isn't solid, there is still a useable space in the back when it's stowed in there too. The boot has a bit of a narrow lid to it, but the back seats can fold down out of the way to allow longer things to poke through. The hatchway through isn't the full width of the boot but it adds flexibility to the cargo hold.
Three engines will be available from the launch, a baby 1.2-litre TSI 104bhp petrol unit, the 1.4-litre TSI that turns out a miraculous 158bhp and a 1.6-litre TDI diesel with 104bhp on tap. A few months later the range is set to be extended with the addition of a less powerful 1.4 petrol, a range-topping 207bhp two-litre petrol and a rather desirable two-litre diesel engine that turns out 138bhp.
I've been driving three versions of the car, a 1.4-litre petrol model with a six-speed manual gearbox and a seven-gear DSG semi-automatic, and a 1.6-litre diesel with the manual box and the BlueMotion Technology pack that's designed to save you from high fuel costs and save the planet from smoke and gas.
Out on the road with the roof up, it's a cosy and reasonably quiet environment. There's more noise from the road than there is from the wind around the cabin. Put the roof back and even with all four side windows wound down, there's little more than a gentle ruffling of the shoulders and hair, even at the national speed limit. You don't even get that shoulder drumming you often get from the seatbelt in some cabriolets.
The 1.4-litre petrol engine is remarkable. It's smooth, it's quiet and it's powerful. Oddly enough, whether it's fed through the manual or automatic gearbox, its performance and economy figures are either identical or close enough for the difference to be meaningless. They both have a 0-62mph sprint time of 8.4 seconds and a top speed of 134mph. The official average fuel consumption for both is over 44mpg.
The manual box is swift and smooth, and the DSG auto clicks imperceptibly through the seven cogs on the way up or down. In the latter, you can change gears sequentially by slotting the gearstick to the left, or you can wring more performance from it in fully automatic mode by selecting S. This holds onto the gears for longer and keeps the revs high and the difference is enough to widen the grin on your already smiling face.
It's not quite as flat round high-speed corners as I was expecting, but the suspension copes well with the scratch and patch patterns of Tarmac we get on Britain's back roads.
The BlueMotion diesel is again a quiet and smooth engine and while its power is well down on the 1.4 TSI, there is slightly more torque. It feels strong and big-hearted so the 12.1-second 0-62 time doesn't feel sluggish. The very attractive official average fuel consumption is up over 64mpg, thanks in part to its stop/start engine, improved aerodynamics and low-rolling resistance tyres, which means you can enjoy your motoring and feel no guilt whatsoever.
Prices are between £20,720 and £26,595 which is less than those for the Eos but about par for other skyroof cars from mainstream manufacturers.
It's a bold move by Volkswagen to return to the soft-top Golf and it’ll be interesting to see how its sales affect sales for the Eos. Previous models have been very popular – in the 23 years between 1979 and 2002, 684,000 of them were sold in Britain. The competition is greater today than it's ever been but the company still expects to shift 6350 during 2012 alone.