The Golf Mk VI bows out with a barnstorming 261bhp open-top model. But can it justify its enormous price tag? Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Carrying a hefty price tag and commensurately meaty 261bhp powerplant, the Volkswagen Golf R Cabriolet was always going to be a niche player, but can you really justify nearly £40,000 on a Golf?, no matter how nicely it's finished?
When Volkswagen launched the convertible version of the Golf Mk VI, it did raise more than a few eyebrows. After all, the company already had a convertible car that ran on this platform called the Eos. The logic behind the Golf Cabriolet, they said, was because buyers wanted a simpler, less complex car. Quite how that squares with the Volkswagen Golf R Cabriolet we have before us here I'm not quite sure. This is not a simple car. It develops 261bhp and is more expensive than a Porsche Boxster. So it's a bit of an oddity then? You could say that. But the British public tends to like oddball Volkswagen products. They embrace the extreme, the weird and the wonderful and there's something of all of that in the Golf R Cabriolet. It won't be around for long, so if you want one, you're going to need to be quick.
You're probably familiar with the Golf R hatch, a model that acted as sports flagship for the Golf range. The Cabriolet version is quite different. For a start, it does without the hatch's all-wheel drive system. Yes, you have arrived at the correct conclusion, this is an open-topped car that tries to put 261bhp through its front wheels. This would normally result in a floppy, understeering mess of a chassis that spent most of its time trying to wear out the traction control light on the dashboard, but the Golf's underpinnings are largely up to the task and it puts its power down without too much drama or body flex. Ride quality is also very good, especially with the adaptive chassis control in the comfort setting. There's some buffeting when travelling with the roof down but it's very refined with the roof up. An additional 94kg of ballast over and above the four-wheel drive Golf R Mk VI hatch means that the Cabriolet can't match its performance and the lack of any driveshafts at the back make the discrepancy look bigger than it is when it comes to a sprint off the line. The hatch made 62mph in 5.5 seconds whereas the open car requires 6.4 seconds, topping out at 155mph. You'll notice the lack of all-wheel drive most clearly when trying to accelerate from a standstill on wet roads. Those looking for a purist driving experience should probably look elsewhere. This is for those who want a Golf convertible that's got some overtaking punch. It's equipped as standard with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox with an electronic differential to assist traction.
Design and Build
Design cues include an R-specific front bumper with gloss-black grille and 'R' logo, LED daytime running lights, bi-xenon headlights with black housings, gloss-black door mirror casings and black-painted brake callipers with R logo. Side sill extensions, a gloss black rear diffuser framed by chrome-tipped exhausts either side and smoked LED tail lights complete the look. Lowered suspension drops the ride by 25mm in comparison with the standard Golf Cabriolet. Wheels are 18 or 19-inch Talladega alloy wheels in either Sterling Silver or optionally High-gloss Black. Build quality seems up to the usual Volkswagen standard which means soft touch materials, classy metal trim inserts, ambient mood lighting and silicon damped everything. The soft top features an additional exterior skin, as well as snug window and door seals. There's a heated rear windscreen and a very clever feature when the roof is stowed. The upper side of the leading edge (the segment the directly mates to the windscreen frame) covers the entire top surface of the roof storage box, eliminating the need for a tonneau cover. This means that the roof can swing into position in only 9.5 seconds and it can operate at speeds of up to 18mph. With the fabric roof stowed, there's a mere 250 litres of luggage space available.
Market and Model
Value. That's a tough one to assess. There's really no gentle way to say it but the Volkswagen Golf R Cabriolet costs nearly forty grand - an awful lot for a Golf. It takes a bit of getting used to, that one. Here's a Golf that costs more than a Porsche Boxster. Okay, so you'll correctly point out that it will appeal to a different demographic to the Porsche, namely one that requires back seats but it's interesting to note that Volkswagen thinks the Golf's badge equity stretches this far. Personally, I think it's a bit of a stretch. You may well disagree. The interior is certainly well finished with four individual leather sports seats in with 'R' logos in the head restraints, while the leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, handbrake grip and gear lever all get contrasting grey stitching. The pedals have brushed aluminium caps, while the doors and dashboard feature aluminium decorative inlays. Standard specification includes RCD 310 DAB radio with MDI (multi-device interface) and Bluetooth telephone connectivity.
Cost of Ownership
Add a couple of options to the Golf R Cabriolet and you can be looking at £40,000 worth of car. Given that the Golf Mk VI has now been replaced by the Golf Mk VII, are you left with a very expensive and almost instantly outdated vehicle? In a way, yes, but it has always been thus, with Cabriolet versions of the Golf lagging a generation or so behind their hard-topped siblings in terms of chassis tech. As it stands, the efficiency measures of this Golf R drop top aren't actually that great, with combined economy rated at 34.5mpg. Emissions are pegged at 190g/km. That's more than a Boxster too. Still, if you can afford to drop this sort of money on an open-topped plaything, perhaps day to day running costs aren't an over-riding concern.
The Volkswagen Golf R Cabriolet is an interesting car. Every facet of its personality needs to be assessed in terms of its almost £40,000 price tag and in many regards, it's tough to justify, especially when many will feel the Golf GTI Cabriolet at around £30,000 is actually the better car of the two. Still, there's no shortage of buyers who just want the most expensive model in the range and, well, this is it. That's not to say this car's a duffer. Far from it. It's rapid, it's extremely well finished, it'll have a definite rarity value and it's an interesting thing. If I may, I'll refer you back to something I wrote when Volkswagen first announced the Golf Mk VI Cabriolet model. "If Volkswagen can get the pricing right, it's hard to see this car falling on its face. Get the pricing wrong, however, and this car could easily become a curious sideshow attraction." I'll leave the value judgments to you.