Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet 1.6 TDI review

Volkswagen's latest soft top Golf looks the part and, with a 1.6-litre TDI engine under the bonnet, is impressively frugal and clean into the bargain. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

Is there space in Volkswagen's range for a soft top Golf when the successful Eos convertible that's based on the same chassis already exists? Volkswagen certainly thinks so and it's hard not to warm to the latest in a long line of open top Golf models. Available with a choice of six engines, the 1.6 diesel takes care of the eco expectations with some aplomb.

Background

Well, did you miss it? The launch material for the latest Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet mentions that this is the first soft top Golf on sale since the Mark 4 and if you lost track of the numbers, we're now on iteration six. I'm guessing that you probably didn't and that's largely because Volkswagen already offers an excellent four-seat convertible built on modern Golf mechanicals called the Eos. Clearly the boffins at Wolfsburg have identified a latent need that the Eos isn't satisfying. A need for a simpler, less complex car without the Eos' folding hard top roof. Most of us figured that the folding hard top roof was the way forward for cars in this class but Volkswagen seems intent on turning back the clock and sticking with tradition for the Golf by retaining the fabric roof, doubtless spurred on by the big success Audi has enjoyed with its soft top A3 Cabriolet.

Driving Experience

A fact that Volkswagen rather kept under its hat with the last Golf Cabriolet is that it was actually a facelifted Mark 3 rather than an actual Mark 4 which means its underpinnings were that of a 1994 car. Therefore, the step forward to a current Golf Cabriolet is massive and, at first, slightly befuddling. This is genuinely based on the current Mark 6 underpinnings which means multi-link suspension front and rear and body rigidity that's from another dimension. This comes courtesy of a reinforced window frame and structural modifications to the underbody, side panels, cross-members and doors the rigidity benefits of which are manifested in improved safety, comfort and refinement. The engine line up numbers no fewer than six, three of which are available right off the bat with a further three arriving in dealers a few months later. The most economical engine in the range, the 1.6-litre TDI diesel tested here, develops 105PS supported by a generous 184lb ft of torque - good enough for a 0-62mph time of 12.2s and 117mph top speed.

Design and Build

Volkswagen attempts to distance the Golf from the Eos by stating that it's 208mm shorter and while this is true, a closer look at the cars shows that, as expected, both ride on the same wheelbase and it's the bigger rear end of the Eos (designed to accommodate the folding tin top) that accounts for much of the difference in length. By contrast, the tail end of the Golf is almost shockingly pert, with the result that with the fabric roof stowed, there's a mere 250 litres of luggage space available. Some recompense comes with the 93 million miles of headroom on offer. 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 that 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.

Market and Model

The Golf Cabriolet is offered in the UK with a choice of trim levels - S, SE and GT - and all enjoy a typically healthy dose of standard kit. Although it's a little early for a definitive specification sheet, Volkswagen is mentioning 16-inch alloy wheels, that fully automatic electro-hydraulically operated soft top, DAB radio and Bluetooth. As customers would expect from any car in the Golf family, the Cabriolet will be equipped with some serious safety equipment. This includes an active roll-over protection system, ABS, ESP, airbags all round and a driver's knee airbag. The value proposition we're unable to comment upon until Volkswagen releases some pricing but it needs to allow quite some headroom between itself and the Eos if customers aren't to be seduced by the hard top car.

Cost of Ownership

Engine of the Year award ceremonies have become a little boring of late. It used to be the case that the spoils were shared around but it seems that the Volkswagen Audi Group has a stranglehold on this sort of thing and looking at the sort of power to efficiency figures many of its current engines can manage, it's perhaps no great surprise. The engines in the Golf Cabriolet are no exceptions, and the 1.6-litre TDI unit shows why, returning 64.2mpg on the combined cycled while emitting just 117g/km. The Golf Cabriolet has always been well regarded by the used market and given that it's been a while since used buyers have been able to get their hands on a nearly new softy top Golf, it's a bombproof bet that residual values are going to stand up very well.

Summary

The question that may niggle a little when considering the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet is whether the arrow of automotive evolution has temporarily been pointed backwards. We already have the beautiful Eos but Volkswagen has chosen to launch a simpler, lighter, more affordable counterpart. There is an argument to say that simpler, lighter and more affordable isn't necessarily a retrograde step and Volkswagen clearly believes the market will support that view. In isolation, the Golf Cabriolet looks extremely good. The styling is sleeker than any soft top Golf to date and the engineering is unimpeachable. 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.