Volkswagen Golf GTI Cabriolet review

Volkswagen's latest soft top Golf comes in for the GTI treatment. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

The Volkswagen Golf cabriolet doesn't seem like a natural candidate for the GTI treatment, but the flagship model actually makes a lot of sense, especially when fitted with the optional DSG twin clutch transmission. It's not cheap but it is very thoroughly engineered.

Background

When it comes to performance regalia, there's not a lot to top a GTI badge. Other go-faster sub-brands may come and go, but Volkswagen have nurtured the GTI badge through good years and bad since 1976, and the latest generation Golf models to wear the badge are little short of brilliant. Being something of a fundamentalist when it comes to vehicle dynamics, I've long held the view that the most effective way to ruin a great-handling car is to saw the roof off it. There are a few notable exceptions, but soft top usually spells soft-pedalling. Can Volkswagen change that script? 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. Volkswagen already offers an excellent four-seat convertible built on modern Golf mechanicals called the Eos but the soft-top Golf is simpler and lighter, attributes that hint may pique the interest of the keen driver.

Driving Experience

It's won't come as any great surprise to hear that the powerplant beneath the bonnet of the Golf GTI cabriolet is the same one that powers the award-winning hatchback. In case you're not fully up to speed with the ever-changing specification of this engine, it's a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol unit, available with either either a standard six-speed manual gearbox or optional six-speed twin-clutch DSG gearbox and producing 210 PS. The benchmark zero to 62 mph sprint is efficiently dispatched in just 7.3 seconds with either transmission, while top speed is 147mph with the manual box, while DSG drivers will have to settle for a paltry 146mph. The peak torque figure of 206 lbs ft (280 Nm) is available from just 1,700rpm to 5,300rpm and this broad torque band helps the GTI's driveability. A standard EDS electronic differential lock and XDS transverse differential lock help to ensure that the power is effectively transferred to the road. An inconvenient truth Volkswagen kept under its hat with its previous 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.

Design and Build

It's a fact that few hatchback-based cabriolets are good looking cars. This is a bit of a problem given that most of these cars are bought to be seen in, but the GTI Cabriolet is surprisingly handsome. It carries its GTI styling cues very well and the basic shape is long enough such that it doesn't look too pram-like. Just go counting the classic design cues. The radiator grille has a honeycomb structure with red edging and GTI badge, while the front bumper incorporates a honeycomb air dam and beady-eyed fog lights. Side sill extensions help give the GTI a planted stance, while at the back you'll find a bespoke rear diffuser framed by a chrome tailpipe on either side. Smoked LED tail lights and 18-inch 'Monza Shadow' alloy wheels complete the look. 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. The hood has a black lining while the roof pillar trims are also finished in black. 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.

Market and Model

As customers would expect from any car in the Golf family, the GTI Cabriolet is 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. Prices are, as you'd expect, quite serious with a standard car rolling out of dealers at just the right side of £30,000 although this can rise quite rapidly if you opt for the DSG transmission or get a bit keen when confronted with an options list. The GTI cabriolet is a four seater, with those seats covered in a classic tartan 'Jacara' cloth upholstery. Should this bring uncomfortable Bay City Roller flashbacks, you'll be relieved to know that 'Vienna' leather upholstery is on the options list. The GTI multifunction steering wheel is trimmed in leather, as are the handbrake and gear lever gaiter, all finished with contrasting red stitching. The pedals have brushed stainless steel caps, while there are black decorative inlays on the doors and fascia.

Cost of Ownership

A 210PS turbocharged petrol engine doesn't sound the ideal recipe for decent fuel economy, but drive it with a modicum of restraint and it will actually return pretty good fuel figures. Volkswagen quotes a slightly optimistic-sounding 37.2mpg on the combined cycle for a manual car and 36.7mpg for the DSG version. Emissions are pegged at 177g/km for the manual 'box and 180g/km for the DSG transmission. All Golf GTI models do well in terms of depreciation and this models looks set to be no exception, if anything bettering the three year depreciation figure of its hard top sibling. You'll pay around £1,300 extra for the DSG-equipped car and you'll get most of that back on trade in as this transmission is something that used buyers value.

Summary

How seriously do we take the Volkswagen Golf GTI cabriolet? It mixes one of the most iconic badges in performance circles with a body configuration more readily associated with ladies of a certain age perambulating about shopping centres. As such, it's a bit of a curiosity. There's little doubt that it boasts an absolutely top drawer engine, transmission and suspension setup, but will those who hanker after a cabriolet care? I don't think they will. What buyers in this class might well want, however, is the top of the range model and, well, here it is. They'll have lucked into something quite uncommonly good. While some may find it surprising that people really do make such low involvement decisions when handing over the thick end of £30,000, it's unreasonable to expect all buyers to be petrolheads. If there's one thing the GTI badge has done, its cross many divides as a result of its success. That's brand recognition that money can't buy.