VW skilfully positions new models for NZ

GOLF CABRIOLET: Without a rollover hoop to get in the way, the new rag-top is a much cleaner design.
GOLF CABRIOLET: Without a rollover hoop to get in the way, the new rag-top is a much cleaner design.

Departing New Zealand general manager of VW Dean Sheed will be a hard act to follow, especially when you consider the company's New Zealand sales multiplied almost tenfold during his 13-year stewardship. VW's volume grew from 350 the year before Sheed started to 3329 in 2011.

What has been particularly gratifying for Sheed has been the enthusiastic take-up of the new Amarok ute, which helped VW's commercial sales to increase from 275 units in 2010 to 869 in 2011 – helped, of course, by strong sales of the company's van offerings, like the Caddy and the Transporter models.

VW group, which consists of Volkswagen, Audi, Seat, Skoda, Bentley and Lamborghini, has done significantly well worldwide too, selling 8.16 million vehicles, which is a rise of 14.3 per cent in a market that lifted just 5 per cent over all. On its own, VW's global performance saw it sell 5.1m passenger vehicles, up 12 per cent, and a record, while 520,000VW commercial vehicles found owners – a 21.2 per cent rise.

Sheed, who moves across the corridor at EuropeanMotor Distributors to take over at Audi on April 2, leaveswith enough in the way of incoming products that whoever takes over from him at VW should not find it too hard.

The move is neatly labelled ''niche street to main street'', which means that as well as offering special examples of its wares in all segments, Volkswagen is to make sure Mr and Mrs Ordinary are also included in the company's catchment.

Among the cars slipping into New Zealand over the next few months are the Golf Cabriolet and petrol Tiguan briefly assessed on these pages, while various other offerings including the latest CC and Alltrack versions of the Passat, as well as eight-speed automatic, single cab and two wheel-drive versions of the Amarok which will trickle through during the year.

Already an indication of the aggressive nature of Sheed's legacy is the current VWTV campaign for the Golf hatch, which has the 90kW model priced so crisply at $38,500 that the poster sticker partway through attaching the model's ad on to a wall, rings his boss to check whether the sticker is the right one.

The price IS right and compelling when you think that the incremental cost over an ordinary Japanese hatch is pocket change, whether you're buying it or leasing it.

Actually, it's probably a good idea that Sheed and VW decided to lop the 1.4TSi 90kW Golf's sticker a tad, otherwise the price they've put on the just-arrived 1.4TSi 90kW Golf Cabriolet at $43,000 could have diverted sales from the ordinary hatch.

The Golf Cabriolet

In fact, it still takes some headscratching to work out how they managed towork in an automatic, clamp-free power hood that takes less time to deploy or stow than Usain Bolt needs to do the 100m dash, as well as all the strengthening required for a stiff, modern open-topped car.

Another trick is that the nine seconds process required to raise its roof or put it away can be executed doing up to 30kmh, so owners won't be making people wait at the traffic lights if the rain starts.

Another nice touch is the fact that by detaching the solid glass rearwindow in the folding process, the hood lies flat and
exceptionally tidily when stowed, with its top front panel acting like a tonneau – clever stuff.

The joke at Volkswagen is that the Golf Cabriolet's biggest European market outside Germany is Britain where the summer season can sometimes be measured in minutes, so a quickly deployed soft-top is paramount if you're to grow your market share.

The sophisticated design of the soft top means that the Golf Cabriolet has one of the most spacious interiors in its class and does not limit boot space. It offers 250 litres of cargo capacity, top up or down. Also, the folding rear bench seat is able to be split and folded, for any required increases  in stowing capacity.

Unlike the first three Golf Cabriolets – the series I, III and IV of the 70s, 80s and 90s – the new model, based on the current Golf VI has no need for a rollover hoop. Instead, the car uses a reinforced windscreen frame, and a pop-up rollover protection system that deploys in milliseconds, as well as numerous other structural modifications of underbody, side panels, sills, rear panel and doors.

Other standard safety elements, as with the Golf hatch, consist of front and side curtain head/thorax airbags, a knee airbag on the driver's side and ESP as standard. What we liked about the Golf Cabriolet was that evenwith the roof up, it still looks elegant, probably because the car has large side and rear glasses and even sizeable quarterlights, the added advantage being that rearward visibility isn't badly compromised either.

You sit well well down in the car, even if you're as tall – 1.88m – as I am, which helps contribute to a pleasingly flurry-free cruise at 100kmh with the side glasses up. The styling of the Golf Cabriolet closely matches that of its hard
top, five-door counterpart, but its  new rear section, lower roof line and more swept-back windscreen frame gives it an elegant, extended appearance.

Standard features on the new Golf Cabrio include 17-inch ''Porto'' alloy wheels with 225 tyres and dab of chrome trim on
the radiator grille. Upgraded interior and functional features include the fully automatic soft top, top-spec climatronic airconditioning, ParkPilot warnings front and rear, a leather covered multi-function steering wheel and interior accents in a subtle satin chrome finish.

VW says it will leave the performance convertible duties in New Zealand to the existing Eos hatch, which already lists a GTispec TSi 2.0-litre engine. Instead, the open-topped Golf will use a 1.4-litre 90kW TSi engine which truth be known is more
than adequate, with a zero to 100kmh time of under 10-seconds, thanks to its slick-shifting 7-speed DSG transmission, while
combined fuel consumption figures work out at 6.3L/100km.

As the cabrio includes the Golf hatch's chassis systems of a MacPherson-type strut front suspension set-up, with performance-optimised anti-roll bars up front and multi-links at the rear suspension, it feels exactly like that car on the road, with the strengthening and reinforcement required for a  topless design removing every inch of body flex.

We'd say that this cabriolet is the least compromised one we've driven when compared with its solid-topped donor car. The fact that it's stickered so competitively too, makes this one of the most exciting new cars to be launched this year. It's certainly worth buying a hat for, anyway!

Golf Cabriolets are in showrooms now.

New Tiguan TSi

Keen to broaden its SUV baseline, Volkswagen has announced a petrol variant of its Tiguan soft-roader, which arrived on the same boat as the Golf Cabriolet.

Previously only available with a 2.0-litre turbodiesel, the addition of the petrol engine option brings the Tiguan into the sub $50k bracket now with a sticker of $48,750, which makes it a very strong contender against Japanese and Korean SUVs.

The petrol employs a 2-litre turbocharged TSi engine with 132kW and 280Nm tap, the latter value coming in at a lazy and
flexible 1800rpm. Using a standard 6-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, the Tiguan TSi manages 8.7 l/100 km (equivalent
to 203 g/km CO2).

Though it's a good deal cheaper than its diesel sibling, which has also seen a sticker downturn to $53,250, the petrol car still has a high specification, with green tinted, heat insulated windows, black roof rails and window surrounds and 17-inch ''Boston''  alloy wheels. A tyre pressure monitoring system comes as a matter of course and what VW calls a ''Trend & Fun'' package includes 4Motion all-wheel-drive, traction control and an approach angle of 18 degrees as standard with an off-road package available adding under body protection, an increased approach angle of up to 28 degrees and off-road electronic programme.

Also standard is an ESP Electronic Stabilisation Programme, six airbags, seatbelt monitoring and belt-up reminder, and Isofix child seat mounts. With a towing capacity of up to 2000kg the Tiguan TSi has a trailer stabilisation programme integrated with the ESP system as a standard feature. The Tiguan also has rear ParkPilot, and can upgrade to automatic Park Assist parallel parking if that task is a problem for you.

Climatic air conditioning, fresh new ''Pakata'' upholstery and  height-adjustable front seats, an electric parking brake with autohold also feature along with a  high-end RCD 310 sound system with four speakers, a CD player and provision for Bluetooth and iPod connectivity.

A brief drive of the car revealed a nimble and deceptively quick machine with better performance equipment levels and attention to detail than most of its often more expensive equivalent Japanese and Korean competitors.

In motoring writing circles, the Tiguan TSi goes immediately into the ''vacation must-have slot''. In other words when the road test vehicles are handed out, it will be one most likely to be requested for Christmas time or annual leave assessment duties. But don't say we told you that!

COMPETITIVE: VW Tiguan now comes with a petrol engine option and a competitive $48,750 sticker, without any compromise in specification level.
COMPETITIVE: VW Tiguan now comes with a petrol engine option and a competitive $48,750 sticker, without any compromise in specification level.

The Press