Return of a topless wonder

DAVE MOORE
Last updated 12:57 26/11/2012

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When the previous Golf Cabriolet ended production in 2002, the New Beetle convertible filled the hole, while later in the decade, the Eos came into being, which like the Beetle, employed Golf underpinnings, but looked nothing like one.

AT A GLANCE
Drivetrain: Transverse FWD DOHC 1390cc turbocharged 16-valve four. Seven-speed dual clutch transmission.
Outputs: 90kW at 5000rpm and 200Nm from 1500-4000rpm. Max 197kmh, 0-100kmh 10.5sec, 6.3L/100km, 147g/km CO 2.
Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear multi-links. Vented front, solid rear disc brakes. 17-inch alloy wheels.
Safety: Seven airbags; ESP, ABS, EDL and ASR five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.
Dimensions: L 4246mm, H 1423mm, W 1782mm, W/base 2578mm, weight 1479kg, fuel 55L.
Pricing: Golf 1.4TSi Cabriolet $43,000. Other Golf models from $38,500.
Hot: Nimble, sharply priced; well equipped and irrefutably stylish. Also comfortable and refined.
Not: No diesel option and a GTi model would be nice one day.
Verdict: A surprisingly complete cabriolet for a remarkably affordable sticker, one of the car bargains of the moment.
The Eos was a good-looking four-seater coupe and sported a powered-metal folding roof with an opening glass panel in it, supplying the best of three worlds.

However, it was no Golf, and despite the diverse talents of the topless Beetle and Eos, fans of the old Golf Cabriolets have put pressure on dealers all over the world for Volkswagen to return to the idea of a topless car, based on its massive-selling hatch.

It took nine years, but Volkswagen did listen, also taking on board the main criticisms of the first two Golf Cabriolets, which all boiled down to the fact that people didn't want a hoop over the cabin, and they didn't want the interior to be dark, dingy place to sit when weather forced the driver to leave the hood up.

A slightly different fan base has also more recently been using social media to prompt VW into offering a new New Beetle convertible, and the people at Wolfsburg have been listening to them too, with the soft-topped version launching this month in the United States and next year in New Zealand.

In 2011, the Cabriolet version of the Golf VI arrived in Europe. It's the cleanest-looking Golf Cab ever, thanks to big side and rear-glass areas and the absence of a hoop, having had all its stiffening placed under the waistline in the form of structural modifications of underbody, side panels, sills, rear panels and doors.

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Rollover protection is now left to a heavily reinforced screen frame and posts that thrust upwards in milliseconds from behind the rear seats should sensors detect a dramatic weight shift on either side of the car.

If you wonder why Cabriolets need stiffening, just take the lid off an empty shoebox and see how wobbly it gets.

In Europe, the Golf Cabriolet is available with all manner of engines, from 1.2 litres to a full GTi-spec 2.0-litre unit, but Volkswagen New Zealand has sensibly gone for a mid-specification 90-kilowatt 1.4-litre TSi model for a pretty compelling $43,000.

This means it's only $3000 more than the hatch on which it is based, and remains $17,250 cheaper than the least expensive Eos, so it's well placed in the marketplace to be a sell-up for a Golf hatch aspirant.

The trouble is there could be a brief period when VW has the Beetle ragtop, Eos and new Golf Cabriolet all in the showroom at the same time. What a great problem to have.

Punters will be glad of the cleaner lines of the latest, hoopless Golf Cabriolet. When the hood's down, the frameless side glasses are almost invisible even when they are up and only the pillars of the screen frame protrude from the gently wedged body silhouette.

Even without that hoop to support it, the cloth roof is as taut as a drum when it's up, and thanks to being double skinned, it provides the car with remarkable levels of refinement, with well-contained wind noise and no need to raise your voice or turn up the stereo any higher than you would in a Golf hatch.

You may have to with the hood down, however, but I was surprised how much of a normal conversation you could have at cruising speeds with the side glasses up or down.

There's an air-dam arrangement available for the car, but I can't see much benefit and the time taken to erect it and the space needed to use and stow it meant to me that it could be quickly forgotten.

Besides, you could only use it with two on board and, just as an in-ground pool can gain you new friends, a Golf Cabriolet up the driveway always means you will have plenty cadging lifts home.

There's not the knee room of the hatch version of the Golf, but adults can sit in the rear, and even with the side glasses down, my "guests" didn't find wind flurry was too much of a problem, at least for 20 minutes to half an hour.

The roof is quick to raise or drop, taking less than 10 seconds to fold and a little longer to raise. As you can power the hood into place or stow it away while travelling at up to 25kmh, it's very practical. Also, having no clamps to fiddle with - it's all part of the power process - I think the Golf Cabriolet's roof solution is one of the best this side of seriously luxurious convertibles that ask several times as much as you spent on the VW.

A good touch is the fact that by detaching the solid-glass rear window in the folding process, the hood lies flat and exceptionally tidily when stowed, with its semi-solid top front roof panel acting like a tonneau - clever stuff.

Using Christchurch's quake ravaged streets as a test route, it's easy to spot a less than effective chassis, and although the Cabriolet is not quite as competent as the hatch when it's caught out by a pothole or bump, it copes very well.

Despite the absence of the lid on this shoebox, the torsional stiffening results in only the slightest suggestion of what we used to call "scuttle shake". With the hood up, even that suggestion is gone.

On the handling front, the Cabriolet is as biddable and athletic as the hatch, nicely balanced and very responsive.

Its steering imparts good, clear messages to the driver, which is especially welcome in what is a delightfully sporty drop-top. What, sporty? With a 1.4-litre engine?

Well, yes. Even if the engine's swept volume seems small, the turbocharger invests the unit with a great spread of torque - 200 newton metres of it - and it feels at least half a litre larger in the way it pulls the Cabriolet up to speed.

The VW will reach 100kmh in just over 10 seconds, and while it's not going to set the world on fire in the traffic-light grand prix, the engine's flexibility and the ratios offered by the seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic conspire to to give the Cabriolet a pleasingly brisk performance, while fuel economy is posted by the factory at 6.3 litres per 100km.

I didn't quite make that figure, but with a feather foot and fewer traffic holdups than I experienced during my tenure of the VW, it sounds entirely plausible.

Those not used to VW's take on dual-clutch transmission - or DSGs, as the company calls it - might find a little unnerving its habit of up-shifting quite early through the lower gears when left to its own devices.

But it's the car's way of saving gas and easing emissions levels. Simply, the more quickly you're into higher gears, the better to achieve this.

You can override the shift points with the transmission lever - there's a slot to enable this - and driven thus, the car can be made to hang up in lower gears a little longer. But you will use more fuel and, truth be known, once you're used to how the powertrain operates when left to itself, you'll realise how tractable it is, and you'll only really need to take over when there are steep passes to negotiate.

The Cabriolet's interior is typically Golf, which is good news. It might seem a little unimaginative compared with some flashier European offerings, but I liked its sober simplicity and logical design.

The quality cloth seats are supportive and comfortable, and while you can indent heated leather seats for about $4000 if you have the wherewithal, considering the possibility of fickle weather changes, I would opt for the standard trim.

The Cabriolet is well equipped, with a six-speaker sound system supporting a single-slot CD radio, with iPod, auxiliary and multi-media connectivity, and there's provision for a mobile phone with Bluetooth.

It has standard cruise control, two-zone climate control, and smart 17-inch alloy rims, while as well as front, side, curtain and driver's knee airbags, the safety listings reads like an alphabet soup. There's an electronic stabilisation programme, antilock braking system, electronic differential lock, anti -skid regulation and a hill-hold facility, so that's all right then.

Throw in little things like a cooled glovebox, standard Park Pilot and a nicely textured leather wheelrim and I have to ask how they do all this for less than you pay for a high-end Toyota Corolla.

The Golf Cabriolet has to be one of the driving bargains of the year.

The fact that it's fun to drive and practical enough to do a hatchback's work when required is a welcome and compelling bonus.

- Stuff

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