Blow your top!
By David Morgan
IT'S that time of year again when thoughts turn to sunshine summers and dropping tops.
If you're in the zone for a drop-head there's no shortage of cars that are stylish, weatherproof when closed and frugal for those halcyon days cruising the West Highlands with the roof down.
One of the latest arrivals is from Volkswagen – a four-seat Cabriolet based on the Golf 6. It's a prime contender at the top end of the affordable food chain that promises quality and reliability with the peace of mind that comes when driving a car with the VW badge.
Like all things Volkswagen there's plenty of choice. The German manufacturer offers 13 Cabrio models from the diminutive but surprisingly agile 104bhp 1.2 litre TSI petrol at £20,735 to a 138bhp two-litre TDI turbodiesel flagship model with BlueMotion Technology and six-speed DSG paddle shift automatic transmission for £27,205.
My 1.4 TSI test model in generous SE trim is a perfect balance – its lively 120bhp turbocharged petrol heart linked to a slick six-speed manual gearbox turned in a great performance for a soft top and is great value at £22,470. The only improvement I would make is a seven-speed DSG paddle shift automatic that brings the price to £23,770.
It's a pretty addition to the Golf family – hood up or down it has a smooth line with a conservative style that will be slow to date.
Safety has always been a high Volkswagen priority. The drophead follows the trend and is one of the safest cars in its class with a five-star EuroNCAP rating that includes a 96% score for adult occupant protection and good scores for child and pedestrian protection.
Soft-top Golfs are nothing new. Volkswagen toyed with the first prototype in 1976 but waited until 1979 before it was launched. At that time it was ground-breaking with a five-layer fabric hood and a fixed rollover protection bar that lasted into the Cabrio 3 model of 1993 by which time roof operation had moved from manual erection to power.
But today's Cabrio 6 is an entirely different beast – far more refined and designed and built to the same high standards as the award-winning Golf 6 on which it is based.
A close cousin of the Audi A3 Convertible, the Golf Cabrio is a better looker. The Audi appears truncated with tight rear seats and is a little shorter than the 4.24-metre-long Golf. The Ingolstadt four-ringer also costs more with the Golf and A3 dropheads separated by around £500 at 1.2 TSI entry level.
All in all the Golf is better value, better looking and delivers the same level of quality and character. That's not to say the back of the Golf is armchair country, far from it. Thanks to the hood storage bin above the boot space, the back seat passengers draw the short straw. The seats are comfortable enough on short runs and there's reasonable leg room, but the backs are rather vertical and travelling any great distance in the rear is a pain. And with the hood down turbulence is a trial for those unfortunates behind the well-protected front passengers.
Interestingly the roof is stored outside the body, where its rigid main panel creates an attractive "shelf" behind the rear seats and rests just ahead of the automatic roll-over protectors.
While buffet for the driver and front passenger is impressively controlled up to 60mph anyone sitting in the rear will feel as if they are standing on Ben Nevis in a gale that threatens to uproot even the firmest head of hair. Ask my wife who "volunteered" to sit in the back for 10 miles on the A82 and is still trying to untangle her locks.
To be fair it's a familiar story on any four-seat cabriolet, especially compact models like the Golf. Aerodynamicists do their best to limit turbulence – but there's a limit to how well you can protect the rear seats.
This is a great car to own and drive. The 120bhp TSI 1.4 Turbo is one of the most advanced petrol units of its type – smooth, frugal and quiet but with genuine punch and a useful 148lb.ft of pulling power available from just 1500rpm. Volkswagen claim it'll average 44.1mpg on the Government's Combined Cycle and after 400 miles of mixed driving that took me through Wester Ross and Argyll I was not that far away with an overall 42.5mpg. Round town I recorded 31mpg.
The Cabrio has a firm ride and with the hood in place feels and drives like a hard top. The powered roof has a glass rear screen and is one of the best. It folds away in just nine seconds and can be retracted on the move up to 18mph. Raising takes a little longer at 11 seconds.
With the roof down I felt a little scuttle shake over some surfaces but thanks to sensibly proportioned 16-inch alloys with 55 section Bridgestone winter tyres the ride is compliant and impressively quiet with the hood up. I suspect the summer wheel combination of 17-inch alloys and 45 section tyres may introduce a little more tyre noise.
The more I drove this neat little cabrio the better I liked it. There's a quality look and feel to the interior and the SE trim level delivers a good standard of creature comfort over the entry level S. The dash is not quite up to Audi standards but it's well assembled with a satisfyingly soft touch covering and large, clear instruments and secondary switchgear that move with positive clicks.
In SE trim the equipment level is generous with cloth upholstery – but the test car came loaded with extras that added £5,005 to the price.
The biggest chunk was £2,160 for leather trimmed seats with heated sports seats up front complete with heated side bolsters. Nice touch, but expensive.
I was more inclined to see the £1,770 for the RNS 510 touchscreen navigation/radio system with its excellent 6.5-inch colour screen, six speakers, SD card reader, MP3, WMA and DEVD data file compatibility as far better value. The front fog pack at £235 seems unnecessary on a car with such good headlamps and I thought £85 for carpet maps a bit of a cheek considering what I could pay for a high quality set from a shop.
But £260 for front and rear parking sensors complete with side scan lane assist and a rear parking camera is worth the extra spend, as is metallic paint for £495.
This pert cabriolet is a compact beauty, well proportioned and great to drive and own. It's superbly well built and comes with Volkswagen quality, a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and a feeling of integrity and driving feedback that is reserved for only the best of any sector.
FINAL THOUGHT: Good looking four-seat cabriolet version of the ubiquitous Golf is an impressive package – provided you don't subject passengers to long trips. Excellent 1.4-litre turbocharged TSI petrol engine is lively, economical and quiet.
Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet SE 1.4 TSI six-speed manual
- Price: £22,470 (£27,475 as tested)
- Capacity: 1390cc
- Power: 120bhp
- 0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
- Maximum speed: 122mph
- Economy: Combined 44.1mpg, Urban 33.6mpg
- CO2 emissions: 149g/km (VED F)
- ESP: Standard
- Insurance Guide: Group 19 (new 1-50 Grouping System)