Price: $36,990 to $39,490
2012 Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet 118TSI 1.4-litre twincharged (turbocharged and supercharged) petrol with six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG transmission, front-wheel drive, 118kW/240Nm: $39,990 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
Apart from the sleek styling, especially from the boat deck-like rear three-quarter view, the big surprise is just how well the all-new Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet sits on the road. At 110km/h with the top down through some very twisty tarmac and rural terrain in South Australia, it doesn’t feel a whole lot different to its Golf hatch sibling. The open-air Golf is extremely well planted and agile, allowing for sharp turn-in and able to carry hot hatch-like speeds through the bends. It doesn’t seem to matter how poor the road surface is either, the standard-spec sports suspension sorts it all out with little or no intrusion into the cabin.
Welcome to the fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet: the first drophead Golf in nine years. We’re not entirely sure why Volkswagen stopped selling the iconic Cabriolet all those years ago, given that between 1979 and 2002 more than 680,000 were sold globally. It seems Volkswagen had other more pressing priorities it was pursuing during the past decade, but thankfully, the Golf Cabriolet is well and truly back, and it’s bigger and better than ever.
Volkswagen Australia has launched the car with just one powerplant, the 118TSI, which is a 1.4-litre twincharged petrol-powered car with a choice of either a six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed super-fast-shifting DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox).
Although there were a couple of manual shifters on the press fleet today, we only got to sample the DSG version. Let me just say: after a few hundred kilometres behind the wheel, we’re pleased to report the all-new Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet an exceptionally good all-round package.
Of course, you might well be asking, ‘why build the Golf Cabrio when you’ve got a perfectly good convertible in the Eos?’ It’s not a bad question either, but Volkswagen has answered that in several ways. Firstly, the Eos is a hardtop-only and it’s not based on the Golf platform.
The soft top on the new Golf Cabriolet has a couple of key advantages, such as far less weight (only 52kg) than the folding metal hardtop on the Eos. There’s also the question of roof deployment time, and that race goes to the Golf Cabrio too, with just nine seconds needed to drop the top, and eleven to close it. You don’t need to pull over either, as the Cabrio’s roof will work at speeds up to 30km/h.
The other more practical advantage of Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet is that irrespective of whether the top is up or down, you get the same 250 litres of boot space. That might not sound like a lot, but it swallowed four small overnight bags with ease.
Inside the cabin, it’s very much like any other Golf: functional and well laid-out switchgear with probably the best anatomically designed seats in its class. Our car was upholstered in the optional ‘Black Cool Leather’ which is certainly comfortable, but our choice would have to be the standard black cloth, if only for the long hot summers that we get in Australia.
There’s plenty of room too, especially up front. The rear-seat accommodation is clearly less roomy, but still able to provide a comfortable ride for a six-foot colleague on the same drive program.
It’s also considerably less expensive than the Eos, with the manual variant kicking off at $36, 990 and the DSG at $39,490. That’s a price advantage of up $13000, and don’t think for one moment that all you get is a trick fabric roof. On the contrary, the Golf Cabrio comes loaded with a host of creature comforts such as automatic headlights with coming home/leaving function, rain-sensing wipers, auto dimming rear vision mirror, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth phone and music streaming, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, and 17-inch alloys.
There’s also a superb sports leather steering wheel with excellent tactility and grip for those more enthusiastic moments on the road. Unlike Peugeot, Volkswagen integrates the remote buttons for the audio and cruise control systems on the steering wheel itself, which eliminates the need to take your eyes off the road ahead.
Despite the Golf Cabrio having a rather low profile with the roof up, there’s still a surprising amount of headroom for passengers in both seat rows. There’s also a soft roof liner of sorts that is both attractive and nice to touch.
Our test car was fitted with Volkswagen’s excellent touchscreen satellite navigation system, which is both intuitive and easy to read in the sun’s glare. My only problem with it is that it’s a $3000 factory option, so I suspect some buyers will forgo that bit of kit in favour of one of the many less expensive portable options available these days, despite the inconvenience.
At 1440kg, the Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet is not a particularly heavy car, despite the extra reinforcement around the A-pillars, windscreen frame and the roof cross member. That’s also the reason why it’s no slouch, even with its compact 1.4 litre engine. Mind you, there’s 240Nm available from 1500-4000rpm, thanks to the twincharger and when you marry that to the super-quick-shifting DSG, it makes for a surprisingly sporty drive. There are no shift paddles, but using the sequential mode through this sort of undulating terrain is a lot of fun. That’s especially so given the almost imperceptible shifts that are characteristic of this transmission.
What is even more impressive is the complete lack of scuttle shake with this soft top. There just isn’t any to speak of, and that’s over less than perfect road surfaces at speed. It’s not only the robust roof mechanism either, there is a high degree of body rigidity in the Cabriolet, which makes negotiating snake-like bends a thing of joy.
The fact is, regardless of whether the roof is up or down, there is no noticeable twist in the body either, no matter how hard you push this Cabrio through a bend or two. It really is very hard to fault this vehicle and might well be one of the best handling convertibles in the small car segment for under $40K that we have ever driven.
It’s the same quality story with the NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) management with Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet. We’re back up at a sustained 110km/h and I barely need to raise my voice in a conversation with my colleague about this very topic. Even better, there is not a single rattle from the roof mechanism and that’s over some pretty average road surfaces.
Volkswagen has put a lot of effort into the level of communication through the steering wheel in the past few years and the Golf Cabrio is another benefactor of a nicely calibrated electro-mechanical power steering unit. There’s plenty of weight at the centre position and it’s relatively quick to respond to steering inputs.
Safety on board the open-air Golf gets a big tick too, but there are none of those unsightly rollover bars that were once deemed to look like a strawberry punnet on the older Cabrio models and were so nicknamed in Germany. These days, there’s a sophisticated ‘Active roll over protection system’ that includes two roll over modules that deploy in milliseconds if the sensors detect a possible roll. The new Golf Cabrio is a five-Star Euro NCAP vehicle with five airbags and a full suite of active and passive safety systems, which includes Hill Start Assist and daytime driving lights.
The new Golf Cabriolet will almost certainly skew heavily towards females, but that would be a shame for the blokes, because for as little as $36,990, you can have a car for all seasons and a brilliant drive to boot.