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Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet review (2011 onwards)
What - VW Golf Cabriolet 1.4 TSI automatic
Where - St Tropez
Date - 4 May 2011
Price - £26,000 (est)
Available - September 2011
Key rivals - Volkswagen Eos, Audi A3 cabrio, BMW 1 Series Convertible, Peugeot 308 CC
Summary - Missing for nine years the new Golf convertible goes straight to the top of the class
We like - Solid construction, comfort roof up and down, practicality
We don't like - It's a touch expensive, small boot opening, upright rear seats
It's nine years since the last Golf cabriolet was built, and over 30 since the original was launched. It has been, by any measure, a massive success, with close to 700,000 sold around the world.
So why the gap of almost a decade? VW recognises that speciality cars tend to peak early in popularity, after which interest can drop away rather quickly. So there have always been gaps, with the last one filled - partly - by the VW Eos.
The Eos has a folding metal hard top whereas this new Golf cabriolet has a traditional fabric roof. But that aside they are surprisingly similar, with much the same range of engines and a similar amount of space inside. Even the prices are close.
Then there's the Audi A3 convertible, which, as you may have guessed, was looked at closely when the Golf was developed. It took little more than a year for the Golf cabrio to go from sign-off to appearing at the Geneva show this March. You can't do that without digging into your existing design chest.
The finished result, however, looks every inch the quality convertible you'd expect from Volkswagen, with a raked back screen and a completely open side profile when the windows are dropped. Roof up or down, it's a knockout design.
There is a massive range of engines on offer, from 1.2-litre turbocharged unit with just over 100hp to an only slightly sub-GTI model with 210hp. There are a couple of diesels too and most engines can be matched to VW's excellent DSG automatic transmission.
Perhaps surprisingly, even the 1.2-litre unit gives pleasant levels of performance, but one of the big sellers will be the 1.4-litre petrol turbo with either 122hp or 160hp. Only the more powerful version was available here to test, and it proved sweet and sufficiently gutsy when coupled with the seven-speed automatic transmission.
Not that this Golf is quick. All these cabriolets weigh nearly 200kg more than a regular Golf three-door hatch, and inevitably that blunts the performance. But you can stick the transmission into Sport mode to liven the game a little, or shift gears with the paddles behind the steering wheel.
The reality is that a Golf cabriolet is unlikely to be purchased by those looking for a sports car, even with the 210hp engine, so sit back and enjoy the experience for what it is.
Ride and handling
The reason for the extra weight is, as usual with cabriolets, the need to incorporate lots more steel to stiffen the car up when the metal roof is removed. It's an unavoidable price that has to be paid.
Yet the results are worth the additional bulk. Roof up or down this Golf feels very solid indeed, whether on the motorway at speed or winding along bumpy country roads.
Again, it's no sports car. The suspension is a little soft for that; push it hard and the Golf gets wallowy in the bends - but otherwise it drives remarkably well.
With rivals dishing up pizzazz by the fistful when it comes to interior design, a Golf feels underwhelming at first, with just the splash of chrome highlights giving it some interest.
Longer term, though, this subtlety can be appreciated for just that. The core functions all work very well, making this an easy car to live with.
Move up the scale and you get some very comfortable sports seats, but they are fine in all versions. Legroom in the back is good for a car of this type, taking two adults in relative comfort. It's not perfect - the seat backrests are extremely upright - but it rarely is in the back of a convertible.
The big advantage with a fabric roof is that the luggage space is unaffected when the roof is lowered, which will be a key selling point over the Eos. It's a reasonable size, square in shape with folding rear seat backrests, though putting stuff in is rather like posting it through a letterbox.
The roof itself is a nine second fully electric job. Just hold the button - at up to 19mph - and the whole operation happens automatically.
Remarkably, there's little in the way of wind disturbance for those in the front seats. There's an optional wind deflector, but it's hardly necessary.
Economy and safety
With the DSG automatic transmission, the 160hp Golf averages 45mpg with a CO2 of 148g/km. Switch to a manual gearbox and the figures are, in fact, very slightly inferior, while dropping to the 1.4-litre with 122hp may save you money up front but makes little discernable difference to the economy or CO2.
As yet there are no EuroNCAP crash test results for the new Golf Cabriolet. However, we'd be most surprised if it didn't get the full five stars. There are plenty of airbags and the structure is inherently strong due to the reinforcements.
What has changed is the Golf cabriolet no longer has safety hoop over the top behind the front seats. Now the windscreen has been reinforced even further and safety rollover bars pop up behind the rear seats should you be unfortunate enough to turn the car over.
The MSN Cars verdict
Cheap it isn't but we can't come up with a four-seat cabriolet that offers more in terms of comfort, refinement and built quality at this price.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||1.2, 1.4, 2.0 - all turbo|
|Engines, diesel||1.6, 2.0 - all turbo|
|Power, hp||105 - 210|
|Torque, lb ft||129 - 236|
|0-62 mph, secs||7.3 - 12.1|
|Top speed, mph||118 - 147|
|Mpg combined||64.1 - 37.6|
|CO2, tax||117 - 175g/km, 13 - 25%|
|Ratings||VW Golf Cabriolet 1.4 TSI DSG automatic|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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