Volkswagen Golf GTI Cabriolet review (2012 onwards)
What: Volkswagen Golf GTI Cabriolet
Where: Munich, Germany
Date: May 2012
Price: £29,310 - £30,610
Available: On sale now, deliveries begin July
Key rivals: BMW 125i M Sport Convertible, MINI Cooper S Convertible, Audi A3 Convertible 2.0 TFSI, Mazda MX-5
Summary: The GTI Cabriolet combines the easy-on-the-eye styling of the soft-top Golf with the performance of the GTI hatchback - a pretty fearsome combination
We like: Pretty looks, impressive ride and build quality, comfort, DSG gearbox
We don't like: Uninspiring engine note high up rev range, small boot and narrow opening, a touch expensive
The Golf GTI Cabriolet is a looker - plain and simple. We know aesthetics are subjective, but to our eyes at least, roof up or down, the latest addition to the GTI stable is a well-proportioned and well-styled car. Surely that's half the battle won, then?
Well, yes, it is. But that iconic boot badge means the roofless GTI has to do more than just drop jaws - it has to handle and go like stink, but provide a refined package that means you would feel equally at home turning up to a track day as you would a sophisticated function.
You'll have to reach deep into those pockets
Thankfully it does. But you'll have to reach deep into those pockets if you want the pleasures of doing so. Prices start at £29,310 - a lot of money for a four-cylinder Golf.
The rag-top VW faces stiff competition in the small cabriolet sector, with offerings from BMW, Audi, MINI and Mazda to contend with. But that GTI badge could certainly do it some favours in attracting new customers looking for top-down performance motoring.
The swiftest roofless Golf uses the same powertrain as the hatchback - a 210hp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that means the GTI Cabriolet will crack the sprint to 62mph from rest in 7.3 seconds.
While competition from BMW dips under the seven-second mark, the open-top GTI's pace is more than adequate, and when combined with the snappy upshifts and instant downshifts of the optional DSG dual-clutch gearbox, it means you can make seriously swift progress.
The six-speed manual gearbox is sweet and works well, giving you a commanding sense of control. The DSG dual-clutch transmission is equally as good and in Sport mode delivers upshifts that see the rev counter's needle zip back around the dial, accompanied by a subtle bobble from the twin tailpipes.
206lb ft of torque means the car doesn't have to be revved out all the while to go anywhere quickly - drive it between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm - a fairly fat band for peak torque - and you can hustle the car along at a brisk but relaxed pace.
It's just unfortunate that the Golf's four-cylinder motor doesn't inspire with its aural credentials at the top of the rev range. In the mid echelons, the GTI Cab has a nice meaty bass note from both engine and exhaust, but it sounds a touch pained and grainy at the top end.
It's a minor gripe, but next to the smooth, tonal note of a BMW six, the Golf's engine sound isn't as appealing.
Ride and handling
Performance junkies with a penchant for roofless B-road blasting will be pleased to hear the Golf GTI Cabriolet is a well-resolved package.
It's an involving car when you want it to be
The hatchback's drop-top cousin is 140kg heavier at 1,533kg, as a result of the strengthening steel added to the car's chassis, improving torsional rigidity.
This adds another facet to the Golf GTI's already extended repertoire of positives. With the possibility of being frazzled by UV rays without seriously impinging on ride, handling or outright cornering ability - on the road, at least - the drop-top Golf GTI's capability to devour alpine roads is impressive indeed.
We have to say the strengthening has worked, too. The standard Golf Cabriolet is a solid package and scuttle shake has been eradicated over all but the biggest of potholes or prolonged pattery surfaces.
Combined with nicely weighted, linear and relatively communicative steering, it's an involving car when you want it to be - it responds directly to your inputs without being fidgety or overly alert - but a relaxed and refined cruiser, roof up or down.
There are three settings for the adjustable suspension dampers - Comfort, Normal and Sport. In the latter, things are a little firmer, but we found the car responded better in the Normal setting; a little more compliancy and a hint of roll allowing the tyres to work with the chassis to generate some surprising cornering forces.
Inside, it's pretty standard fare - but that's no bad thing. The standard Golf's interior is functional, refined and built to last. Next to the competition, some might feel it lacks a little initial sparkle, but over time we're sure the demure grown-up cabin will age more gracefully than others might.
The GTI Cabriolet inherits the standard VW hot hatch's tartan cloth for the seats - a traditional GTI trait - and gets four individual seats.
Can be electrically erected in 11 seconds
They're not token efforts though - with me sitting behind me (testing the rear legroom with the driver's seat in my position) there's more than enough room to cover decent distances in the rear.
Putting the roof up - which can be electrically erected in 11 seconds and lowered at up to 18mph in 9.5 seconds - impedes access, but only to a degree that's no worse than a three-door Golf GTI hatchback.
Boot space isn't great, but it's no worse than its rivals. However, the boot's aperture is on the small side due to the location of the roof mechanism and means loading luggage can become a bit of a pain.
Economy and safety
Efficiency is admirable for a car that'll crack 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds. VW claims 37.2mpg combined (36.7 for DSG-equipped cars) with 177g/km CO2 emissions (180 for the DSG). This means road tax of £215 - not bad compared the BMW 125i M Sport convertible's 34mpg and 194g/km CO2.
Despite the removal of the roof, the open-top GTI stays strong meaning good levels of safety - automatically deploying roll-over hoops, front and side head / thorax airbags and a driver's knee airbag all come as standard, meaning a full five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
The MSN Cars verdict
The Golf GTI Cabriolet is safe, refined and practical. But alongside these everyday qualities, it offers a similar level of performance to the standard hatchback, adding a new dimension thanks to its retractable roof.
The hatch is a well-rounded car capable of exciting and cossetting in equal measure that wouldn't look out of place in the car park of a posh do. The fact that you can now buy a convertible version adds another dimension and will surely prove popular for many buyers, even with the UK's often inclement weather.
The car's major drawback is its price though, however, given its stylish appearance and performance levels, to many that won't matter.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: 2.0 turbo
Engines, diesel: N/A
Torque: 206lb ft
0-62mph: 7.3 secs
Top speed: 147mph
MPG combined: 37.3mpg