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103TDI Comfortline 5-dr wagon
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Alltrack 135 TDI Premium
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26 Apr 2012
AUSTRALIAN motorists have not really embraced convertibles in big numbers like our American cousins – clearly we’re worried about premature ageing, sunburn, skin cancer or looking like an exhibitionist – though a hot evening with your top down is one of motoring’s more sublime pleasures.
Yet haven’t we all longed to own at least one convertible in our lifetime?
Ford produced a mainstream convertible with the Australian-made Capri – an affordable and practical everyday four-seat drop-top that might have blitzed the world had it been more thoroughly developed and available when it was meant to be (in the go-go ’80s rather than the go-slow early ’90s).
Now, having sold previous models at uber-inflated prices, Volkswagen has priced the new Mk6-based Cabrio at $36,990, just about $5500 more than the equivalent Golf 118TSI Comfortline hatch with Sportline suspension and wheels.
To put that into perspective, the last time you could buy a Golf soft-top for anything close to that amount was 20 years ago, while the last (Mk3-based Mk4) version from a decade ago was some $50,000.
And the Mk6 Golf Cabrio looks, feels and drives at least as well as premium four-seat convertibles like the BMW 120i, Audi A3, Lexus IS250C and Volvo C70. So we’re talking about a very impressive piece of kit here.
Although based on the current Golf superstructure, Volkswagen has beefed up the body, braced the chassis, added higher-strength materials for greater rigidity and worked hard on cutting noise through special roof insulation and manufacturing processes.
Though adding 95kg in weight, the result is a drop-top that feels less like a chopped-up hatchback than its styling suggests, yet maintains the Golf’s refinement.
With a lower roofline, more angled windscreen and headlight and tail-light detailing from the GTI hot hatch, the Cabrio in infused with a sporty and well-proportioned stance.
Long doors that open with a solid feel – note the added bracing catch on the bottom trailing edge as you climb inside – reveal a cabin that for all intents and purposes is standard Golf.
That means non-heated cloth seats (featuring a handy pull-forward lever for easier rear-seat access), a regular radio/CD/MP3/Bluetooth audio/phone interface, cruise control, climate-control air-conditioning and power windows/mirrors.
Leather upholstery, heated front seats, sat-nav and a rear camera are desirable extras that will set you back a further $7000.
Nevertheless, the base Cabrio is still big on value.
For your extra $5500 or so over the regular 118TSI hatch, you get an electrically operated fabric roof that folds down in just nine seconds (and erects again in 11 seconds), a heated glass rear window, a one-touch button to lower all four side windows at once and a lovely anti-noise cloth roof lining.
Although the boot is smaller than the regular Golf, it can still accommodate up to 250 litres of cargo with the roof up or down.
A split/fold rear backrest is a first for the Golf Cabrio, and a real boon for people who need to carry more than a weekend’s worth of getaway luggage.
There is no longer a pram-handle-style rollbar over rear passengers’ heads but a more effective pop-up device that activates if the VW tilts or decelerates at predetermined rates.
Cruising around the beautiful Adelaide hills, the four-seat soft-top impressed with its well-insulated cabin at highway speeds with the roof up, and bluster-free interior when travelling alfresco.
Only on coarser bitumen was there a need to raise voices during conversation – but that’s a common affliction in German cars.
More importantly, when the surfaces did begin to deteriorate there was little or no body shimmer (or scuttle shake), while squeaks and rattles – another convertible bugbear – were conspicuous by their absence.
Excellent front seats, sufficiently comfortable and spacious rear seats, and all your usual Golf practicality accoutrements like (flocked) door bins, a large glovebox and central storage bin apply to the Cabrio as well.
Another way the VW convinced us of its premium quality was how smooth and refined the drivetrain remained despite the extra bulk it now hauls.
Of course, acceleration feels a little thwarted compared to the regular 118TSI hatch, but the smooth Twincharge engine loves to rev and delivers the required kick when demanded.
While we have always preferred the sweet six-speed manual gearbox in our 118TSI VWs, the Cabrio’s laid-back and lazy character somehow better suits the slick seven-speed DSG gearbox (an extra $2500).
Other plus points include the usual solid (if slightly numb) steering and an eagerness to zip through corners with utter aplomb. Boasting bags of grip, there is remarkably little difference between the hatch and Cabrio when the roads get smooth and twisty.
Over rougher terrain, however, we noted the firmness of the standard Sportline suspension. It’s not hard or uncomfortable, just taut.
There is very little to whinge about and much to admire in the latest Golf Cabrio.
It not only punches above its weight in terms of pricing, features, and value, but is refined and involving enough to really give the more expensive Euro (and Lexus) convertibles a run for their money.
Why you would bother with the more expensive yet barely any more premium Eos?
It is capable and rounded enough to serve as a second family car as well as a vanity purchase. Aside from the lost hatch practicality and the (relatively small) premium for a quality convertible roof installation, it fulfils most people’s motoring needs as well as any other Golf.
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