VW goes soft on Golf again

Volkswagen has opened up a new market for the Golf with a cabriolet comeback, says Andy Russell.

When it comes being soft on soft-tops and tempted by tin-tops, Britain and Germany lead Europe's crush on convertibles.

So, given the huge popularity of the Volkswagen Golf, it seemed strange the German giant pulled the plug on the much-loved cabriolet nine years ago, having sold 684,000 in 23 years.

VW's folding hard-top Eos coupe convertible went some way to filling the gap alongside the soft-top Beetle but the Golf was always going to be a hard act to follow, especially as rival car-makers expanded their convertible line-ups to make the most of the growing popularity.

Now the Golf Cabriolet has made a comeback, set to bring old and new customers to the brand.

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Sharing its front-end styling with the Golf hatchback, from the heavily-raked windscreen back the cabriolet is all new but clearly a Golf.

It looks good, roof up or down, and it's not a hardship switching between the two modes with one of the quickest transformations of any convertible – just 9.5 seconds to get the powered roof down – and at up to 18mph – and 11 to close it.

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It's because VW has kept it simple – as simple as any powered soft-top roof can be. Unlike many modern convertibles there's no body panels which unfold and then snick back into place to hide the roof away. Instead, like the Audi A3 Cabriolet, the top of the fabric roof covers the storage box it concertinas into, saving the need for a separate cover and operating time.

It also means the boot isn't compromised as the folded roof needs less storage space. Even roof down you have 250 litres of useable boot space although the slotty opening – a problem for any convertible developed from a hatchback rather than a coupe – is the limiting factor for loading… and my iffy back as you have to stoop under the raised boot lid. For extra practicality 50/50-split rear seat backs fold flat to reveal an opening to pass longer items through but there's a step up from the boot floor.

The cabriolet is a four-seater with decent legroom in the back, and getting in and out is easy with tilt-slide front seats which return to the set position, but roof up it's a little cosy and dark in the back.

I work on the theory that if you like driving a convertible with the roof up you'll love it with the roof down. Just as well because it rained most of my time with the Golf but it proved how effective the roof is with good insulation from noise and the elements. The only time I did get the roof down, there was little buffeting with the side windows up and even without the wind-deflector, standard on SE and GT models, behind the front seats. Nor was it unduly noisy apart from some tyre roar on poor surfaces. It was bracing, but proved how effective the heater is, working full blast on my feet, hands and face.

Launched with 105PS 1.2 turbo and 160PS super-charged and turbo-charged 1.4 petrol engines and a 105PS 1.6 turbo diesel, the range has been boosted with a 122PS 1.4 turbo and the GTI's 210PS 2.0 turbo petrol engines and a 140PS 2.0 turbo diesel.

If you're more interested in economy and emissions than performance, the 1.6 TDI is enticing, averaging 60mpg overall and cruising comfortably and quietly at the motorway limit pulling around 2,000rpm at 70mph. Its BlueMotion Technology status gives it automatic stop-start in traffic hold-ups, low rolling-resistance tyres and battery charging during braking. It pulls happily from low revs, making satisfactory progress, but if you want to get a move-on you need to get the engine on the boil via the easy-shifting five-speed gearbox and give the accelerator a firm prod.

The cabriolet drives almost as well as the hatchback, an achievement without a rigid roof, although you notice bumps and lumps more but generally it rides comfortably and handles precisely, flowing through bends with well-weighted steering.

Good seat and steering wheel adjustment make it easy to find the ideal set-up, although rear visibility is restricted with the hood up, while the user-friendly dashboard is functional rather than flash but metallic panels and highlights give it a lift.

The 1.6 TDI comes in S and SE with the latter accounting for 20pc of sales. S gets semi-automatic air-conditioning, stability and traction control, rollover protection, front, side and driver's knee airbags, remote locking, four electric windows and heated door mirrors, 16in alloy wheels, multi-function computer, radio/CD with MP3 player jackpoint and hill-hold function. SE adds two-zone climate control, cruise controls, automatic self-dipping headlights, wipers and dimming rear-view mirror, USB and iPod connection cables, front and rear parking sensors and 17in alloys.

The Golf soft-top has always been a desirable cabriolet, borne out by strong sales and good used values, so its return is a welcome one.

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