Volkswagen Golf GTi cabriolet first drive pictures and hands-on

It’s a bit of a perennial favourite, the Golf GTi. Right now, pretty much every one of its competitors offers more power and the promise of greater road thrills, but few can match the all-round talents and general classlessness of the GTi. It’s still in with a shout of being top of the class, despite its replacement - in 5-door hatchback form - being due imminently. Given how much we enjoyed the Golf Cabriolet in its regular format, when VW invited us to try the GTi in cabriolet guise, we couldn’t help ourselves but say “yes please” and head for the middle-England launch location.

We though that a bit of top-down motoring in the latest GTi would be a lovely way to see out August. Unfortunately, the ever-reliable British weather decided to turn this into a test of the five-layer hood’s insulating properties. We toyed with the idea of putting the roof down, we really did, but we suspect VW wouldn’t have thanked us for returning it with puddles in the footwell and soaked interior fabrics. We got soaked just shooting a few photos.

Given that, the hood’s qualities seem like a good place to start. It’s hardly commonplace to find a convertible car that leaks these days, but it’s fair to say that this hood did keep us especially "snug as a bug" during some really torrential rain. You do get a little bit more road roar coming in to the cabin at speed than the Golf hatch, but it’s not exactly an unrefined place to sit.

Better still, as with the previous Golf convertible we tested, we found that the hood had very little negative effect on the way the GTi drove. The hood structure and bracing add a few kilos in weight which slightly impacts performance, but the GTi convertible isn’t a car you’d exactly describe as feeling under-endowed in the power department.

In fact, we’re starting to think that VW either deliberately down-plays the output figures of this engine or it makes a good bit more power out of the box than it’s supposed to. Because, like the Scirocco we reviewed last month, the 210 horsepower 2.0 Turbo engine used here pulls like a train, right through the rev range, to the point where we can’t see a situation where you’d feel the need for more power in this type of car and the high-six seconds figure it takes to sprint to 60mph feel conservative. Certainly, on the flooded back-roads of Northamptonshire, it gave the traction and stability controls a good work out trying to keep everything neat and tidy.

Which is something the Golf GTi does extremely well. The electronic systems are there but they aren’t clumsy or intrusive and it’s the same story in the convertible. This is a very “neat” driving car, one that’s easy to drive fast and yet also a good deal of fun to fling around. Part of the appeal is that the ride’s firm but not harsh and you’re controlling it all through a lovely, chunky, flat-bottomed and red-stitched steering wheel. You’re sitting in the quintessential, tartan-chequer patterned GTi seats which sit you low and hug you tight, and everything you interact with on the inside of car has a lovely, all-of-a-piece feel to it. Sorry if we sound like a stuck record, but if this is the interior of a car that’s about to be replaced, then VW’s rivals must be crying into their teacups in desperation about how they’re supposed to compete.

Our car featured the optional, upgraded satnav-equipped touchscreen radio, which is a carbon copy of the system we used during our week with the Scirocco. That means that while we don’t rate it alongside BMW’s iDrive, it’s definitely one of the better touchscreen systems on the market, with big clear graphics and an intuitive connectivity logic.

There’s full iPod and USB connectivity system in the centre bin as standard, while the music that’s playing and the satnav turn-by-turn instructions come up on the centre screen of the gauge cluster.

What’s not to like? Well, the boot opening’s a little tight and when it’s up, the hood shape makes the Golf look a little bit dumpy and hunchback in our opinion. It’s also not cheap, but then for the completeness of the package, it’s rivals – of which there are precious few, it should be noted - don’t get close.

The only thing that might stop you is that, while it’s taken VW until now to launch this latest Golf GTi cabriolet, the Golf VI, on which its based, is days away from being replaced with a new, ground-up redesigned Golf MK VII. Of course, don’t expect a radical new design, but the new car is supposed to be up to 200kg lighter, comes on a new, extremely clever platform and will introduce to the Golf a host of advanced driving aids and collision mitigation devices for the first time.

The new car’s actually being unveiled as we write and the GTi version is expected to make its debut in Paris before the end of the month. Don’t expect a new open Golf to come along anytime soon though – VW likes to replace the cabriolet only when it’s good and ready. So if you’re after roof-down thrills in a package that’s fun to drive and comes with an iconic nameplate attached, look no further.