November might seem an odd month to review a convertible. But having served up one of the dullest summers ever, the good old British weather decided it was time for one of the warmest Octobers on record. As we write, this shows little sign of changing.
So, in celebration of the fact that the official start of winter last Sunday was welcomed in with wall-to-wall sunshine in the UK, (and with apologies to American readers sitting under a blanket of snow) now is actually the perfect time to review Germany’s latest soft top offering.
We like the regular Golf a lot. It’s our favourite car in the small family car segment. So much so, several members of the Pocket-Lint team actually drive Golfs as their main car. As at home on Sloane street as it is in the Scottish highlands, no one’s ever going to think you’ve gone broke or turned into flash Harry if you rock up in a Golf. That’s its beauty; it transcends class. It does nothing badly, which is why more than 30 million people worldwide have bought one since it went on sale 35 years ago. But is it any good if you saw the roof off?
You’d be right in thinking the Golf looks practically identical to the Audi A3 convertible. Technically, every panel is new and that VW family front and rear make your eyes think it’s a Golf, but compare the two cars in side profile and save for the shape of the door, that middle bit of the body’s identical. They’re based on the same kit of parts.
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But this is far from a bad thing and in fact, because it loses the Audi’s daft roll hoops behind the rear headrests, the Golf looks much better when the roof’s down. Makes you wonder why you’d pay more for the Audi, doesn’t it? The Golf’s hood drops and raises in a sprightly ten seconds too, and operates at up to 18mph so you won’t get caught on the hop as the traffic lights change.
Most importantly, the hood is fabric. A step backward over the folding hard top of the Eos – the car the Golf Convertible replaces? Not one bit. Folding hard tops add weight – a disaster for fuel economy, emissions and handling. But worst of all, they make cars look badly proportioned, because they need a really long rear deck to stow under. As anyone who’s ever packed a tent away might guess, a fabric roof doesn’t.
The main advantage of hard tops is improved refinement, but life is so snug in the Golf under its multi-layered fabric hood, you wonder why they ever bothered trying to make the metal stuff do the origami. Hood up or down, the new Golf convertible looks better than the Eos… and just about anything this side of a BMW Z4 in fact.
If you’ve driven a Golf hatchback or estate, the interior of the Convertible will come as no shock. The dashboard and technology is straight out of the standard car. Given that you’re paying a good chunk more for the convertible, it would have been nice to see a few more upgrades, but this is far from a bad place to sit.
You get the expected Bluetooth phone connectivity and MP3-playback abilities as standard. But upgrading the Sat Nav to that of our test car gives you a fantastic system, which we’d be amazed if you didn’t get on with. The display’s a little small, but owing to the design of the Golf’s dashboard, it’s mounted high and easy to read.
We love the fact it can be operated either via the screen or the buttons surrounding it. So whichever way you like to programme your Nav, retune the radio or pair your phone, the Golf’s system’s unlikely to leave you frothing and swearing at it.
It’s when you scratch the surface you appreciate VW’s attention to detail. The parking sensor system brings up a visual of the car in plan view – just like Audi and BMW. But it’s not just ‘a car’, it’s the Golf convertible. You get a lovely great big chunky chrome lever in the center console, which you tug on to open and close the roof. But our favourite detail, while strictly nothing to do with tech, is a VW branded bottle-opener which clips into the centre cubby hole. Perfect for those summer picnics.
At the event we attended to drive the new Golf Convertible, VW laid on an original Golf Convertible for comparison, from 1984. It’s always a revealing experience driving old cars – mainly because they help you remember how much better cars have got. With these Golfs, the story was slightly different.
The old Golf did feel old, but was far from slow or lacking in sense of occasion. Wafting through Buckinghamshire countryside, it conjured up a sense of la dolce vita that we thought the new car would struggle to capture. The brakes took an almighty shove to make it stop though and the gearbox was like rummaging in a cutlery drawer, but it rode beautifully on its small wheels.
Jump into new Golf and the contrast is stark, but not bad. There’s just so much more car around you, the metal is thicker, it feels heftier. Hit the brakes with the clout you did in the 1980s car and the passenger’s getting a lesson in how effective the seatbelt inertia reel lock is.
But the family gene pool shines through. There might be over 25 years between them, but the spirit of the original Golf convertible lives on. With its 1.4 ‘twincharger’ engine (turbo and supercharged) the new Golf Convertible flies along, and despite big wheels, this is one of the best riding modern cars we’ve driven for a long time.
Give it real stick and the body doesn’t wobble about either - a traditional flaw with convertibles. Roof up it’s refined and snug, but best of all, put the roof down, drop your speed and waft through the countryside and the Golf makes you feel happy and that all is right with the world, just as a convertible should.
Given our status as fans of the regular Golf, it’s perhaps unsurprising we think the cabriolet version’s pretty good too. Cliché it may be, but this contains all the goodness of a regular Golf, with the pleasure of being able to enjoy open air motoring as and when the mood takes you.
Like the regular Golf, it’s a sensible ownership proposition too. This Golf won’t shed its value, go wrong much, it’ll seat four, you get a decent sized boot and that multi-layered hood will, we’re sure, takes years of abuse from the British weather.
It’s so called ‘twin-charger’ 1.4 engine is both economical enough to mean you don’t need to think about putting up with the clatter of diesel if you’re keen to watch the pennies, but is fast enough to mean you can have fun when you feel like it.
But best of all, the new Golf convertible makes you feel special when you’re in it, just like the iconic, original car did 25 years ago. Good looking, fine to drive and discreet enough to escape those footballer’s wife tag so many convertibles attract. If you’re looking for a convertible for less than £30k, then look no further. With the weather set fair for the time being, roof-down, winter motoring has never been so appealing.