Top Gear: Volkswagen Golf GTI Cabriolet driven

Friday, July 27, 20120 comments

This, according to The Official Volkswagen History of Volkswagen, is the first-ever Golf GTI Cabriolet. This news may come as a surprise to those of you who remember owning a MkI Golf GTI cabrio. But VW doesn't classify that car - built from 1983 to 1993 - as an ‘official' GTI: offered only in the UK, it has been mysteriously eradicated from the Wolfsburg archives. Does VW also refute the existence of Birmingham?

Piqued by such nationalistic rewriting of history, Top Gear feels obliged to dish out a British kicking to this definitely-not-the-first GTI cabrio. But we can't, for it is very good.

True, this was predictable. The MkVI Golf GTI is a cracker, and the standard Golf cabrio is immaculate: sticking them together equals lots of GTI speed and precise handling and Golfness, imbued with a finer appreciation of the dung-spreading habits of your local farmers. The 2.0-litre 207bhp turbo remains smooth and tractable - you could survive Britain with second and sixth gears alone - and there's space for four full-size persons. It's fast. It's ace. But VW insulted Britain. Must. Find. Fault.

Aha! Got one. Driven hard, maybe the cabrio feels a fraction duller at the rear than the three-door hatch, a mite less eager. But you're buying a cabrio: you have to expect a bit of compromise, and there's no obvious scuttling or tilt from the cabrio's reinforced lower half. The Golf cab uses a simple folding canvas roof instead of a steel Z-bed effort, meaning it weighs only 180kg more than the three-door GTI hatch and the roof doesn't encroach into your precious bootspace. We are begrudgingly impressed.

Refinement? Depressingly brilliant. Lid up, no matter the speed, nary a whisper of wind or road noise permeates the roof's many fabric layers. Strictly in the name of research, we did 140mph on the autobahn with the roof down, and the cabin remained as unblustery and isolated as, well, a Golf hatch.

Which, perversely, is our only real gripe with the GTI cab: maybe it's just too rounded, too grown-up. VW has worked so hard to sand any rough edges from the GTI that sometimes, just sometimes, you yearn for a bit more fizz. We don't expect a four-cylinder turbo hot hatch to yelp like an Italian V12, but beyond a faint, bassy ‘Boh!' from the exhaust on overrun, lowering the GTI's roof doesn't reveal any interesting noise. Surely half the reason for buying a convertible hot hatch is to expose your earholes to the happy burbling emanating from the exhaust? Then again, we only drove the manual 'box: maybe optional DSG would provide a bit more pop 'n' chunter.

And that's the length of the ‘cons' column. As a grown-up, do-everything fast convertible, the GTI is near flawless. It's expensive, true - prices start at £29,310, the cabrio commanding a premium of around £4,000 over the three-door GTI hatch - but, hey, it's two cars for the price of one: a refined, cruisy cabrio and a proper hot hatch. Fine idea, well executed. Just remember that we thought of it first, Volkswagen.

Sam Philip

The numbers
1998cc, 4cyl, FWD, 207bhp, 206lb ft, 37.2mpg, 177g/km CO2, 0-62 in 7.3secs, 147mph, 1533kg

The verdict
It might have a floppy roof, but the Golf GTI Cabriolet remains as versatile and proficient as the hatch. We'd love more noise though... and an accurate VW history book.
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