It struck me one day that people who love cabriolets, convertibles, roadsters, drop-tops, sports cars - call them what you will - are probably less concerned with who made them than with how they make their drivers feel. It's rather like motorcycles; there is an indescribable unity with Nature, a one-ness with the road and a bonding with the elements - the sun on your skin, the breeze through your hair and the living sounds of the open road.
That's why I decided to copy and paste all my cabriolet reports into a single folder where drop-top fans can find them all without having to scrabble through endless menus.
I have to warn you that it took a while to warm to the cabriolet phenomenon - convertibles are mostly loved, hankered after and driven by women, so we guys find them hard to appreciate. For that reason, you may find some of the writing a little tongue-in-cheek, sceptical or even downright chauvinist. What can I say? I'm male and I can't help it. Just bear with me though, because I believe that the stories still contain valid information that will hopefully help you make an informed buying decision.
*To read one of our road tests, just select from the drop-down menu that appears as you hover your cursor over the folder's title.
*Please remember too, that prices quoted were those ruling on the days I wrote the reports, so even if you're looking to buy second-hand, you have an idea of what it cost originally.
This is a launch report. In other words, it's simply a new model announcement. The driving experience was limited to a short drive over a prepared course chosen to make the product look good. We can therefore not tell you what it will be like to live with over an extended period, how economical it is, or how reliable it will be. A very brief first impression is all we can give you until such time as we get an actual test unit for trial. Thank you for your patience.
It was an odd launch. We’re accustomed to being sat down in darkened rooms for 20 to 30 minutes and bombarded with Powerpoint or video presentations telling us exactly why the latest offering is wonderful. Business sessions, they call them. This was different. After nine years, Volkswagen SA brought back its magical Golf cabriolet and didn’t say a word.
They simply lined up a row of pretty little convertibles, all with seven-speed DSG ‘boxes, and all with tops down and invited us to drive. “And by the way,” they said, ”swap cars sometime, because there are two engine options.” Apart from power plants, one also has a choice of transmissions, the other being a six-speed manual shifter. It would have been nice to try all four combinations on the day, but can you imagine trying to organise a couple of dozen picky and pig-headed journalists into four different cars? This writer wouldn’t be a motor company PR person for any amount of money.
From the front, it is pure Golf, but as you circle around you notice that the windscreen is shorter and more sharply raked. All the launch cars were fitted with optional Xenon headlights and LED running lamps that VW says make the front view look even better. Changes to the rear include smoked lenses and a bootlid that extends lower in order to make access and loading easier. Said boot measures 250 litres rather than the hatchback’s 350, while overall length grows by 47 mm. Roof up, the cabriolet stands 1423 mm high vs. the regular Golf’s 1479 mm, but headroom does not appear to have been compromised.
The car definitely looks better with its top down and VW took the precaution of clipping the supplied wind deflectors in place over open rear seat areas. We admit to having been lazy about using these things on other cabriolets, then muttering about wind noise at speeds over 100 km/h. Our loss. Use them, because you can still chat comfortably at speeds that would make Officer Aggro grin with delight while flagging you down.
Motive power is a choice between the 90- and 118 kW versions of VW’s 1400 cc TSI turbocharged four-cylinder, while standard kit and interior appointments come straight out of the hatchback. That means you get all the braking, handling and safety equipment as well. Buying the more powerful engine bags you bigger wheels with wider, lower profile tyres, sports suspension, leather seats, kerb view function on the left mirror, additional chrome trim and parking assistance.
The airbags had to be redesigned to work in a car without a conventional roof. This included combining the side and curtain 'bags, so while the cabrio appears to have been short-changed by having only five instead of seven, it hasn’t really. Powered rollover hoops pop up in a split second to protect occupants as soon as electronic sensors detect that things have indeed gone too far.
Building cabriolets means compromises and added work to make them function nicely. For example, not having a fixed roof means the car loses some rigidity, allowing the body to flex and rattle, and a folding roof usually suffers wind noise or water leaks. Rest assured that these matters have all been dealt with. Extra reinforcement of the floor and body and careful design of the roof, made this car feel, sound and drive just like its hardtop sister.
There are trade-offs. The cabriolet loses 11 mm of ground clearance because of additional strengthening and gains 194 kg in mass. This means that acceleration times are about one-tenth of a second slower than on an equivalent hatchback and fuel consumption dives by a whole 100 ml per 100 km – hope you can live with that?
Driving both engine derivatives showed that while the 90 kW version had all the power one needs, the DSG gearbox responded more willingly to the added torque of the 118 kW motor. If we had to choose, we would suggest the lower-powered car be taken with manual transmission, while the automatic shifter with stronger engine fits the relaxed and stylish cabriolet experience better.
From R283 400 (90 kW manual) to R338 500 (118 kW DSG)
Engine: 1390 cc, DOHC, 16-valve, CVVT four cylinder; turbocharged (90 kW), turbocharged and supercharged (118 kW)
Power: 90 kW at 5000 rpm/118 kW at 5800 rpm
Torque: 200 Nm between 1500 and 4000 rpm/240 Nm between 1500 and 4500 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 10,5 seconds/8,4 seconds
Maximum speed: 197 km/h – 216 km/h
Combined cycle (Euro test): 6,3 – 6,4 l/100 km
Emissions standard: EU5
CO2 levels: 147 to 150 gm/km, depending on model
Tank: 55 litres
Warranty: 3 years/120 000 km
Service plan: 5 years/90 000 km at 15 000 km intervals
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
My articles appear every Wednesday in the motoring pages of The Witness, South Africa's oldest continuously running newspaper, and occasionally on Saturdays in Weekend Witness as well. I drive eight to ten vehicles most months of the year (press cars are withdrawn over the festive season - wonder why?) so not everything gets published in the paper. Those that are, get a tagline but the rest is virgin, unpublished and unedited by the political-correctness police. Hope you like what you see, because there are no commercial interests at work here. As quite a few readers have found, I answer every serious enquiry from my home email address, with my phone numbers attached, so I do actually exist.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the central hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and go to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
Want to ask a question, comment or just tell me you thoroughly disagree with what I say? That's your privilege, because if everybody agreed on everything, the world would be a boring place. All I ask is that you remain calm, so please blow off a little steam before venting too vigorously. Email me from here