The first open-air Volkswagen Golf to wear the iconic GTI badge in twenty years; the new GTI Cabriolet aims to play both the sun-seeking cruiser and white-knuckle thrill machine.

What is it?

A hot version of the current Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet, sporting a muscular turbo engine and the company’s seamlessly-shifting twin-clutch automatic gearbox. It uses a layered cloth, rather than a full steel folding roof, which doesn’t eat into available luggage space and goes from fully up to fully down in under 20 seconds at speeds up to 30mph.

What is it like to drive?

The 207bhp developed by the GTI’s two-litre turbocharged engine seems worryingly low on paper, given the current crop of ever more powerful hot hatchbacks, but is enough to give the car a pleasing turn of speed. While the additional weight of the convertible roof has blunted the GTI’s 0-62mph time by 0.4 seconds (now 7.3 seconds), get the Cabriolet on a straight, dry road and with the lightening-fast shifts of the DSG gearbox, the car will pick up pace in a manner worthy of its performance badging.

On the move the GTI Cabriolet feels stable and secure, though lacks the effervescent feel of the hatchback model. It’s nimble enough, however – aided by a linear, well-judged steering set up that helps drivers guide the car accurately on a twisting, technical road.

The loss of roof has affected the car’s rigidity somewhat and this can be felt by judders through the steering wheel over particularly poor surfaces. On most roads, though, the GTI Cabriolet isolates passengers from bumps surprisingly well for something with such sporting pretensions, particularly considering it rides on low-profile tyres wrapped around eye-catching 18-inch alloy wheels.

What’s it like inside?

While the usual Volkswagen strengths of plush plastics and solid, rattle-free construction are all present and correct, those expecting a sense of occasion from the interior of this £30,000 convertible will be disappointed. The dash architecture is lifted straight from the hatchback, and while on the whole this is no bad thing – with a large screen for the sat-nav and stereo system, and fantastic ergonomics which means everything is just where you’d expect it to be – there is no real flair, and nothing aside from some retro tartan seats and a ‘GTI’ badge on the steering wheel to remind you you’re sat in something a bit special.

Is it practical?

In terms of passenger space, the GTI loses little in its conversion to a soft-top. There’s easily enough room to accommodate four adults in comfort, and the cabin features a well sized glove box and numerous cubby holes for oddment storage. The boot, however, is not so well thought out; the packaging of that folding roof necessitating a narrow aperture through which to push your shopping. It’s around a third smaller than the boot of the Golf hatchback too, at 250 litres, though the rear seats do fold to allow the loading of longer items.

Should I buy one?

It’s a curious car, the GTI Cabriolet. The quality of the roof conversion is undeniable, even if it is an expensive one – coming with a price premium of around £3,500 over the hatchback. But it is the roof itself which diminishes the appeal of this GTI to the keen driver, largely due to its blunted performance and softer handling. Those simply wanting an open-top Golf can get 90 per cent of the experience by opting for a variant lower down the range. For some however, the kudos of the GTI badge is hard to ignore, and they won’t care one jot that they’ve sacrificed ultimate dynamic precision for a more style conscious take on a performance icon. For these people, nothing else will come close.

Key rivals

While there are plenty of driver focussed cars with folding roofs, there are few that can match the GTI’s combination of space, pace and ease of use. The most obvious rival is the Audi A3 Cabriolet, which – for around £5,000 less – is available with the same engine as the GTI, though does without the sporty styling and is rather sparsely equipped.

BMW’s 1 Series plays the Golf close in terms of quality and space and even middling versions will appeal to keen drivers thanks to its keen handling and sporting bias. That said, like the Golf, the soft-top 1 Series is based on the outgoing model and in places, particularly the interior, its age is starting to show.

Going down a size, you may want to consider the Mini Cooper S Cabriolet, which even in its most overtly sporting John Cooper Works guise is around £4,000 cheaper than the Golf, but is much less practical and due to a very firm ride isn’t as relaxing when you’re not in the mood for fun and games.

The facts

Price: £30,765
Engine: 2-litre, turbocharged, petrol
Power: 207bhp
Top speed: 146mph
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
MPG: 36.7mpg (combined)
Emissions: 180g/km C02

Daljinder Nagra


April 15, 2013