The argument about who really started the hot-hatch craze will likely rage on indefinitely, but there’s no question who really took the genre and made it a proper success. Volkswagen introduced the original Golf GTI in 1975 to rapturous reviews and bulging order books. So it’s surprising that until this new model arrived in 2012 there’d only ever been one Golf GTI cabriolet before – the last one going out of production in 1993.
Hitting the showroom floor there’s nary a scuttle shake or chassis wobble like chop-top chassis’ from before. Complete with Jacara tartan cloth and the optional six-speed DSG automatic gearbox we braved the cold and lowered the roof of our £30,765 example to see if it’s been worth the wait.
If there’s one thing that VW always get bang-on it’s detailing, and the Golf GTI cab is no different. Red pinstriping for the grille can be lost on red cars, as ours was, but it harks back to the original MK1 GTI hatch and instantly sets off petrolheads’ rose-tinted memories of this car’s legacy. A set of 18inch alloy wheels and twin exhaust pipes finish it off, while the inside sports subtle GTI badging, red leather stitching and those tartan seats.
The roof is expertly designed too, and while it does shift this car’s aggressive look when raised, it is incredibly well finished inside and quiet on the move – certainly more so than similarly priced rivals. Smooth and quick in operation, and available to swap between enclosed and open-air at speeds up to 18mph, there’s really no penalty to pay in refinement over a tin-top GTI.
The VW Golf GTI Cabrio has the same amount of adjustment available to the seat and wheel as found in the tin-top MK6 Golf, so getting comfortable behind the wheel is no problem. Those in the rear will find a little less room than they’d hope for, the feeling exacerbated when the roof is raised. The dark material and small rear windows make it feel more claustrophobic than it really is. Still the controls are well-weighted, the switchgear delightfully solid and surfaces finished in high quality materials. Lowering the roof increases the sense of room in the cabin for all, and the good news is that it doesn’t impinge on the 250-litre boot space when stowed.
Performance & handling
Such an iconic nameplate suggests this car should really reward the keen, but in this case tanned, petrolhead and the Golf GTI Cabriolet doesn’t disappoint. The DSG gearbox can dull the sense of urgency when accelerating, but in truth that’s only down to the smoothness of its shifts. Check out the speedometer and you’ll soon realise that this chop-top is gaining speed very quickly indeed – certainly the book time of 7.3 seconds from 0-62mph seems eminently believable.
If you want to feel more involved in the process the gearbox does offer manual manipulation either via the lever or more convenient steering wheel-mounted paddles. There’s not necessarily a huge amount of feedback and feel through the rim, but the weighting is pleasant and consistent.
You do lose the hatchback’s adaptive damping system should you opt for the fabric roof GTI, but the standard suspension still strikes a neat balance between comfort and ultimate driving dynamics. Turn in is sharp and the standard XDS electronic front differential quells understeer effectively, even for the most ham fisted helmsman. And despite losing that roof there’s little in the way of shakes or rattles unless travelling across an incredibly rough surface. In short, while the hatchback GTI is marginally sharper at the extreme end, for most people and instances the convertible is perfectly capable of engaging and exciting those behind the wheel.
Economy & environment
Considering the power (205bhp) this 2.0-litre turbocharged engine provides, the headline efficiency numbers are rather impressive. Truth be told the manual gearbox models are slightly more efficient, driven in the correct manner, but nevertheless the 180g/km and 36.7mpg figures for this auto are worth shouting about. That means annual road tax will be a reasonable £220, and with a light right foot you can travel around 450 miles between each petrol station fill up. The GTI doesn’t go as far as VW’s Bluemotion models to eek out extra in this department, but lessons learned in those green models, such as aerodynamic tweaks and for manual models a gearchange indicator, definitely help.
Equipment & value
Costing over £30,000 (with the DSG gearbox option) you’d expect the Golf GTI cabriolet to be well equipped, and it is. On top of the GTI detailing (Jacara cloth seats, subtle badging, alloy wheels, bodykit, lowered suspension and exhaust pipes) the basic spec includes cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and Bluetooth connectivity.
The roof is electric, as are all four windows, and only takes 9.5 seconds to lower. The excellent rear-view reversing camera only adds another £170 and is well worth adding, while the £1,785 touchscreen sat-nav is a nice but expensive addition.
The Mk6 Golf Cabriolet hasn’t been subjected to Euro NCAP’s test procedure, but it shares much of its technology in this department with the hatchback, which achieved five stars. Five airbags complement ESP, active head restraints and a roll-over protection system to ensure occupants of this convertible are just as safe as they would be in the hatchback.
It used to be the convertible models of hardtop models were often seen as dynamic dunces, but that’s not really the case here. Sure the hatchback Golf GTI is fractionally sharper, but the differences are so minor that most drivers won’t notice – especially in real-world road conditions. And while the manual models might be slightly more involving, the ease of use, quick shifts and improved efficiency of the DSG automatic gearbox make it a worthwhile addition.
So while this MK6 model could be considered a generation behind the current hatchback (a new GTI hatch is due in the middle of 2013) it has no natural rivals and feels anything but old hat. Lets hope we have a good summer.
Model tested: Volkswagen Golf GTI cabriolet
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Acceleration: 0-62 in 7.3 seconds
Top speed: 146mph
CO2 Price: £30,765