VW has delivered a Golf GTI Cabriolet which is a practical, talented, liveable and well-made vehicle. It has been considered as one of the best sporty hatchbacks around the world. Now let’s figure out the reason why this car has a distinct edge over its rivals.
‘Soft’ is not what you’d call the GTI Cabriolet by looking at it. It seems an easy solution: take the new Golf Cabriolet, launched here in 2011, and simply bolt on the GTI bits and drop in its go-fast suspension and driveline. That is, to be somewhat naive, effectively what’s been done here, with two lauded VW products coming together. Yet it’s a cost effective way to tackle the Mazda MX-5 and Mini Cooper S Cabrio.
Arguably, it looks the most masculine, with less cute and more ‘proper’ GTI bits, from the lower ride height, polished alloys, GTI bumpers and classic red-striped honeycomb grille for serious street cred.
On top of the traditional GTI cues, there’s the black cloth soft-top with its class-leading 9.0-second opening time. It can be operated at up to 30km/h, so there’s no getting caught in the rain, where it drops seamlessly into the GTI’s waistline to sit behind the rear seats. Cleverly, this design means that it doesn’t need a meddlesome roof separator in the 250-litre boot, making this one of the most practical cabrios on sale.
Operating the roof is a switch added to the centre console, with the cabin barley changed from the hatch otherwise. The dash is well bolted together with quality switchgear, classical white-on-black dials, and a neat centre screen for the audio, settings and optional satnav all surrounded by high-end surfaces.
There’s the hatch’s leather-wrap, three-spoke steering wheel and handbrake cover, with paddle-shifts for the DSG or sports knob for the manual shifter. The rear seats are hardly adult-sized, and of course, you can’t have a GTI without those supportive sports seats trimmed in classic ‘Jacky’ tartan.
Under the bonnet there’s the same 155kW turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that powers the hatch. It’s loaded with tech, such as direct fuel injection, and delivers its peak 280Nm at a low 1700rpm through to 5200rpm, giving the GTI Cabriolet a wide sweet spot under throttle.
The driving position is excellent, with rake and reach steering adjustment, allowing you to mash the super responsive throttle. Snatching gaps in traffic is a breeze, but the manual is more effective than the DSG, which can occasionally hesitate while picking the next gear. The slower 0-100km/h time of 7.3 seconds is 0.4 seconds down on the hatch, but it matches the Mini Cooper S Cabrio and is almost two seconds better than the Mazda MX-5.
It’s largely down to the additional 148kg that the Cabriolet carries, but even with the extra heft it still boasts the hatch’s sharp turn-in, well-weighted steering and high grip levels. The XDS electronic sports diff, a function of the ESP, is standard on all Euro-spec GTI Cabriolets, and helps the GTI Cab deliver predictable handling. It’s easy to place it into corners, with the power usable on the way out. It’s a cinch to drive and remains composed over mid-corner bumps with a compliant ride.
There’s a raft of safety gear though, including ESP, ABS, head and thorax airbags, as well as a clever active roll-over protection system. The regular Golf Cab has a five-star ANCAP rating, so the GTI Cab will too.
The Golf GTI Cabriolet sets a new benchmark for sporting cabriolets, but let’s tread carefully here. It’s not as enjoyable as the rear-wheel drive Mazda MX-5, nor is it as potent as the Mini Cooper S. Yet it beats both for practicality, with a smarter roof, more luggage space and – with prices expected to be around $45,000 if it does go on sale here – it’s better value, too.