Few cars become iconic in their own production lifetime; they have to be unusually good and dearly loved by a loyal customer base. Over the years, Volkswagen has achieved this several times: there was the Beetle, of course; then the sporty Golf GTI, which single-handedly created the hot hatchback segment when it was introduced back in 1975; and finally, the Golf Cabriolet, which has long been loved across the world.
You would think it an absolute no-brainer, then, to make a hot convertible version of the Golf GTI but in actual fact, the new Golf GTI Cabriolet is only the second version of the classic model created by the brand to combine sporty GTI performance, with drop-top wind-in-your-hair freedom. The last model that did so went out of production in 1993.
Combine a convertible and a hot hatch and you should have the recipe for exceptional motoring. So, has Volkswagen succeeded in transplanting the personality of its hot hatch GTI into its convertible sibling?
Yes, pretty much. Powered by the same 208bhp 2.0-litre TSI engine as the one found in the hatchback, the GTI Cabriolet feels quick, though not as quick as I was expecting. The engine is responsive and the car is extremely easy to drive, whether you’re cruising on the motorway or hustling through the City. With the roof down, you can really hear the turbo whistling (something I have always been partial to). Throwing the gears back and forward is easy and comfortable on the hand, though the iconic golf ball gear knob – a feature loved in earlier models – has not been rebooted for this car.
Despite losing its roof and gaining some weight, the compromises are minor. The Golf GTI Cabriolet feels like a car you can throw around and have fun with. It’s agile and engaging, and the exhaust note certainly makes a good grumble, though, at times, I found the ride to be a little harsh.
The best thing about the design is that there’s no tin-top roof. Instead, Volkswagen has stuck with the conventional ragtop roof, which can be lowered quickly and stowed away neatly behind the rear seats, creating a rear deck when the roof is drawn down. Combined with GTI styling – such as the familiar honeycomb radiator grille with red edging – the new model looks good and has remained true to the original.
Golf interiors always manage to straddle the line between having a premium feel in terms of build quality, while remaining extremely accessible. The only downside to this is that the interior feels functional rather than fun, and offers no real surprises. This GTI model comes with the same classic Jacara tartan-patterned seats as the Mk1 original GTI model – which is a nice nod to the past – and the interior also features sporty red stitching on the gear knob and on the flat-bottomed leather steering wheel, which is de rigueur at the moment for any car with sporty aspirations.
It’s a well-intentioned, if not safe, offering. A little bit more surprise and delight wouldn’t go amiss, especially for a car this expensive. And while it’s not completely without it’s strong points, for some reason or other, it doesn’t quite feel like it has a unique character of its own to become as successful as the past two models. It will, no doubt, appeal to convertible fans that want more oomph, but whether it will become another iconic Golf model remains to be seen.
VOLKSWAGON GOLF GTI CABRIOLET
0-62MPH: 7.3 SECS
TOP SPEED: 147MPH
CO2 G/KM: 177G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 37.2MPG
VALUE FOR MONEY ***