One-day Test: Golf GTI Cabriolet
Still a GTI, but with no roof7
If you look at the Volkswagen Golf range today you will notice that there are two GTI’s listed.
The first is what is being called the New Golf GTI, which is the latest Mk7 version of the GTI. It is the cutting edge of hatchback technology, has a modern interior and a new 2,0-litre turbocharged motor that produces 162 kW and drinks less petrol.
The other is also a new car, but unlike its GTI brother it is not at the forefront of consumer motoring. That is because it is still based off the now out-dated Mk6 GTI, which means it has an interior which is still current, but not forward-looking, and a 2,0-litre turbocharged engine that producers 155kW.
But the biggest difference between the two is that the older GTI is a Cabriolet. So as far as party tricks go, dropping your roof is not something you can just ignore.
Like Meeting an Old Friend
There is still something so familiar and loveable about the Mk6 GTI. Because that same engine and drive train has featured in so many recent VWs and Audis, the way the motor reacts to inputs and drives reminds me of the fun that I have had in its relatives.
It is quick off the mark, and the torque curve is very fat at the bottom, but slims off quite quickly as the revs build. Peak power is achieved at 5800rpm, but power deliver feels strained at that point, and I end up punching to the next cog at around 5000rpm.
A dual-clutch DSG gearbox manages the gears, and while I have not been a big fan of the DSG and S-tronic gearboxes that I have driven lately, the unit in the GTI Cabriolet feels like the old DSG that revolutionised automatic ‘boxes.
Shifts are quick and precise, to the point where it feels as if the steering mounted paddles are attached to a manual gearbox. The feedback from the paddle is nothing special, but the way the engine responds is mechanical and very satisfying.
I actually think that it has to do with the version of the gearbox. The 7-speed units that I have had on test recently have let me down with a lot of torque vectoring lag in First, and an unwillingness to shift when I wanted it to. But this 6-speed unit is the complete opposite, and an absolute pleasure to drive.
Nothing faster than a Fabric roof
But as enjoyable as the Cabriolet’s engine is, it is the piece of fabric above you that is the reason you are spending the extra money.
Pushing down on the lever in the centre console starts the roof folding process, but because it has been a while since I drove a canvas-based convertible, I was stunned at the speed at which the Golf manages to stowaway the roof.
Volkswagen claims 9 seconds, but it feels close to instant. Also because it is not as fancy as the tin-top roofs, you can still operate the roof while moving at slow speeds.
Wind noise is non-existent with the roof up, and even at full charged with the roof down, the Cabriolet cabin is fairly quiet and sheltered, but I suspect things will be quite different if you try and test the VW claimed 235km/h top speed.
But the Cabriolet is not perfect. By chopping off the roof the front end of the car seems a little more dull than the five-door. On paper the two are exactly the same, but there is a subtle difference.
The best way to describe it is that it seems not as accurate or sharp. There is plenty of feedback and the XDS electronic differential allows you to jump on the throttle early on your way out of the corner, but I just felt that it was maybe 5% missing from what I remembered from the GTI 35.
The price of endless headroom
It might seem a little unfair comparing the Cabriolet to the Mk7 GTI, but since you cannot buy the Mk6 GTI new anymore, it is the most real-world accurate comparison we have.
R15,000 over the five-doors price will get you a Cabriolet (currently priced at R397,900) and considering how well rounded and true to the five-door the Cabriolet is, it does seem like quite a bargain. That is if you are looking for a Golf and absolutely need it to also have a folding roof.
Otherwise, things like an MX-5 or a second-hand Lotus Elise offer a better convertible driving experience. But then again, you are missing some seats if you choose one of those…