Buyers are often put off purchasing convertibles because of their inherent disadvantages. Among them: noise, cowl shake, potential water leakage and increased risk of theft by break-in. Manufacturers of expensive luxury roadsters have overcome these problems with high-tech folding metal roofs. Now, manufacturers are beginning to develop more affordable systems for the rest of us.
The newest and example of an affordable hardtop convertible is the all-new 2007 Volkswagen Eos. The Eos is the first European hardtop convertible priced under $30,000.
The Eos, named after the mythical Greek goddess of dawn, delivers the top-down thrill of driving on a sunny day and, at the flick of a button, the warm, quiet comfort one desires on a cold or wet day. When driving with the top up, the Eos feels tight and quiet, like a coupe. With the top down, it feels more like a convertible but tighter, with less cowl shake on rough roads, than in older convertibles. The glass top gives the Eos a unique appearance, and it's entertaining to watch when raised or lowered, a feat that can be performed by remote control.
In spite of its diminutive dimensions, the Eos seats four, and getting into the back seat is relatively easy. The interior is trimmed nicely, an area where Volkswagen excels. Our preference was for the cloth upholstery in the base model, but leather upholstery comes with the Luxury and Sport packages along with nice looking wood or aluminum trim.
We were more than happy with the $27,990 base model, equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine coupled to a six-speed manual transmission, and loaded with safety features, air conditioning and a decent stereo. The turbocharged engine delivers brisk acceleration performance and is a smooth companion around town.
Drivers who prefer an automatic transmission, especially those who must commute in heavy traffic, might prefer the V6 engine, although those decisions can add $10,000 to the bottom line.
Either way, the Eos represents a good compromise between a sports car and a sedan. It's sporty and practical and offers top-down motoring.
Generally speaking the problem with a convertible is that, with the soft top up, it never looks as good as a coupe version of the same car. Even classic greats such as the E-type Jaguar looked much sexier as a coupe. Of course, once the top is down all is forgiven, as convertibles then look the way they should.
When the top is up on the Volkswagen Eos it doesn't look anything like a soft-top convertible. Admittedly it's not eye-popping attractive or truly sexy looking, but it's acceptable. In many ways the Eos is a cross between a Jetta or even a Passat and a GTI. That's appropriate as it's built off a combination of the three cars. Indeed, the Eos is about eight inches longer than a GTI and about six inches shorter than a Jetta in overall length.
The front has the unmistakable new VW family look with its in-your-face grille surrounded by plenty of chrome. The sleek covered multifaceted headlights blend into the fender and hood while the edge of the hood continues as a flowing unbroken line back to the rear of the car. The windshield has a low sloping rake to it and in keeping with the coupe look there are no B-pillars. Even the C-pillar is not too large. It's certainly way smaller than it would be if it were a traditional soft-top convertible.
The glass roof gives the Eos a unique look even with the top up. It provides one of the largest openings for a sunroof available in any car as it covers the full width of the roof even if it does not slide back as far as most sunroofs.
The trunk has a large flat top to it, which is necessary as it has to rise up to engorge the whole roof and its mechanism when the top folds down.
Watching the roof fold away is enthralling. In just 25 seconds the top of the roof rises up, the trunk lid opens and the rear window folds up. Then the pieces neatly arrange themselves on top of each other and park themselves in the trunk before the lid closes, hiding everything away from prying eyes and giving the Eos a clean flowing look. It's all done by computer-controlled hydraulics.
An optional remote lets the owner raise or lower the roof while standing away from the car. Another option that could prove invaluable is the Park Distance Control sensor that warns if an object is in the way of the roof or trunk when the mechanism starts to open the trunk because it rotates back some distance and the roof rises a foot or more above the car's closed roofline.
Given the compact look of the Eos, one could be forgiven for expecting it to have a cramped interior. This is far from the truth. Front seat passengers will find it as roomy as in the Jetta with adequate headroom and plenty of hip room.
Obviously with the top down headroom is unlimited, but even with it up the rear seat passengers will find it acceptable unless they are approaching six feet tall. Getting into the back seat is made much easier as the front seatbacks fold down and the seat moves up off the seat runner to provide easier access. Legroom in the back is tight unless the front occupants move their seats forward.
Because part of the folding roof structure has to reside within the side panels when lowered, there is less usable width available for the rear seats, so it's not possible to seat three people in the back seat. The rear seatback is also more vertical than in the Jetta or GTI, as a result of creating maximum space for storage of the folded roof, making it less comfortable. There's a lockable door in the center of the rear seats for holding long items placed through from the trunk.
Even with the roof in place the rear seats are a trifle claustrophobic, although not that much worse than in most small coupes. It's not a car for taking rear seat passengers any great distance, but for cruising around town or at the beach with the top down it's a charm.
Passenger safety is enhanced by an active protection system whereby a roll bar in the rear pops up within a quarter of a second when sensors sense a serious accident is about to occur. Coupled with an extremely stiff front windshield frame this helps protect passengers in a roll over.
The dashboard in the Eos is similar to that found in the Jetta and GTI. It's the same layout with some changes to the trim. That's a good thing because the interior of the Jetta is regarded as being one of the nicest in this price range. The reshaped air vents are trimmed out with thin surrounds in brushed aluminum that sets them off nicely.
Models with the Luxury Package are trimmed with a strip of wood trim stretching across the lower edge of the dashboard; another piece covers the area ahead of the gearshift in the center console. The Sport Package features nicely finished brushed aluminum trim in place of the wood.
Leather comes with both of the packages. Personally, we found the smart-looking cloth seats in the base models more pleasing.
We found the navigation system worked well when we drove the Eos in South Africa. Unfortunately it's not as easy to view as it should be when the roof is open, as the screen is not shielded from the light.
The speedometer and tachometer are located in two nice big round gauges in a compact instrument pod. Although they are easy to read neither is in the center of the instrument panel, which some drivers find disconcerting. Instead there is a LCD in the center providing readouts and warnings. On some models a digital speed reading can be displayed here. The analog coolant temperature and fuel gauges are also located between the speedometer and tachometer.
The trunk is a decent size with the top up, offering 13.4 cubic feet of storage space, which is on par with a small sedan. It has a retractable cover that has to be latched in place before the top can be lowered. With this in place the storage space shrinks by almost half to about 7 cubic feet, similar to that of a two-seat sports car. Considering it has an all-metal roof with a built in sunroof and glass rear window that's not too bad of a compromise. So when you go on long trips you'll probably have the top up.
We spent all of our time driving a European-spec Eos with a six-speed manual transmission so we did not get to try the model with the V6 engine or DSG automatic transmission.
As in other VW models, the combination of the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and the slick six-speed manual transmission is a delight to drive. The engine produces plenty of torque, making it a good car for gentle cruising or more aggressive driving.
In the past, we haven't cared too much for the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder paired up with an automatic transmission. Until we test this combination we can't be sure, but we're inclined to recommend getting the V6 if you want the automatic. Volkswagen's V6 with automatic has been a delightful combination on other models and we expect that will be the case with the Eos.
All Eos models include an electronic stabilization program (ESP), which we found to be completely unobtrusive, perhaps because we never drove the car past its limit of adhesion. We had the chance to drive a short distance on a dirt road at a slow speed and there was no drama from the car nor any squeaks or rattles.
Because of the added weight and a less rigid body the car does not handle as well as the GTI. Hardly any surprise, but again it's not really an issue as the GTI is so good it is almost in class by itself, making it an unfair comparison.
The electro-mechanical steering is fine; in fact we felt it delivered a slightly better feel than in the GTI. Brakes are also more than adequate. The majority of owners will find the Eos is acceptable for all driving except at high speed on winding roads.
With the top up there is virtually no indication that you're in anything other than a coupe. There is little wind noise and the body feels tight. With the top down there is some cowl shake on rough roads. It's far less than in older convertibles, which indicates VW has done an excellent job of creating a stiff new frame under the svelte body.
The Eos includes a couple of extras to help reduce wind buffeting with the top down. These include a deflector that can be raised up along the top edge of the windshield that is mostly to prevent buffeting with the sunroof open. The other is a wire mesh contraption that goes over the rear seats when there are no passengers to lessen air turbulence behind the front seats. We found it helped but wonder whether most people will bother to install it unless they intend to drive some distance with the top down.
We did not have the chance to try an Eos with the Sports Package. In some ways it almost seems unnecessary for this car as it handles just fine in standard trim. If you want a really good handling car the GTI is a much better deal and we doubt the Eos could never match it due to the inherently less rigid body structure and added weight.
If the Beetle Convertible has become passe for fans of VW's iconic car, the new Volkswagen Eos is an all-new, up-to-the-minute alternative. It's truly a car for all seasons. When the metal roof is up the Eos is sealed and you'd never know it was not a normal two-door, four-passenger coupe. On warm days it takes less than half a minute to transform the Eos into a four-seat convertible. For in-between days there's the option of a sunroof with a very wide opening. Compared to the price of other metal-hardtop four-seat convertibles, the Eos is truly one for the masses, priced about ten grand less than the Volvo C70.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie filed this report after test driving the Volkswagen Eos 2.0T with six-speed manual in South Africa.
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