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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - GL Cabriolet convertible

Our Opinion

We like
Comfort, space, handling, securely warm and draught-free roof
Room for improvement
Not too pretty, no sports car

23 Jul 2003

VOLKSWAGEN's iconic Golf is a true trendsetter.

Back in the mid-1970s, while reversing free-falling VW sales, the Golf made the versatile hatchback concept universal among small cars.

In 1976 the Golf GTI teed off the hot-hatch era and three years later spawned the much copied Cabriolet.

The original Cabrio took 11 years to arrive in Australia (in late 1990) and sold in small but consistent numbers until the second generation, MK3 Golf-based Cabrio was launched in March, 1995.

VW decided to social climb with the new Cabrio. The price went through the roof, from $29,990 for the old one in 1994 to a dizzy $48,990 for the single- spec, well equipped GL.

The SE - with leather trim and a CD player - replaced the GL from late 1997 until the Series 2 facelift of October, 1998, which features a cleverly integrated MK4 Golf front end, trim and instrumentation on the MK3 Golf-based Cabrio body.

Chunky German looks and a solid feel add to the Cabrio's strong safety emphasis, aided by the standard dual airbags, anti-lock brakes and the distinctive padded roll bar.

The bar provides torsional rigidity for greater refinement, better dynamics and improved crash worthiness as well as roll-over protection for occupants.

The Cabrio is the work of the German coach-builder Karmann, which has manufactured specialised VWs, mostly convertibles, for decades. It is best known for the evocative Beetle-based 1950s Karmann Ghia.

The thorough engineering makes for a civilised, practical, all-weather chop-top that is remarkably similar to the hatch.

The electric hood opens and closes simply and easily while the glass - instead of plastic - rear window banishes mustiness and opaqueness, resulting in long life and demisted clarity.

The interior layout is almost pure Golf with its clear instrumentation, logical switchgear, easy controls and quality feel. The cheery two-tone interior lightens the sombre ambience found in the hatch.

Rear passengers can join their front-mounted counterparts in enjoying comfortable, supportive seats and ample room for heads and legs.

There is no room for three in the back due to the roof-erecting mechanism's width eating away some interior and boot space, although the boot space remains quite large.

Rear vision is restricted when the roof is down because it sits proud of the bodywork.

Behind the wheel, the Cabriolet retains its Golf genealogy. It feels tight and solid, no doubt due to the roll bar that helps reduce the body shimmering known as "scuttle shake".

With the top down, wind intrusion is minimal even at freeway speeds and the Cabrio's purpose in life is exposed. It is a joy to be in and makes a fine convertible.

The engine is the venerable 85kW, 2.0-litre, four- cylinder from the MK3 GL hatch. It is more inclined to deliver in the mid-speed range rather than the top end, suiting the heavier (by 145kg) Cabriolet.

It mates well with the optional automatic transmission. On the other hand, the standard five- speed manual gearshift has a rubbery feel, with not very well defined gear slots.

The extra weight is felt around corners with the body lurching slightly compared to the lighter and more agile Golf hatch.

The ride is firm and feels a tad busy over minor bumps but the steering is superbly weighted and offers plenty of information.

Like the Golf, the Cabriolet has proved strong and durable, with no stand-out faults so far.

The hood is not prone to leaks but look out for fabric tears or clunky noises from the electrical mechanism. Both are costly to repair or replace.

In terms of originality, safety, comfort and everyday practicality, few convertibles can match the charming Golf Cabriolet.

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