Can a soft-top really be a hot hatch? Well, the new VW Golf GTI Cabriolet sits on the same lowered suspension as the standard GTI, so it certainly looks the part.
Volkswagen has carried over all the telltale Golf GTI styling details unchanged and, while the taut folding soft-top changes the car’s profile, it still looks neat and stylish. Plus, with it folded, the newcomer’s steeply raked windscreen enhances the sporty design.
At the back, the Cabriolet’s unique bootlid is given the GTI treatment, with smoked tail-lights and a rear diffuser. The cabin will also be familiar to owners of the hatchback.
The flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel feels great, while the classic tartan seats are supportive and comfortable. Red stitching on the handbrake and gearlever, plus upmarket inlays and top-notch materials, mean the cabin is every bit as classy as the Audi’s. And, like the A3, it can be bathed in sunshine at the push of a button.
Dropping the Golf’s fully automated fabric hood takes only 14 seconds and it stores neatly behind the rear seats without compromising boot space. There’s also room for two adults to sit comfortably in the back, while, unlike the MINI and A3, the VW’s rollover hoops are hidden out of sight, only popping up if sensors detect a potential crash.
Even with the roof up, the big glass area and decent headroom ensure the rag-top GTI doesn’t feel claustrophobic in the back. As with the Audi, the Golf’s boot is slightly compromised by a narrow opening, but the 250-litre capacity is twice the size of the MINI’s tiny 125-litre boot. A standard split-fold rear bench further improves day-to-day practicality, while VW includes a manual wind deflector as standard.
With this fitted, it’s not too blowy and holding a conversation at speed isn’t difficult. Still, hot hatch fans won’t be interested in small talk; for them, the decision on whether the Cabriolet deserves to wear the famous GTI badge will rest on the way it handles and performs.
We’ve been impressed with the standard cabrio’s chassis strengthening, and the GTI gets the same treatment, which means a weight gain of 138kg over the hatchback version. Even so, at the track the Golf blasted from 0-60mph in just 6.4 seconds. On the road, the 2.0-litre turbo has the same eager yet easy-to-live-with nature as the hatch, while with the roof down you can savour the burbling exhaust note.
Crucially, the structural reinforcement means the Golf feels rigid enough to justify its performance car label, as it turns in and grips with the verve of the hatch.
Over rough surfaces or under heavy cornering loads you can detect some flex in the chassis, but it’s minimal. You’ll mostly feel it as a slight vibration in the steering wheel, although the GTI still feels tauter than both rivals, whether the roof is up or down.
The ride is firm but well damped, so it isn’t crashy or uncomfortable. Plus, motorway refinement is good and the well insulated roof means wind noise is never an issue.
Opting for the dual-clutch DSG gearbox adds £1,300 to the price, but the manual control mode is good, while fully automatic mode is perfect for roof-down cruising.
So this latest GTI is a hugely talented car, overcoming the potential deficiencies a fabric roof and extra weight can bring to performance and handling. In fact, it drives just as well the hard-top version.
However, all this comes at a price. The VW is the most expensive car here to buy, insure and tax, plus the costliest company choice. It doesn’t have residuals to match the MINI, either. And we averaged a disappointing 29.5mpg during our time with the Golf.
Regardless of its price, the blend of style, quality and performance means this classy VW could be heading for victory.