As an auto writer and photographer, I spend a fair amount of time traveling and often have the opportunity to take road trips in some pretty cool cars. I also field a lot of questions from friends, family and neighbors regarding what I think of a certain vehicle. It isn’t very often that I have the chance to combine a road test with a specific request. Knowing that I was heading to the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York state, it didn’t take too much arm twisting to get me to drive a drop top!
My ride to see Tony Stewart and Lewis Hamilton swap cars at Watkins Glen was the lovely Volkswagen Eos. I have to admit that I haven’t really paid much attention to the Eos over the past few years and didn’t really know much about it. Perhaps that is a good thing, because it meant that I was blown away by it on many different levels.
For some reason, I had it in my head that the Eos was a small, underpowered, 2 seat convertible that would be less than thrilling to drive. I don’t know where that notion came from, as nothing could be farther from the truth. Why don’t I address each one of those untruths individually:
When it comes to cars, not to mention other things, size is a relative consideration. With an overall length of 173.5 inches, the Eos is almost a full inch longer than a 1999-2004 Jetta.
The Eos is powered by the same magnificent 200 horsepower, 2.0L turbo that works so well in the current generation GTI that we love so much. Our tester was even equipped with the super sporty DSG transmission that helps the GTI sing on the race track. In other words, there is absolutely no lack of power here!
The Eos is a true 4 seater. Unlike many other 4 place drop tops, the rear seats aren’t just perches that are there for show. There is enough legroom that smaller adults can be comfortable back there.
This little technicality could be the most erroneous bit of misinformation that I had in my noggin, as the Eos is anything but a convertible. In the upright position, the hard shell roof makes the VW look very much like a notchback coupe. Press down the lever on the center console and the Eos makes like a Transformer character as literally a dozen or so panels open, lift, flip, slide and close in a well choreographed dance that ends with a beep as the rear deck settles into place.
Tucked in to the center of that console lever is a smaller button. Depress that button while the roof is in the upright position and the center portion of the roof slides open to reveal a nice sized sunroof for those days when the weather isn’t amenable to completely top down driving. This assembly is a marvel of engineering.
Unlike a more traditional convertible top, when the top is up there is nothing to indicate to passengers that this is a drop top. No drafts, no wind noise, no leaky seams, just peace and quiet. Around town, top down motoring is a treat for all 4 passengers. On most road trips, one might expect that there will only be a driver and maybe 1 passenger, meaning that the rear seat can be covered. With the windows up and the simple folding wind deflector in place, the cockpit is quiet enough to allow a phone conversation using the hands free bluetooth feature, even at highway speeds. This is the only drop top I’ve driven where this has been possible. That deflector also keeps loose items sitting in the back from floating off into space.
Less than thrilling to drive
I’m sure you know by now where this is going. The Eos’ chassis has been given enough structural stiffness that there was no cowl shake or body twist over any surface I encountered, and that includes some rural train tracks and parking lot speed bumps. That stiffness means that the drivetrain and suspension are free to do their job of getting the power down and carving up the country roads and they do that very well.
Few open air cars can be considered “utility” vehicles, which can also limit their use for road trips. At first glance with the top down, I thought that all of my camera gear and personal stuff were going to have to ride inside the car with me if I wanted the top down. With the roof taking up most of the space in the trunk, the actual cargo opening is rather small. Bend down and actually look in the cavern and you’ll see that it is a surprisingly big space. I was able to stuff in my camera bag, tripod, backpack and a small cooler and still had room on the way home for an oversize duty free purchase!
Perhaps my only complaint regarding the Eos was related to the DSG transmission. In the GTI, the DSG is offered with lightning fast paddle shifters, which make sporting driving uber fun. In the Eos, there are no flappy paddles, just a +/- manual shift mode. That made me sad. The reality is that few owners will be looking for a hyper performance experience from their Eos, so the flappy paddles would not help on the showroom floor. On the bright side, the DSG is renowned for its ability to help the turbo four attain decent fuel economy numbers. I was shocked to find that I achieved sub 8L/100 KM fuel economy, even with the cruise control set well north of the 65 mph limit in New York.
Our tester was a Comfortline model which will set the potential owner back $39,075 CDN which is a veritable bargain when compared to the other retractable hardtop models on the market. The only truly worthy alternatives on the market are the Volvo C70 and BMW 3 series which start at $54,495 and $57,300 respectively. Sure, there are soft top options which are closer in price, but if you want the year round comfort of the hard top, that is what you want. No, I haven’t forgotten the Chrysler 200, but somehow I don’t think these buyers are cross shopping traditional domestics.
Shoppers who are looking for a year round Eurostyle fun machine would do well to forget anything they think they know about the previous Eos and hustle down to their local VW store to go for a drive. They may just find that they drive away with a superior machine and 15 grand left in the bank!