Retractable hardtops are nothing new. A few European exotics offered them in the 1930s, and the 1957-59 Ford Skyliner was probably the first mass-produced example of the breed. But Eisenhower-era Americans rejected the increased cost and complexity of the Skyliner, with many preferring to buy a lower-priced, standard cloth-topped Ford convertible off the same showroom floor.
Our standards of comfort have changed since then, as have our concerns about security. Lately manufacturers of expensive luxury roadsters have been offering more and more models with new, high-tech folding metal roofs. With the Eos, Volkswagen has delivered the first of these new-generation folding hardtops that most of us can afford. The Eos is the first modern European hardtop convertible priced under $30,000.
Even with the top down, Eos feels tighter than most older convertibles, with less cowl shake on rough roads. When it is raised, the glass top gives the Eos a unique appearance. And it's entertaining to watch it go up or down, a feat that can be performed by remote control.
Though it's a small car, the Eos seats four, and getting into the back seat is relatively easy. The interior is trimmed nicely, an area where Volkswagen excels.
We were more than happy with the 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 turbo 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 that decision can add $8,000 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 yet offers opportunities for top-down worship of the sun, the moon and the stars.
Volkswagen Eos Turbo manual ($28,915); Turbo automatic ($29,990); Komfort manual ($30,565); Komfort automatic ($31,640); Lux automatic ($34,990); VR6 automatic ($37,990)
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, 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. Eos shares its 101.5-inch wheelbase (the distance from the center of the front wheels to the center of the rear wheels) with the GTI and Jetta; while, bumper-to-bumper, the Eos measures about eight inches longer than a GTI and about six inches shorter than a Jetta.
The front of the Eos 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 Eos 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. A remote control on the key fob lets the owner raise or lower the roof while standing away from the car.
A feature of up-market models 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 lid rotates back some distance, and the roof rises a foot or more above the car's closed roofline.)
Obviously with the top down headroom is unlimited, but even with it up rear seat passengers will find it acceptable unless they are approaching six feet tall. Getting into the back seat is made much easier than usual; not only do the front seatbacks fold down, but the seat moves up off its 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.
So with the roof in place the rear seats are a trifle claustrophobic, although not that much worse than in most small coupes. The Eos is 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 rollover.
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 air vents are trimmed out with thin surrounds in brushed aluminum that set them off nicely.
Lux models are trimmed with a strip of walnut trim stretching across the lower edge of the dashboard; another piece covers the area ahead of the gearshift in the center console. The VR6 features nicely finished brushed aluminum trim in place of the wood. Leather upholstery comes with both Lux and VR6.
We found the navigation system worked well. Unfortunately it's not as easy to view the screen it should be when the roof is open, because the screen is not shielded from the sunlight.
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 cluster, 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 10.5 cubic feet of storage space, which is not bad for a sporty coupe. A retractable cover has to be latched in place before the top can be lowered, to be sure that no luggage or other items are intruding into the space where the folded top has to go. With this cover in place the storage space shrinks to 6.6 cubic feet, similar to that of a two-seat sports car. Think of that as the price for Eos' all-metal roof with a built in sunroof and glass rear window, and it's not too bad a compromise. When you go on long trips you'll probably need to keep the top up. A lockable door in the center of the rear seatback allows loading long items such as skis through from the trunk.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine produces plenty of torque, good for gentle cruising or more aggressive driving. VW claims the Turbo can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 130 mph.
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 opting for the VR6 model if you want the automatic. Volkswagen's V6 with automatic has been a delightful combination on other models and we expect that would be the case with the Eos.
Volkswagen's DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) automatic exacts very little penalty in fuel consumption. For four-cylinder Turbos with the DSG, city mileage is the same as for the manual model at 23 mpg; and highway mileage loses only 1 mpg, from 32 mpg to 31. VW publishes the same 0-60 and top-speed performance numbers for either transmission. With the V6 and DSG, fuel mileage again suffers only slightly, slipping to 22/29 mpg city/highway; but 0-60 acceleration is only a half-second quicker, and top speed is the same. So the main advantage of the V6 isn't so much higher performance as smoothness and flexibility with the automatic transmission.
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 its added weight and a less-rigid body, the Eos does not handle as well as the GTI. This is a high bar, however, as the GTI is so good it is almost in a class by itself. 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 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 provides 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 back there; it lessens 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 model with the sport suspension. 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.
Volkswagen Eos is 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.