For a brief period in the automotive dark ages — the early 1980s — Volkswagen sold more convertibles than anyone else. Ragtop options were pretty limited then, in those years prior to Ford’s relaunch of the Mustang convertible and well before the Miata would reacquaint us with the roadster concept. The lowly Rabbit convertible (Golf cabriolet in the rest of the world) transcended class lines to put wind in the hair of many a fun-seeker, from high school cheerleaders to empty nesters. But VW abandoned the Golf-based convertible back in 2007 to make room for the more sophisticated Eos. Things haven’t been the same since.
The Eos, which shares components with the larger Passat, had all the ingredients for success as a four-seasons convertible, with its folding hardtop and unique integrated tilt-and-slide moonroof, not to mention a conventional trunk. VW even eliminated the quirky “basket handle” roll bar, a love-it-or-hate-it signature of the Rabbit/Golf convertible and source of a many an indecent assumption about the people who drove them. Yet for some reason, the Eos lives on in near anonymity.
So, how anonymous is the Eos? How about so anonymous that VW didn’t even bother to promote a significant refresh for 2012. Instead, the facelifted version showed up at the office with no fanfare, not even a modest press kit highlighting the changes.
Too bad, too, because the minor superficial updates really serve the Eos well. New headlights and grille are consistent with the updated looks of the current Golf, Jetta and Passat, and optional bi-xenon headlamps now include adaptive functionality, turning with the front wheels to lead the car’s path. A similar treatment at the rear incorporates new taillights with LED lighting elements. The changes sound minor on paper, but they give the Eos a more expensive appearance. If Mercedes built a small front-drive convertible, the new Eos would certainly be in its league.
Inside, the changes sound equally trifling, but the environment feels classier somehow. Material quality is among the best VW currently offers, falling just barely short of the Touareg. Automatic climate control and heated front seats are standard on all Eos versions, along with HD and satellite radio, iPod connectivity, and an effective windblocker. A push-button start has been added as part of the Lux model, which also includes real walnut wood trim and leather seating, as well as satellite navigation.
Power still comes from the venerable VW 2.0T four-cylinder making 200 horsepower, and the only transmission on offer is the six-speed DSG. In its default shifting mode, the gearbox moves you through the gears as quickly as it can, doing its best to plant you in high gear for efficiency. In its sport mode, getting a clean launch from a dead start can be tricky, as the turbo engine builds boost so early that tires want to chirp as it holds onto lower gears.
Where the 2012 Eos shows its economy car roots is in a few of the smaller details. Braking feel is virtually non-existent, a result of the low-dust brake pads VW has long fitted to certain US-spec models in an effort to appease J.D. Power survey respondents. There’s also a bit of cowl shake over less than severe road surfaces. Our only other wish would be a climate control setting optimized for top-down driving with the A/C on, such as in stop-and-go urban traffic.
When it comes to Volkswagen convertibles, the times sure have changed, and the company itself sends mixed signals at times. A new Beetle convertible will bow next year, and Wolfsburg has even trotted out a next-generation Golf-based Cabrio, though it’s not likely to come Stateside. For now though, the 2012 Eos is proof aplenty that VW still knows how to make a great all-season convertible for four people.