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21 September 2011

Introduced to the US at the end of 2006, Volkswagen’s Eos was marketed as “The only hardtop convertible with a sunroof,” and VW touted its blend of year round usefulness and top down fun. While traditional soft top convertibles allow you the same ability to cruise with the roof down, enjoying the sunshine and warm breezes, that does presuppose that you live somewhere that affords you that kind of weather on a regular basis.The soft top convertible, to someone living in Southern California, is a thing of beauty. To someone living trough the snowy winters of the Northeast, an ice-encrusted soft top can become a source of endless headaches that preferably spends the winters inside a garage. The hardtop convertible, so the logic goes, is the ideal solution to this dilemma – it gives you the fun of a droptop on those nice days, and yet retains the utility of a hardtop when you need it.

eos executive 1

For the 2012 model year VW has given the Eos a facelift so it’s a good time for a second look, and what a second look it is. VW has totally revised the exterior look of the car, giving it a much more purposeful, masculine appearance. Gone are the single piece waterfall grille and teardrop headlights at the front. They are replaced by the split grille design that is the current standard across VW’s model lineup, which is now framed by a pair of taut, angular headlights. At the back end, a similar lift is given by changing out the rounded taillights for a set of angular LED based units. The sum of the changes has a startling effect – what was before something of a “cute little car” now has a tight, purposeful appearance. The Rising Blue Metallic paint of the example which has just been delivered to me is a rich, deep color that’s full of character and sets off the sharp body creases and black highlights of the Eos quite well. In fact, I think the only change I would make to the exterior appearance of the car would be to add VW’s newly redesigned bi-xenon headlights with their strip of LED running lights. On the Eos, those lights come only with the Technology Package (which also includes active cornering for the headlights, a headlight washer system, and a color multifunction display for the driver) that adds $1,185 to the MSRP, and which this example does without.

Even without the Tech Package, though, the Eos is extremely well equipped. It’s the top-of-the-line Executive trim level, which means that in addition to 18” wheels, it also gets a host of tricks such as park distance control, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, self dimming mirrors, a Dynaudio sound system, VW’s wonderful RNS-510 navigation system, heated leather seating, keyless entry and start, and a sports suspension. Of course, all of that pales in “cool factor” to the folding hardtop system itself. Watching the mechanized dance of the multiple roof sections as they slide forward and backward before the trunklid swings rearward and the entire stack of panels disappears smoothly behind the well fitting and sculpted covers simply never gets old. The car immediately becomes a showpiece for curious neighbors who are all amazed that “this thing is a convertible?” This becomes a repeated theme for my time with the car, as anyone who is unfamiliar with it is immediately both surprised and delighted when the top begins its synchronized ballet.

eos executive 2

Unlike some of our other staff members, I have in fact been issued an official press child who is more than eager to help test cars, and so after sufficient time playing with and showing off the folding roof, the decision is made – it’s time to pack the car and go on a family road trip. One practical bonus of having a convertible becomes immediately apparent when it’s time to install the car seat. Any parent who has ever had to put a car seat in any car knows the frustration of trying to put enough weight on the seat to settle it in to place, all while securing buckles, pulling on various straps, and trying not to whack the back of your head on the roof of the car while doing this within a confined space. This is all extremely simplified when you can simply drop the roof and stand upright in the back seat while engaging in the aforementioned buckle-and-strap combat. Likewise, placing the actual child in the child seat becomes a much simpler proposition when I realize I can simply reach over the side of the car and drop him directly in to the seat without having to worry about knocking the little guy’s head against the door frame.

Unfortunately, though, what is not quite as convenient as I would like is the sacrifice of trunk space which is made in return for that folding top. The very nature of the fact that you have a bunch of panels made of glass and metal that are stacked up under the trunklid while the top is down means that actual cargo space in the trunk is limited to a small area (6.6 cubic feet, actually) for which VW provides a convenient cover as a guide to what will fit in the trunk with the top folded. It is easily enough room for a couple of weekend bags, but as this is a family trip, some of our child-related supplies and other baggage end up stowed in the rear passenger footwells as well.

As we have a long highway slog ahead of us, I begin the trip with the top up, and this is where the Eos’ unique sunroof feature comes in to play. Since the entire center roof panel is glass, when I reach up and slide the sunshade back we are treated to a dose of sunlight. The open airy feeling from the large glass panel (much larger than a traditional sunroof) is quite pleasant. With the automatic climate control set to a comfortable temperature, we cruise off toward our destination. At speed I find that the car does convey the fact that it has a folding roof with a bit of extra wind noise, and although there is the occasional shudder in the top when crossing expansion joints, it’s nothing too serious. As I mentioned earlier, this car is equipped with VW’s RNS-510 navigation system, so we have a range of entertainment options as well – music can be played from an SD card, stored on the internal hard drive, played from CDs, or streamed from a mobile phone via Bluetooth. The interior appointments are of the high quality that is typical of VW products, which means that the car is a comfortable, pleasant place to pass some time. This comes in handy when we run up against miles of backed-up traffic due to a truck accident further up the highway. Fortunately, we’re near an exit so the navigation guides us around the tie up without any difficulty. Soon enough we’ve polished off the rest of the several hundred mile trip and I slip the car in to the garage for the night.

The next morning affords me the chance to do what I was thinking about over all of those highway miles the previous day- take the Eos out on some two lane twisties and see how it feels when driven with a more sporting intent. The engine under its hood is VW’s familiar 2.0 liter turbo four cylinder – the same engine also found in the GTI. Although it makes the same power in the Eos as it does in its hatchback cousin, it has 500 pounds more to move here thanks to the heavy roof mechanism and extra body reinforcements required of a convertible. This extra weight leads to a few moments of uncertainty the first time I try to push the car through some tight curves with the roof folded. With all of the panels stowed in the trunk, there is suddenly a good bit of extra weight at the rear which makes itself felt as some extra movement as the rear suspension settles in to a turn, and it’s an odd sensation. The front suspension loads up at turn in, and then there is a slight hesitation as the weight out back settles and the rear comes around a fraction of a second later. While it’s no rear-engined 911 threatening to bite you if you lift off of the throttle mid-corner, it does betray the fact that the Eos is set up by default to be a comfortable “sporty” car, and not one that you’d go out canyon carving in. When taken that way though, it’s an extremely satisfying car to experience, and a fine way to explore country roads that lets you have an experience of the area you’re driving through that you just can’t get in a car with a roof.

It seems that I am not the only one with that opinion, as my Official Test Child rapidly gets in the habit of asking me “Daddy, take the lid off of the car” as I strap him in, and he is soon giggling in happiness as the wind ruffles his hair. The rest of our vacation week passes all too quickly, but the Eos proves its worth as a daily drivable car in all sorts of weather, everything from beautiful sun to sudden summer downpours. It does some grocery runs and plenty of back road driving, and polishes it all off with panache. At the end of the week, there is another long highway drive, and then I am left where I started – standing in my driveway after watching the roof unfold from the trunk one last time and trying to decide what I think of the Eos. While it might not be as sporty (or as practical) as its GTI cousin with which it shares an engine, it certainly lives up to its role as a convertible that could be used every day year round. This, I decide, when combined with the exterior changes, make for a winning combination.

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