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6 June 2006

In Greek mythology Eos was the goddess of Dawn. She apparently had a “fling” with Ares, Aphrodite’s lover and as the story goes Aphrodite (none too pleased with Eos) put a curse on her essentially turning Eos into a nymphomaniac(!). Eos then reportedly “fell in love” with a series of mortals and eventually married the Wind God Astraeus – thus the connection with Volkswagen historically naming cars after winds like Scirocco and Passat. And if you buy into the mythology, well then Eos was a bit of an unlucky tramp.

eos rightVolkswagen’s Eos also likes a good time, preferably topless which is just fine with us. After the Concept C and the unveiling of the Eos at Frankfurt last year, we were finally able to get our hands on a production version and an opportunity to drive it along the Aegean Sea coastline in Greece. While our drive time was limited to about eight hours, we covered a lot of territory over a wide variety of winding coastal roads and severely potholed city streets and came away impressed with the overall package Volkswagen has put together.

The Eos shares its major components with the current Golf/Jetta/Passat platform. With Volkswagen’s past history in “platform” sharing some clarification is in order. Basically with component-sharing Volkswagen is utilizing a shared set of engines, transmissions, plug-and-play electrical systems, HVAC systems, suspension designs, brakes and more. However the chassis itself is unique to the specific vehicle and only needs to conform to the space requirements of the shared components. This flexibility allows Volkswagen to keep development costs down on different models by sharing common pieces, but also gives them flexibility in building unique individual models like the Golf, Jetta, Passat and Eos. With this in mind, the Eos is currently the highest evolution of the Golf V component platform at Volkswagen. Everything learned from the Golf, Jetta and Passat has been carefully integrated and in most cases improved in the Eos.

silverThe Eos sits on a 101-inch wheelbase (same as Jetta V) with an identical width to the Passat and an overall length of 173 inches (vs. 179 for the Jetta). The proportions look pleasing in person as the shorter overall length and gentle curves make the car look significantly wider than the Jetta. With the roof up the Eos does a convincing coupe imitation. Volkswagen engineers explain in great detail that they concentrated on making the side roof rails longer than most folding hardtops to make the A-pillars shorter (and thus not planted in driver and passenger’s foreheads) and get a more gradual curvature to the rear roof line. Combined with a sloping rear window line, the Eos has more of a coupe-like profile instead of the more common awkward upright rear convertible roof. Outside of a few seams and larger trunk panel gaps to accommodate the clamshell trunk, the overall roof design itself is very clean and few compromises were necessary as compared to most folding hard tops.

To further differentiate the Eos roof, Volkswagen also incorporated a sunroof into the design, a first for a folding hardtop convertible. The overall roof is actually five sections – the sunroof portion, the siderail portion, the rear window section and two b-pillar sections that only move slightly to make things more compact. The sunroof portion is quite large – make that huge – filling in the entire space between the windshield header, both side rails and back to just behind the front seats. To help prevent any wind buffeting noise there is a newly designed windblocker that uses a mesh screen fabric over a plastic frame that pops up from the windshield header and stands about two inches high. This blocker completely wipes out any wind noise or buffeting in the interior and reduces noise to an easy conversation level. The sunroof includes a tilt-open function and an inside sliding sunshade finished so cleanly that you would never know this was a convertible top.

Speaking of the top, the biggest surprise is just how quiet the interior is with the roof up. In fact you’d be hard pressed to know this is a convertible at all. Even over the some of the worst roads in Europe, the Eos top didn’t squeak, rattle, shake or give any indication that its multiple roof parts would let themselves be heard. The interior headliner looks very similar to the Jetta or Passat – VW wanted the Eos to feel like a regular hardtop coupe when the roof is up and they have succeeded.

The seats are supportive up front with 12-way power adjustments on the cars we drove. We had no problem finding a comfortable driving position between the seats and the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. The rear seats aren’t bad – adults could ride for short distances comfortably with shoulder room being the main problem because of the roof mechanism. Outward visibility is great, particularly with the coupe profile removing the typical B-pillar blindspot. The rear window is real glass with built-in electrically heated defroster as well. The rear-most roof pillars can provide minor blind spots when backing up, but the large (for a convertible) rear glass helps minimize problems.

Overall I prefer the look of the Eos interior over the current Golf/Jetta/Passat derivatives. The dash is a mix of Passat and Jetta with clean lines and unique ventilation outlets surrounded by brushed aluminum accents. Our test car came fitted with navigation which moves the standard in-dash six-disc CD changer to the center console. Both the convertible top and sunroof controls can also be found in the center console. Exterior styling is evolving and the bold headlamps mesh well with the front grill work pulling off the newer VW “face” better than any of the other current offerings.

Push the aluminum roof control down and a number of whirring motors quietly start a mechanical symphony of trunk lid opening, wings folding, roof layering and more as the roof slides over itself and folds neatly into the trunk – from start to finish the whole process takes around 25 seconds. If you stop the process at the mid-way point and take a look at all the exposed bits, it can be a bit scary to contemplate the operations involved – and scary to think about servicing it. We asked the engineers from VW in charge of the roof mechanism about the complexity and they assured us that it is much less complicated than it looks. In the event there is a problem, the roof has its own electronic control unit (ECU) that is tied into the diagnostic systems and tells the service people exactly what particular part is malfunctioning. Worst case, the entire roof mechanism can be replaced “fairly easily” (whatever that means) as a single unit and Volkswagen plans to have replacements available if need be.

Volkswagen’s engineers worked closely with Webasto on the design of the roof system and thousands of hours have gone into testing the durability of the system – more than 10,000 cycles of the roof were made in everything from -25 degree cold to 100+ degree heat. VW has exclusive on this roof design for an undisclosed amount of time, at which point Wabasto can offer it to other manufacturers, according to VW. Overall the VW people involved in this project are pretty darn confident about the reliability of the system. (continued…)

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Drop the top and the Eos transforms into a different car, with wide open views and a different character than with the top up. Overall wind noise and buffeting with the top and windows down isn’t too bad. Roll the windows up and it improves quite a bit. Put the convoluted folding wind blocker in place between the rear seats and wind buffeting virtually disappears – no worries about messing your carefully coiffed dew (if that’s important to you or your significant other). With the top up the Eos has a rock solid chassis – typical front drive understeer at the limits with the rear tires rotating slightly if you lift-off the throttle mid-turn. The ride is more on the plush side than the sporty side which is good for this type of car. Roll is minimal and dive and squat is neatly reigned in so the Eos still feels sure footed. On the twisting coastal roads along the Aegean Sea the Eos goes from turn to turn with reassuring predictability doing nothing outwardly that would prevent you from pushing it further. At 9/10ths the Eos exhibits a fair amount of understeer, but actually rotates the rear end a bit if you lift the throttle mid-turn – moreso with the top down as we expect the weight distribution shifts rearward.

With the top down the car seems to lose a little of its overall rigidity and some cowl shake visible in the A-pillars and steering wheel starts to set in over rough roads. All convertibles have some cowl shake over poor roads since the fixed roof is missing and the longer four-seat models seem more prone to it than two-seaters. We recently tested the new Volvo C70 (another similar four-seat folding hardtop convertible) and found both vehicles to be similar in terms of cowl shake – subjectively we’d rate it as minimal.

U.S. Eos models will be divided into three model lines. A Base 2.0T model, only available with a manual transmission and little in the way of options, starts at $27,990. The next level up is a Package 1 Eos 2.0T($29,990) that includes leather steering wheel, shift knob and hand brake handle, automatic headlamps with coming home feature, dual-zone climatronic, 12-way power driver seat with adjustable lumbar support, heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, windblocker, center armrest and trip computer. Volkswagen’s innovative DSG six-speed automatic is optional at $1,075.

From here we have to give Volkswagen of America some credit for offering either a luxury or sport option path with Package 2. Package 2 cars include everything from Package 1. The Package 2 Luxury models include leather seating, leather wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel, wood trim, rain sensing wipers, premium sound, Sirius satellite radio prep, auto-dimming mirror, 12-way power passenger seat with adjustable lumbar support, and 17″ LeMans alloy wheels with 235/45R17 all-season tires. If you opt instead for Package 2 Sport, you get leather sport seats, leather wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel, brushed aluminum trim, rain sensing wipers, premium sound system, Sirius satellite radio prep, auto-dimming mirror, 12-way power driver and passenger seats with adjustable lumbar support, sport suspension and 17″ Avignon alloy wheels with 235/45R17 all-season tires. Stand alone options for the 2.0T Package 2 cars include 18″ Samarkand alloy wheels for $400, a fantastic Dynaudio premium sound system for $1,000, DVD-based Navigation system for $1,800 and Park Distance Control for $350.

The Eos also has the distinction of being brought over to the U.S. market with the same ride height as the German-specification model. Further, the optional Sport Package includes stiffer shocks and springs and increased rollbar diameter front and rear, identical to the European Eos models. Kudos to VW for bringing it over intact and resisting the urge to dilute the original formula.

2.0T models will start arriving in dealers in August and September with a formal market launch in the U.S. on Labor Day weekend. Later in the fourth quarter of this year a 250-hp 3.2-liter VR6 model will be added to the lineup. All 3.2 models will include Package 1 equipment and DSG standard, starting at $36,800. Package 2 Luxury and Sport packages are the same as the 2.0T above with an 18″ wheel upgrade included in Package 2 Sport in the 3.2 VR6. An additional “Technology Package” option is available on the V6 models that includes Park Distance Control and Bi-xenon headlamps with AFS (Advanced Frontlight System – steerable headlamps that turn left and right slightly when the steering wheel is turned left and right) for $1,400.

The Eos’s main competition here in the U.S. will be Pontiac’s G6 Convertible and Volvo’s C70 Convertible, both with folding hardtops and similar objectives but different executions. While the Eos undercuts the Pontiac G6 Convertible in base price ($27,990 vs. $28,365) the Pontiac includes a 217hp 3.5l V6, automatic transmission and more standard equipment topping out at around $32,000 fully loaded. The G6 is clearly the bargain leader in this group. The Volvo on the other hand starts at $38,710, is slightly larger than the Eos, but only offers a 218hp 5-cylinder turbo with no V6 option. Fully loaded it comes to an eye-watering $47,795 sticker price.

Overall we like the Eos a lot. More of a boulevard cruiser than the GTI, the Eos is still fun to drive, feels very solid and well thought out, and it provides the best of both a hardtop coupe and a full-convertible with seating for four. In the marketplace, the Eos finds itself in good position compared to other folding hardtop convertibles and we think it will attract a number of new owners to the VW fold.




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