Something to smile about

7 January 2009

Eos is a word I struggled with, presuming it to derive from the Greek prefix, eo-, meaning dawn or beginning, particularly in relation to plant or animal life. Then I discovered Eos was goddess of the dawn, beloved by (rather too) many Titans, though it could also refer to a bankrupt airline or the European Orthodontic Society. None of these is an obvious name for a car, but it works. Its Greek origins suggest sunlight, appropriately for a convertible, there’s the ever-helpful misreading for Eros, it’s easy, memorable and effortlessly crosses linguistic boundaries.

In fact, the VW Eos is technically not a convertible, as the company points out. They call its five-piece steel and glass roof a CSC, because it’s a hard-top coupé with a sliding glass sunroof and a fully convertible metal roof. Press a button and the top of the car folds away into the boot and rear sides in 25 seconds without compromising rear passenger space. You can’t do it on the move but you can do it in pretty well any garage you can stand up in and it still leaves you with 205 litres of the total 380 litres of luggage space. If you don’t want to be completely roofless there’s the unusually large sunroof, but when you do you’ll have an open-top car that for looks trumps its Peugeot, Volvo, Ford and Renault competition. When Honest John, the Daily Telegraph’s eponymous motoring agony aunt, tested this car he was approached by a retired couple looking to replace their Peugeot 306 cabrio; he took them back to the dealership and they bought one.

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It looks so good partly because it was designed as an open-top rather than an adapted saloon, which also endows greater structural rigidity and superior handling. It’s a two-door, four-seater, in size between the Golf and the Passat with the former’s front suspension and the latter’s rear. In the two-and-a-half years since its UK launch, this market has become its third largest after the US and Germany. Despite our climate, we like open-top motoring — or perhaps because of it, in that a relative lack of sun may prompt us to make the most of what there is. That may also account for the peculiarly British desire for sunroofs in cars with air-conditioning.

It comes in four petrol options and one diesel. The test car I had was the latter, the two-litre sports model whose power of 140PS and torque of 236lbs.ft. yields a top speed of 128mph, 0–62mph in 10.3 seconds, combined mpg of 48.7 and CO2 emissions of 152. I can vouch for the low-range torque: leave it in first on tick-over and you’ll easily keep up with traffic in a slow-moving jam. I’ve had a number of VWs and liked them for their no-nonsense qualities, the impression of solidity, their engineering integrity and their drive and handling. To drive, the Eos is probably best of all. Granted, you’ll get sharper handling from your performance Golf but for real world everyday driving this car sticks to the road, doesn’t lose it at either end and feels it has more to give the more you ask of it. Roof up or down, it brings a smile to your face.

The six-speed manual gearbox is slick and precise (the alternative is the automatic DSG, a kind of pre-selector with two clutches that take it in turns to operate according to demand). The cabin ergonomics are simple and thoughtful — I even liked the touch-screen radio, unusually for one who generally prefers things with dials, knobs and handles to crank. Rear-parking sensors and screen display come as standard, sensibly because the high back means you can’t see much of what’s very close behind you. Front seats are properly supportive but a fully-grown adult wouldn’t want to spend too long in the back; there may be more space than in most open-top four-seaters but head and leg room are still limited.

Niggles: in high winds the alarm is too easily set off, in which case you have to disable the interior movement aspect. At an indicated 75mph the test car vibrated — probably an unbalanced wheel. Dashboard windscreen reflections are not bad, though you do see wing-mirror reflections to the sides which look rather endearingly like a pair of ears.

It looks better without its roof. With it, it’s a rising wedge with a high flat bootlid, like a number of contemporary cars — practical, effective, safe but not beautiful. On-the-road list price for this model is £24,423, though a quick glance at soon unearthed a diesel for £20,016. That still seems a lot of money for a small-ish four-seater, so who buys them? I guess it’s people who want wind-in-the-hair motoring with the reassurance of proper steel rather than cloth roofs, adequate rear seats, excellent performance and VW reliability. If I were looking for an open-top, outside the supercar league, this is the one I’d go for.

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