2007 Volkswagen Eos
2007 Volkswagen Eos. Click image to enlarge

By Tony Whitney

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Athens, Greece – It was a long time ago that the Ford Skyliner made its debut, but it was the sensation of its era with its novel convertible hardtop. But however much auto fans admired it, the Skyliner was never a strong seller and eventually disappeared for good after just three model years.

Perhaps the idea lingered on in the minds of car buffs and classic car enthusiasts, but even so, it was decades before the rebirth of this concept was jump-started by the first version of the Mercedes-Benz SLK sports car.

For many reasons, convertible hardtops offer the best of all motoring worlds. When the sun shines, they function as full convertibles with the top neatly tucked away. When bad weather threatens, the metal (or perhaps composite) top glides snugly into place and occupants have all the ambiance of a closed car with its weatherproofness, sound insulation and security.

2007 Volkswagen Eos
Click image to enlarge

Convertible hardtops have been largely confined to the upscale market, but the scenario is changing fast with several recent introductions. Quite soon, Volkswagen’s exciting new Eos will join the fray. I journeyed to Greece to drive the Eos and although the Sun was sometimes too hot to put the top down, there were still plenty of opportunities to take in a little bugs-in-the-teeth driving.

In Greek mythology, Eos was Goddess of the Dawn, though since the good lady was also worshiped by the Romans, VW probably had a choice of two venues for its international press launch of the car. Greece proved an excellent location to explore the capabilities of the Eos, and the Attica region, where we did most of our driving, has lots of winding, mountainous roads – even though some of them boasted potholes deep enough to throw a Kenworth off kilter.

The Eos is based on VW’s Golf/Jetta platform (I guess we should start getting used to “Rabbit/Jetta” now) and is thus created from a very sound design. It suits the Eos admirably, but must have presented the design team with a few challenges when the idea was first mooted. After all, a hardtop convertible was probably far from the minds of VW’s engineers when they penned the past few Golfs and Jettas. However, the versatility of the platform design has proved up to the task.

2007 Volkswagen Eos
Click image to enlarge

What VW has come up with is a very attractive product that meets the key demand of any convertible buyer – looking good top-up or top-down. I find these these convertible hardtop designs fascinating – after all, where on earth does the roof go when it folds into multiple pieces and just disappears? Of course, it ends up taking a chunk of trunk space away, but in the case of the Eos, not too much. In fact, you can still load and access quite a lot of gear when the top is down – more than can be said for many designs like this. According to Volkswagen, trunk space is 205 litres with the top down and 380 litres with it up.

2007 Volkswagen Eos
Click image to enlarge

The Eos is a clever piece of styling and doesn’t really look much like any existing VW product, despite its underpinnings. It even looks great from the rear – not always the case with four-place convertibles. Follow a PT Cruiser convertible for a while and you’ll see how hard designers have to struggle to get that “great from all angles” appearance. The PT, of course, looks awful, while the VW Eos is a delight to the eyes.

Folding the five-piece top takes a little while – VW claims 25 seconds. If you try and start off without the entire top tucked away, the whole complex process comes to a halt. This, of course, is a safety feature and is probably justified. Heaven forbid that we should have drivers jabbering on a phone, sipping coffee and trying to get the roof down all at the same time!

One feature that makes this VW unique, even among hardtop convertibles, is its sliding/tilting glass sunroof. This means that even with the top up, you can still get a bit of fresh air by opening the sunroof. This must give VW a competitive advantage in what is becoming almost a crowded market. Incidentally, the roof system was designed by Webasto – a company that has engineered many a convertible top for a variety of automakers over the years.

The engine we’ll get is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo developing 200-horsepower. I found this a delight, just as I did with the GTI, and coupled with the 6-speed manual transmission, my test car was more fun than could be imagined. Since the top forms a structural member of the car when it’s up, the body is just about as stiff as a closed coupe – adding to the fun content on winding roads. Even with the top down, the car is surprisingly stiff and flexing is quite minimal.

2007 Volkswagen Eos
Click image to enlarge

Europe will get a wider range of engines than us – including a V6 and a diesel – but I was so impressed with the drivetrain in my test car I can’t think of any reason to go for anything other than the 2.0-litre. VW builds some of the very best four-cylinders out there right now and its manual transmissions have improved tremendously over the years. The 6-speed in the cars I tested was up to BMW standards, which is really saying something. Incidentally, the V6 will be available in the U.S.

Of course, there will be an automatic with Tiptronic available and sadly, that’s what most buyers in North America will go for. That’s a pity, because the Eos infringes on serious sports car territory with the manual box. VW claims a zero-100 km/h time of 7.8 seconds for the 2.0-litre turbo. Top speed is given as 232 km/h, which must be a blast. It’s worth pointing out, by the way, that wind buffeting and noise was surprisingly low during one 160-km/h run down a Greek freeway (I never did learn to say “sorry officer” in Greek).

I tried one car with a diesel powerplant and it was only slightly slower than the 2.0-litre turbo – plus, it had excellent torque characteristics. If diesels take off in the U.S., as predicted, we may yet see a version of the Eos with this type of engine. Even if we don’t, VW must be congratulated for staying with diesels in Canada even when popularity was at its lowest ebb.

2007 Volkswagen Eos
Click image to enlarge

The cockpit is trimmed and laid out to VW’s current high standards and is in excellent taste – lots of soft-touch high-grade vinyl and matt-finished polycarbonate. It isn’t simply a carryover from other VW products, but has many new features of its own. I tried both fabric and leather seats and would go either way if I were buying one. Unfortunately, we won’t get the two-tone leather seats the Europeans will be able to opt for, which is a pity – they looked really sharp.

Obviously, the convertible hardtop is a major draw with this car, but anyone who bought one simply for its power characteristics and handling would be happy. In Canada, the car will be priced at a very competitive $36,990 MSRP – a figure which must be causing a few worried frowns over in Gothenburg, headquarters of Volvo which is asking $55,000-plus for its C70 convertible hardtop.

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