VW tests the market with questionable crossover drop-top
While removable roof versions of some cars do have a place in either the UK, or sunnier climes, highlights Iain Robertson, he believes that the German carmaker has exceeded itself, as the convertible version of the Range Rover Evoque has been an acknowledged flop.
Drop-tops are fun. VW wants to be perceived as a carmaker possessing a sense of fun. The company has good experience of removing the metal roofs of some of its models over the years, not least the Golf, which, to be fair, resulted in the very attractive Eos version that the company no longer sells. I am not normally sexist but this class of car is generally acquired by lady drivers.
Despite our maritime climate, convertibles have always been traditionally good sellers in the UK. Of course, there was a time, before being fashionable intervened, when convertible cars were also the entry-level versions of a product range. They were expected to leak. They were expected to shake, rattle and roll. They introduced compromises to their owners on various levels, culminating in USA safety commentator, Ralph Nader, removing a number of convertibles from the market, until their safety records could be radically improved.
In fact, even the 4×4 scene has benefited from drop-top/removable roof variants. Today’s latest Jeep Wrangler delights in its removable roof panels, while the Land Rover Defender always offered a canvas roofed alternative. However, it needs to be borne in mind that lopping off the top of a unitary construction (no separate chassis) hatchback, even a fairly compact example, such as the VW T-Roc, demands that extensive re-strengthening of the body-frame also takes place, which adds to the kerbweight, reduces performance potential, will harm overall efficiency and lead to an intriguing blend of shakes and rattles in later model life.
One of the worst examples of the cabriolet generation to ever hit our roads was the Ford Escort of the mid-1980s. It sold in decent numbers but its abundant lack of body strengthening meant that the roll-bar over the cramped rear seat area was little more than a sop to safety. Even brand-new, the car’s handling was atrocious and the trait of ‘scuttle shake’ made the use of the rear-view mirror all but redundant (it simply vibrated too much). The fact that less than a handful survives also suggests that the rest either succumbed to irreparable accident damage, or the dreaded tin worm, which had untrammelled access to moisture-enhanced nooks and crannies that Ford had never envisioned.
Volkswagen is highly contented that the T-Roc Cabriolet is a first-in-class and is really keen to gauge public opinion, when it debuts at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, September 12-22. In fact, I sincerely hope that the enhanced flexibility of which it boasts will not translate into torsional body twist characteristics, as many convertible models have endured in the past.
Yet, before delving into the available product information, however well-made VW may believe its newcomer to be, it is not really the most attractive thing on four wheels, is it? Turning a fairly anonymous hatchback into a droptop showpiece is not exactly going to win much accord from the Elle and Vogue set, which has already rejected the Evoque convertible, even (or, especially) with Posh Spice’s tenuous brand involvement.
While there is no visible anti-rollover protection on the T-Roc cabriolet, whether or not the canvas roof is lowered electrically into a space above the much-restricted boot area, a pair of ‘pop-up’ bars will emerge instantly, if the safe cornering tilt angle is exceeded, which will match the much-strengthened A-pillars that support the front windscreen. I can recall a slightly over-exuberant drive I had in a BMW 3-Series convertible a few years ago, on the A68 in Northumberland. With the car having ‘taken off’ on one of the road’s infamous ‘yumps’, the roll-protection was fooled into making an unexpected appearance, in the process emerging with explosive force, destroying the rear tonneau cover and leaving two motoring journalists in a most shocked state. Unsurprisingly, below floor and lateral strengthening of the T-Roc has been increased to provide a passenger safety cell in the event of a compromising crash.
Only two trim levels will be offered when the T-Roc Cabriolet goes on sale in early-2020; Style and R-Line, both of which will be familiar to owners of existing hard-top T-Rocs. The car pictured is in Style trim, with fabric seat covers and a body-coloured plank across the dashboard. The alternative trim features sportier cross-hatched leather seats, closely akin to the finish applied to RS versions of Audi models. Excellent quality ‘soft-touch’ moulded trim proliferates around the well-equipped cabin and the car features up-to-the-minute driver safety aids and connectivity levels. It is certainly a stylish proposition, regardless of trim chosen.
Powering the car is another VW tick-box affair, potential owners opting for the turbocharged petrol 1.0-litre, three-cylinder unit that develops a modest 112bhp, or the ubiquitous turbo-petrol, 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine that provides a zesty 147bhp. Both are front-wheel drive only, using a six-speed manual gearbox, although a seven-speed, twin-clutch, automated-manual option is available on the bigger unit. No performance figures have been announced as yet but you can expect the 0-60mph benchmark to be covered in 10.0s, or 8.7s, respectively and top speeds should be close to 115-125mph, while CO2 emissions and fuel economy will be only marginally greater than the hardtop versions of the T-Roc.
As it is a Volkswagen, you can expect that its build quality will be first-rate and that it will carry a price premium of around £3,000-£3,500 over the regular hatchback model, which will start the 1.0-litre in the region of £23,000, with the top version knocking on the door of £27,000. While the handling and road-holding are sure to be well resolved, I shall reserve opinion until a more comprehensive test drive has been undertaken.
Would a T-Roc cabriolet be a good company car? No. Not really. Yet, it is a breezy and largely unexpected newcomer from VW that is sure to garner tremendous interest but it may stretch brand credibility a little, due to inevitable compromises caused by removing a substantial roof panel.