Convertibles pose a stiff challenge to auto engineers: That is, how to keep ‘em stiff when you chop off the roof, which happens to be a vital structural member.
Ironically, droptops end up heavier than their fixed-dome siblings because of all the extra bracing the chassis needs underneath.
Front-wheel drive adds another design headache. FWD has to both pull the car along and force it through corners, which is a lot to ask of one pair of wheels. The car tends to understeer, to plow straight through corners; and power sent to wheels that are trying to change direction can make them squirrely. Torque steer, it’s called, and it’ll yank the steering wheel and chirp the tires. Engineers can minimize these problems, but they never go away entirely.
Pity the poor Eos coupe, then, which is both topless and FWD, and evidently was created by engineering students from VW’s folding-lawnchair division.
And yet on paper it has all the goods: a 2-liter, direct-injection turbo four that, with 200 horsepower and 207 pounds of torque, could fairly be called “spunky.” A high-tech 6-speed DSG (direct-shift gearbox) transmission that can change gears by itself, no clutch pedal required, and has a sport mode. All-independent suspension. A radio and satnav system with a biggish touchscreen. Parking distance warning. Airbags galore and the usual suite of active and passive safety equipment—ABS, ASR, ESC, LATCH and so on. Fog lamps. Heated windshield-washer nozzles. Tire-pressure monitors. Leather trim. High-intensity Xenon headlights and bright, fast-responding LED brake lights.
And let’s not forget the cool 5-piece steel and glass top: Activate the switch between the front seats and an array of electric motors whirrs to life, undoing latches and levering panels up and down and back and forth until the roof is folded away into the trunk and Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, has risen. The entire operation is neat and tidy, and it never fails to stop pedestrians in their tracks.
Folding hardtop convertibles aren’t rare any more, but this one is unique in that it has a spacious tilt-and-slide power sunroof built in, as well as a large, heated glass backlight. Stowing the roof eats up a great deal of room in the trunk. It also shuts off the dual-zone Climatronic heating & A/C system. (No sense trying to air-con the whole wide world.)
The cabin is small but comfortable, almost luxurious, and it reeks of VW’s trademark quality materials and careful assembly. On the highway, a 2012 Eos will run for 30 miles on a single gallon of gasoline, and in town it’s nimble and maneuverable. So where did VW go wrong with the Eos?
In the driving, that’s where. The Eos is based on the best-selling VW Golf, a righteous car by any standard, yet in gaining a convertible top, it lost so much more. Chassis rigidity, that is. Drop the top, and the car shudders even on smooth pavement, and it judders spastically over bumps. But the chassis is barely up to the job even when the roof is locked into place, which puts some stiffness back in. Two hundred horsepower is no longer a lot, but (especially with this rather touchy throttle) it’s enough to make the Eos squirm under acceleration and squeal its tires while the front wheels hop up and down and chatter.
So we lay off the gas and avoid the bumps and enjoy the sunshine, yes? But then there’s the price. At, say, 25 grand we could justify the Eos as a fun and nicely made little runabout with a way-cool, four-season pushbutton bonnet. But this car, done up in VW’s top-shelf Executive trim, stickers for $41,565! You’d have to really, really want that steel-origami roof. Me, I’d rather have my tongue pierced.