The Dawn of the VW Eos

Of the new generation of retractable hard-tops coming to market, the sporty, refined Eos is one of the most attractive--and well-priced

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Quickness, ingenious retractable hardtop with built-in sunroof

The Bad: Cramped, hard-to-access rear seat, blind spot

The Bottom Line: A sporty, refined convertible at a (relatively) low price

Up Front

There's a minor revolution going on right now in car design—and the new Volkswagen Eos convertible is at the forefront. Increasing numbers of cars are coming out these days with retractable hardtops, which give you the convenience and durability of a regular top during winter months and the option of al fresco driving when the weather is warm.

In addition to the Eos, General Motors' (GM) (see, 8/16/06, "Pontiac Converts")Pontiac G6, Mazda MX5 Miata, Volvo C70 and new BMW 3-Series convertibles due out next March all have retractable hardtops (see, 10/17/06, "BMW's Super Coupe").

The little VW, however, takes the trend a step further. The Eos' five-panel hardtop not only neatly folds back into the upper portion of the trunk at the push of a button, but also has a panoramic sunroof built into it. The sunroof is huge (the glass measures 17 in. by 38 in.), making this little car seem roomy and airy inside.

Pushing back the sunroof's cover also gives you an extra two inches of headroom up front. The only other car I've seen with this nifty combination is DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) Mercedes SL550, which costs $100,000 (see, 10/3/06, "Fast, Fun Flashy SL550").

If you're looking for a speedy, versatile sporty car that won't break the bank, the new Eos should be at the top of your shopping list. With the smaller of the two available engines, it's relatively low-priced but still extremely quick.

It's also nice-looking, and has a refined interior with a cramped (but handy) rear seat that makes it more practical than two-seater sports cars like the Miata, the Pontiac Solstice (see, 10/14/05, "Solstice: A Brawny Beauty") and Saturn Sky (see, 5/31/06, "Sky High").

The Eos even gets decent mileage: My test Eos 2.0T with an automatic transmission was rated to get 23 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway. In 371 miles of mainly highway driving I got 26.1 mpg—and I drove the car hard, so that's pretty good. On the downside, even with the smaller engine, the Eos uses expensive premium gasoline.

Both of the less expensive versions of the Eos, the basic 2.0 and the fancier 2.0T, come with a 2.0 liter (hence the names), 200 horsepower, turbo-charged, four-cylinder engine. The Eos 2.0 starts at just $28,620, but only comes with a stick shift and has no available options. However, it has a fair amount of standard equipment, including air conditioning, leather-like upholstery, alloy wheels, power windows, and heated outside mirrors.

The fancier 2.0T starts at $30,620 with a stick shift and $31,695 with a six-speed automatic and has some additional standard gear, including heated front seats, a power driver's seat, and a trip computer.

Major options include a sport package ($3,690) or luxury package ($3,490), either of which adds leather seats, and various upgrades such as a power-adjustable passenger seat, leather wrapped steering wheel, six-CD/eight-speaker sound system, and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters (with the sports package only). Á là carte options include a navigation system ($1,800), 18-in. alloy wheels ($400), and parking distance control ($350).

If you want even more power under the hood, the top-of-the-line Eos 3.2L, which starts at $37,480, has a 3.2 liter, 250-horsepower V6 engine. It comes with a sport-tuned suspension and 17-in. alloy wheels and has its own list of somewhat less expensive option packages.

For instance, the $1,400 technology package includes parking distance control and adaptive Xenon headlights (they pivot to follow the road through curves and turns).

A $650 sport package includes firmer suspension, 18-in. alloy wheels with all-season tires, and steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters.

The Eos is a niche model. Volkswagen only sold 2,072 units in the U.S. through October, the model's third month on the market, or about 700 per month. That's less than half the number of new Beetle convertibles the company sells in a month.

Nonetheless, the car is in high demand. According to the Power Information Network, the average Eos spends a mere 18 days on a dealer's lot before selling, the same quick turnover as GM's Pontiac G6, and only two days longer than Toyota's (TM) Scion tC. By contrast, the Subaru Impreza spends 48 days on the lot before selling, and the Pontiac G6 61 days. Like Business Week and, the Power Information Network is owned by the McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP).

Behind the Wheel

The Eos is small—173.5 in. long with a wheelbase of just 101.5 in.—but it weighs in at relatively heavy 3,569 lbs. with an automatic transmission. The extra weight is largely due to the retractable roof, but it doesn't slow the car down.

In fact, as is often the case with German cars, the Eos is faster than the company's estimates. Volkswagen says the 2.0T with either transmission will do 0 to 60 in 7.4 seconds but I got times as low as 6.8 seconds with the automatic transmission in manual mode. The turbo charger didn't seem to cause any lag during acceleration. VW estimates the 0 to 60 time for the 3.2L is 6.9 seconds, but Car & Driver magazine clocked it at 6.4 seconds.

For my money, the Eos' suspension, ride, and steering are just about perfectly tuned for the average American driver. The Eos has a firmer, sportier ride and tighter handling than the Pontiac G6, but it's still soft and compliant enough to be comfortable for everyday driving.

It doesn't have the road feel of a true sports car, but its ride is relatively smooth, even on bumpy back roads. Its front-wheel-drive should make it relatively sure-footed in winter driving. It also comes standard with all the electronic gizmos you find on a higher end car, including antilock brakes, stability control, skid control, and speed variable power steering.

The Eos's interior has clean lines similar to a Jetta's (it's built on the same platform as the Jetta and VW Rabbit). There are space-age oval shapes around the door handles, and nice-looking brushed aluminum accents on the dash and doors. The "cornsilk beige" leatherette seats with a black dash in my test car were quite attractive. The upholstery looked and felt similar to real leather.

Even during al fresco driving, the Eos' cabin remains relatively calm at highway speed. With the seat warmers on and the heat on a low setting, you're also surprisingly warm in the cabin on chilly days. If it's really chilly, you can keep the top up and crank open the sunroof.

Unlike some rival convertibles, the Eos has enough luggage space for weekend jaunts, even with the top down. Space is 10.4 cubic ft. with the top up and 6.6 cubic ft. with the top down, which is more than the G6, Solstice, and Sky. The advantage of having a rear seat is that it gives you extra storage space if you don't have rear passengers, and in good weather you can always put the top down and stow bulky objects in the rear seat. There's also a pass-through from the trunk to the rear seats for skis.

The car has a few downsides. Visibility out the rear window is limited, and there's a terrible blind spot over your right shoulder. The rear seat compartment is also quite cramped. There are no rear doors, and even with the extra-wide front doors, getting and out of the back seats is a chore for an adult. Rear headroom is listed at a mere 35.8 in. and leg room at a miniscule 32.5 in.

You also always have to wonder whether VW's quality is up to snuff. In J.D. Power's 2006 Sales Satisfaction Index, announced Nov. 15, VW came in below the industry average.

Then again, Toyota and Subaru came in below average, too, so VW has some good company in the lower half of the ranking.

Buy It Or Bag It?

The big attraction of the Eos is its retractable hardtop, which goes up and down entirely automatically in less than 30 seconds. And dollar for dollar, it may be the best bargain among cars offering that feature, especially if you need a rear seat. The Eos is quicker and more refined than the Pontiac G6, and a lot cheaper than the Volvo C70 (assuming you go with one of the versions of the Eos with the smaller engine). Also, no competing convertible in the Eos' price range has a panoramic sunroof built into its retractable top.

The good news is that the Eos 2.0 and 2.0T are so fast that there isn't much point to paying nearly nine grand more for the V6 engine in the top-of-the-line 3.2L. At just under 29 grand, the base model 2.0 is a real gem. The downside is that model's lack of options and the fact that it only comes with a stick shift.

According to the Power Information Network, the average selling price of the Eos right now is $34,340, an indication that most buyers are paying up for the Eos 2.0T, and adding some options to it. That's a lot for such a small car, but it's in the same range as a comparably equipped Pontiac G6 convertible, and around $10,000 less than a comparably equipped Volvo C70 convertible, which starts at just under $40,000. If either of those rival models interests you, though, be sure to comparison shop because Pontiac and Volvo dealers are offering discounts right now.

If I were buying an Eos—and I'd love to have one— I would try to convince myself to go with the base model. That wouldn't be hard for me because I prefer a stick shift anyway. However, if you want an automatic transmission, you're going to have to pay more for 2.0T, and if I got one of those I would want the sport package, too, to get the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. This is a fun car to drive, and that would add to the fun.

Of course, if you don't want a retractable hardtop, there are numerous cheaper alternatives. According to the Power Information Network, the Pontiac Solstice, a gorgeous two-seater sports car with a rag top, goes for an average of $27,273, while the Toyota-made Scion tC and Subaru Impreza, both sporty little hardtops, sell for an average of $18,238 and $22,303, respectively.

But before you buy a competing entry-level sports model, take an Eos out for a test drive. The retractable top really is a deal maker.

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