SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide
The Volkswagen Rabbit Convertible, the adored darling of the European soft-tops in the early eighties, has grown up and matured into the sophisticated, sprightly spirited Cabrio. First introduced in 1980 as the convertible rendition of the ever-popular VW Rabbit, it was renamed the Cabriolet in 1985. In 1994, as the illustrious Rabbit evolved into the second generation Golf, the German carmaker redubbed its convertible the Cabrio.
Driving this Cabrio topless on a gorgeous, crystal-clear, sunny afternoon gives you a peek into the lighter, not-so-serious side of this German automaker. The fun-factor X highlights your drive -- the car is lively, smooth shifting and crisp handling.
My memory red metallic test car is the Cabrio Highline version which uses a five-speed manual transmission partnered with a 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine. The 115 horsepower engine is plenty peppy and the manual transmission has that great smooth-shifting feel and throw that comes with most any VW you will own -- quite happily, it is distinctly Volkswagen.
This Cabrio Highline is front-wheel drive with a fully independent suspension using McPherson struts, stabilizer bar and Volkswagen’s unique track-correcting rear axle.
The interior is clean, uncluttered and simplistic. It features comfortable buff-colored leather sport seats that are padded . Matching arm rests, door panels, shifter and steering wheel complete this classy, tasteful looking package. The cup holders are placed in a so-what-if-i-spill position below the air condition/heater controls -- makes sense to me. The control knobs for the AC/heater, radio, headlights etc. are simple and slick and easy to use -- especially at night. The interior door lock buttons, however, are on the center of the dash which seems a bit of an odd location. And trunk space is pretty small -- might have to forget those golf clubs. But then again, with a ragtop -- no problem, just toss ‘em in the back.
A new addition to the 1997 Cabrio Highline is its sharp-looking black cloth top (with glass rear window and defogger). The manual roof uses simple latches that allow you to convert up or down in seconds. The Cabrio has a fixed, integrated roll bar that gives rollover protection, adds torsional rigidity for superb handling and control, and gives a spunky, scampish look. Exterior color choices are Tornado Red, Candy White or Black.
Other highlights include: seven-spoke alloy wheels, Premium II AM/FM cassette stereo sound system, CFC-free air conditioning, Volkswagen’s Protection Plus with a two-year/24,000 mile warranty and free scheduled maintenance for two years or 24,000 miles -- whichever comes first.
The convertible car business is booming once again with a varied and sundried litter of offerings. But none have quite the sweet-sixteen appeal of the VW Cabrio. Its ever-living, good natured personality and sporty, nimble, handling make it the long-lasting winner. Volkswagen is not in the business of fleet sales and does not contract with large car rental agencies. However, if you’re in the lucky position of heading to a sunny resort destination such as California, Florida or Hawaii, try to rent one at a specialty, boutique-type rental agency. They’re lots of fun -- you’ll want one.
GEARHEAD CHECKLIST: 1997 Volkswagen Cabrio Highline TYPE: Small Car Convertible SPECIFICATIONS: front engine, front wheel drive, 2-door, 4 passenger ENGINE: 2.0 liter in-line 4 cylinder, 115 horsepower at 5,400 rpm, 122 ft pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm CURB WEIGHT: 2,701 lbs. FUEL CONSUMPTION: City - 24 MPG Highway - 31 MPG PRICE AS TESTED: $22,450 FOR: loaded with fun-factor X qualities AGAINST: blind spot when backing out of parking spaces when top is up - small trunk MARY'S SCORECARD: We rate this vehicle against similar luxury sedans in four categories important to customers - plus a fifth category for relative dollar value. Maximum score in each category is 20 points. 1.COASTAL CURVES / HIT THE ESSES jack-be-nimble, jack-be-quick 18 points 2.SILICON VALLEY LOGJAM / THE COMMUTER'S BANE throw the top down & make new friends 18 points 3.THE FAST LANE / PEDAL-TO-THE-METAL 4-cylinder engine plenty peppy with good gas mileage 18 points 4.THE CITY SLICKER / STYLE & TASTE light & breezy look hasn't changed much but makes you want to drive it 18 points 5.THE 1997 BUYER / FACE VALUE VW lowered the price for 1997 - base model Cabrio is $17,925 18 points TOTAL SCORECARD TALLY: 90 points