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Expert Reviews 3 of 3
By Richard Truett
May 26, 1994
It looks like Volkswagen's recovery in the United States will be spotty. On one hand, VW has just launched the new Jetta III, a sporty compact sedan that delivers solid value, a full complement of safety features and snappy performance. That car
is selling well and is helping VW post some impressive sales gains after years of double-digit declines. On the other, however, VW misfired tragically with the 1993 Eurovan, a clunker of the first order that, after less than one year, already has been
withdrawn from the U.S. market. VW engineers are trying to figure out how to stuff a bigger engine under the Eurovan's hood so they can try again. The Jetta and Eurovan are at the extremes. The new Cabrio, this week's test vehicle, is somewhere in
the middle. The Cabrio, which is basically a Volkswagen Golf with its roof cut off, is not a great car. But it is not a bad one, either. In fact, with a more powerful drivetrain, the Cabrio could easily be a car with which one would have a
hard time finding fault. PERFORMANCE The Cabrio lacks brio. It is outfitted with a 2.0-liter single overhead cam four-cylinder engine that makes 115 horsepower. Although this is the same power plant I raved about just a few weeks ago when I
reviewed the new Jetta, I don't think it is up to the job in the Cabrio. Two things hurt the car's performance. First, the Cabrio weighs slightly more than the Jetta. And second, the Jetta I tested had a stick shift; the Cabrio came with an automatic
transmission. When bolted to a stick shift, VW's 2-liter engine is a wonderful piece of machinery. It spins smoothly and quietly up to 5,500 rpm and delivers excellent all-round performance. Yet when that same engine is mated to the automatic,
performance is dull and uninspired. According to VW, a Cabrio with a manual transmission can go from 0-to-60 mph in a respectable 9.9 seconds. But with the automatic it takes 11.9 seconds to reach 60 mph. And not only that, but the transmission, which
VW claims ''automatically adjusts to the driving style of the operator'' shifted roughly. If, for instance, you have a heavy foot, the gearbox should shift later, allowing the engine to rev higher and the car to accelerate quicker. This sounds nice in
theory, but our test car didn't change the way it shifted no matter how I drove the car. It slammed into gear from third to fourth and from fourth to third. It seemed to constantly hunt between those gears at about 40 mph before bumping in or out of
fourth. I probably would have enjoyed the Cabrio more had it been equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission. The automatic adds $875 to the price and subtracts much of the sporty fun you would have driving the car with a stick shift.
That said, I must report that fuel mileage was terrific. Our test car easily topped its 28 mpg highway rating; it delivered 32 mpg on a long road trip and 26 in th
e city in 414 miles of driving. HANDLING Although the Cabrio is outfitted with such things as four-wheel independent suspension and power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, don't think of it as a sports car. Instead, think of the Cabrio as a
cruising machine that provides a comfortable ride and relaxed performance. The Cabrio is easy to drive and it handles well in everyday driving. VW engineers made the Cabrio's body 20 percent stiffer than last year's model. The ride is a bit on the
soft side. And that's OK, because the engine and transmission are not geared for high performance. I found that the Cabrio's lazy acceleration works well with the suspension system. For instance, under full acceleration the car remains straight and
poised. The front end does not squat or dive during braking or acceleration. The power-assisted brakes, consisting of discs up front and drums in the rear, provide strong and fade-free stopping power. An anti-locks
stem is standard equipment. FIT AND FINISH Whatever the Cabrio lacks in acceleration , it makes up for in the quality of assembly and the thoughtfulness of its design. The Cabrio is a user-friendly and versatile car. For example, raising and
lowering the top is a simple,30-second exercise. After you unlatch the top from the windshield frame, you simply fold it back into a storage area behind the rear seats. A vinyl tonneau cover can be quickly snapped into place to hide the top, and it
gives the car a smooth, streamlined appearance. With the top down, you expose the Cabrio's built-in black roll bar. I like the way the roll bar looks, and I like the added measure of safety it provides. Should the car roll over in an accident, the bar
will prevent the driver from being crushed by the weight of the car. Speaking of safety, dual air bags also are standard. Inside, the attractive seats were firm but comfortable. The pastel-colored upholstery felt thick and durable. The Cabrio
sported a terrific air conditioner. It did a first-class job of cooling the car, even on days that the mercury soared to 90 degrees or more. Gauges and switches are generally easy to reach and use - except for the cruise control that is combined with
the turn signal lever on the steering column. This arrangement leads to a bit of fumbling when you set the cruise control. Window switches are lighted for easy use at night. Also, all four windows have an express-down feature; one touch of the button
and a window goes down automatically. If you should leave the car and notice that you forgot to raise a window, you can do the job by inserting the key in the door lock. By turning and holding it for a few seconds, you can raise or lower all the
windows. With the top up, rear vision is somewhat restricted by the rear seats, which extend up above the rear compartment that holds the convertible top. Even with the top down, you still have something of a difficult time seeing out the rear.
Even though the Cabrio is a little short on power, it's still worth a look. In fact, with a little more power it could have been one of the more memorable cars of the year. Truett's tip: Volkswagen has done a classy job in the reworking
of the Cabrio's interior and exterior. However, the 2.0-liter engine seems lifeless and the automatic transmission feels unrefined.