The 2014 Volkswagen Eos is a comfortable, fun-to-drive convertible with a luxury price tag — but the biggest problem is that it's not a luxury car.
When I first tested Volkswagen's hardtop convertible in 2007, it won me over with its peppy power and seamless power-retractable top. Fast-forward six years, and driving the Eos is like opening a time capsule: Apart from a light refresh in 2012, it hasn't changed much. Although it's still pleasant, one glaring failing stands out year after year: This little convertible will take a big bite out of your wallet.
A navigation system is standard on lower trim levels for 2014, and all Eos cars now come equipped with Volkswagen's Car-Net communication system. Like GM's OnStar, it provides roadside assistance, crash notification, stolen-vehicle location and vehicle health report services; it's free for the first six months. Compare the 2013 and 2014 models here.
Competitors include the BMW 128 convertible (which will be replaced by the 2 Series for 2014), the smaller Mini Cooper S Convertible and the larger Lexus IS 250 C; compare them here.
Exterior & Styling
Convertible styling usually falls into either the sexy or the sporty category, but not this one. The Eos is the sensible brown loafer in a closet full of shiny pumps. In fact, if you look at it from the front, it could easily be mistaken for a Jetta. While handsome, the Jetta falls far short of sexy.
One problem is that my test car wore Black Oak Brown Metallic paint — a strange combination of the two colors and an unfortunate choice for a convertible. Two elements add some polish, however: The rear end has a sleek look thanks to LED taillights and a streamlined trunk lid; it isn't too bulked up by the convertible mechanism. Midlevel Sport models look even sharper, with standard LED daytime running lights in front.
How It Drives
There's only one powertrain, and although I've long been a fan of VW's spunky turbocharged 2.0-liter, the shine has faded in this application.
The 2.0-liter knows how to bring the pep, but just as swiftly, the six-speed automated manual is a buzz kill, damping the brisk acceleration with lurching shifts. It's far from the least refined automated manual out there, but it still doesn't feel natural. When coasting to a stop in around-town driving, it's almost as if the car is dragging something — an uncomfortable sensation.
One other negative is that VW recommends premium fuel. The Eos is EPA rated at 22/30/25 mpg city/highway/combined, well below the Cooper S Convertible's 26/35/30 rating; other competitors use six-cylinders.
On the highway is where the Eos' strengths add up. Power delivery is smooth and snappy, and the steering feels crisp and nicely weighted. The ride is comfortable; the body feels decently rigid, with only minimal shudder over bumps. Body lean is also well-checked, with a more balanced feeling in corners than expected. I drove the Komfort model; Sport and Executive trims have a lowered ride height and a sport suspension.
Top up, the cabin's isolation was impressive, with low levels of wind and road noise. When the top is down, drivers can attach a flip-up wind-deflector screen to the front head restraints to block the wind. Since it rained during my entire test, I didn't sample the Eos with its top down.
The interior is nice, but with a price tag that tops $36,000, nice doesn't cut it. The cabin's design is clean and the matte chrome trim is upscale. The imitation leather seats look and feel high-quality, and there are standard heated seats for the driver and front passenger. Overall, however, there's just nothing special going on.
The most impressive thing is the power-retractable hard top, though it's not without faults. First the good: The five-piece top folds in just 25 seconds with a graceful, fluid action; a pull of a console-area lever puts it in motion. If you're not ready to commit to top-down cruising, the frontmost segment can be powered back to provide a large standard moonroof; VW says the Eos is the only power hardtop convertible with one.
Although the top looks seamless in operation, its actual seams were problematic during my test. After several days of rain, the driver's side A-pillar became drippy. Also annoying is the amount of clearance required to lower the top. The car's trunk lid pivots backward quite a bit to swallow the pieces; you might bump something behind the car if there's not enough clearance.
The front seat was spacious enough for my 5-foot-5 self in both headroom and legroom. In back, there's room for two passengers, and although head- and legroom were adequate for me, foot space was tight — the front seats are set pretty low to the ground. Shoulder space is also narrow thanks to bulky armrests molded into the sides of the car. Installing the aforementioned windscreen turns the four-seater into a two-seater.
Getting to the backseat isn't as much of a stretch as you'd expect. Pushing a button on the top of each seat quickly moves them forward; the opening to the back is decently sized.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The best thing about the Eos' controls is the many ways you can use them. The standard 6.5-inch touch-screen has intuitive audio and navigation menus with large buttons, but if you'd rather, there are also traditional buttons flanking the screen, plus a below-screen knob for toggling through the menus. Choices are good.
Bluetooth audio streaming is standard and easy to pair. Also easy to use are the clear climate dials and buttons under the touch-screen.
Cargo & Storage
Because of the top mechanism, the trunk is very heavy and, even by convertible standards, very small. By the numbers, the Eos' trunk offers just 6.6 cubic feet of space when the top is stowed, 10.5 when it's up. Top up, the BMW 128 convertible has 8 cubic feet and the Lexus IS 250C has 10.8. Only the much smaller Mini Cooper Convertible affords less, with just 6 cubic feet.
It may sound like a competitive amount of space when expressed as volume, but the way the Eos' trunk is designed prevents it from holding anything other than small items when the top is down. The amount of space needed to house the folding hardtop means a lot of the actual space is off-limits for cargo. Most of the usable space is under a rigid partition that must be in place to define the top's boundaries. Several labels indicate where you can't place luggage, leaving very few spots where you can.
Storage is also meager in the rest of the cabin. Although there are four cupholders (two in front, two in back), the only other storage space is a shallow cubby under the climate controls. The center console opens to reveal USB ports for mobile devices, but there's not enough room to actually hold your device. A standard backseat pass-through is useful, but accessing it is a clunky maneuver; rather than just folding down, you have to pop out a cover and then open the passage.
The Eos earned scores of good in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's front- and side- impact crash tests; it was not tested in other areas. The Eos has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Visibility is poor to the rear thanks to fixed outboard head restraints, a narrow back window and thick rear pillars. Forward visibility was fine for me, but taller drivers might find themselves with too much of the headliner in view.
A backup camera would do wonders for visibility, but you have to jump up to the top-of-the-line Executive model to get one; a park assist system is also standard on the top trim level. Click here for a full list of safety features.
Unlike other cars, convertibles are not federally required to have top tether anchors for installing child-safety seats, and the Eos isn't equipped with them, so installing a forward-facing child seat isn't safe. A rear-facing seat won't really work either, because the front passenger seat has to be moved all the way forward to accommodate it. The only child-safety seat that fits well is a booster.
Value in Its Class
The Eos' price is high for a car that's neither very sporty nor very luxurious. Base Komfort models start at $36,060; top Executive trims climb all the way to $42,560. The Lexus IS 250C is pricier, starting at $43,620, but it's also larger and imparts a more premium feel. BMW's sportier, more luxury-oriented 1 Series comes in at $38,125, and the more compact — and more exhilarating — Mini Cooper S Convertible (which comes only with a soft-top) looks like the bargain here at $28,945 (all prices include destination charges).
Volkswagen went to great (and successful) lengths to align the Jetta and Passat's prices to consumers' tastes. Not so with the Eos, and sales are suffering. Through October, VW had sold just 3,718 of them in 2013, down 33 percent from year-ago levels.
The bottom line is that the Eos is a pleasant car, but shoppers in this price range have lots of other choices, including premium brands and upscale features. "Pleasant" is likely not enough to woo them.