A fellow resident at my apartment complex rocks a tangerine Mk 1 Golf Cabriolet with a cream roof. It’s in great condition, and if you were to look up the definition of the word “cheerful” in a dictionary, you’d probably see a picture of it there.
It’s also probably the most anachronistic car I see on a regular basis. Small convertibles are rare enough these days as it is, but the very concept of a small convertible derived from a hatchback feels even more out-of-place and alien in the 2020s given the American public’s preference for the exact opposite of all of those things.
The Golf Cabrio has always been an ironic proposition by its very nature. In removing the roof, Volkswagen effectively made the most practical car archetype in the world into the least practical. Little did I know that the base Golf Cabrio wasn’t even the zenith of this idea. Because between model years 2013 and 2016, Volkswagen actually made a convertible version of the Golf R.
Yes, the venerable Golf R — the top dog of VW’s hot hatch offerings, one of the quickest (and priciest) little grocery getters money can buy with four driven wheels to boot. The automaker produced a droptop version of it. If the Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet is the most pointless car of the modern era, I submit that the Golf R Cabriolet deserves runner-up designation.
For starters, it’s the smallest sliver of an already very small slice of what once started as a really big pie. You take the Golf, a byword for responsible, practical motoring. You lose the roof, eliminating its ability to carry tall things or, really, much of anything at all considering the lack of rear overhang. And what space was there now being used to store the top. Then, you make it fast — the honors in this case went to a 265-horsepower version of VW’s two-liter turbo-four. That in turn makes it pricey, which eliminates the Golf Cabrio’s value as an affordable gateway drug to open-top bliss.
How pricey? When it hit the U.K. in 2013, the Golf R Cabriolet cost £38,770. That translates to $51,500 by current conversion rates. For that money at the time, you could get two Miatas, or a bona fide, premium rear-wheel-drive convertible, like a base Boxster. In fact, in 2013 the Boxster started at $49,500.
In fairness to the Golf R Cabriolet, I suppose you could make the argument that at least it was all-wheel-drive, like its roofed counterpart. Except it wasn’t! Volkswagen couldn’t stuff that drivetrain into this version of the Golf R, again due to the lack of space. Instead, this was front-wheel-drive, just like a GTI. A 265-HP GTI with no roof.
On one hand, that predictably resulted in torque regularly yanking the steering wheel from your hands; on the other, losing two driven wheels kept the Cabriolet’s weight in check. Well, at least more in check than it would have been otherwise. Regardless, Volkswagen quoted a curb weight of about 3,400 pounds with a near-full tank of fuel, so this car was still a dwarf planet among vehicles with similar footprints, all things considered.
This mess of contradictions precipitated underwhelming sales (if you can believe it). After roughly half a year on the market, during which sales reportedly remained in the single digits, Volkswagen slashed the Golf R Cabriolet’s price to £33,170 ($45,000). It’s worth noting there was also a GTI Cabriolet — Volkswagen’s pre-Dieselgate hubris knew no bounds — and that started at a shade under £30K. I’ve tried to find out how many of these Volkswagen pushed out the door, but that information must’ve been kept on the down-low. How surprising.
Of course, the Golf R Cabriolet never graced our shores. But if you happen to live in the U.K. or Europe or a place where they were sold, I must know: do you ever see them around? Do you get goosebumps when you do? Better yet, do you know anyone that owned one? I have questions for them.