Not every concept car built for Volkswagen's annual fan festival in Worthersee, Austria, is disconnected from reality like 2007's 12-cylinder, all-wheel-drive uber-GTI. At last year's event, VW rolled out a realistic-looking GTI concept in drop-top form. So real, in fact, that the automaker is rolling out a production-ready version called the Volkswagen GTI Cabriolet at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show.
Admittedly, the legwork needed to push a GTI Cabriolet into series production is quite minimal. The heavy lifting had already been done -- last year's launch of the Golf Cabriolet meant structural engineering was squared away, and the former Karmann factory in Osnabruck, Germany, had already been retooled for the new product line. Subsequently, creating a GTI Cabriolet out of an existing Golf Cabriolet is no more difficult for VW than turning any other Golf three- or five-door into a GTI hatch.
The Worthersee GTI Cabriolet concept boasted a thin black chin spoiler, along with matching fender flares and side skirts, but none of these parts are seen in the production car. The new GTI Cabriolet wears the same bespoke grille insert, lower front fascia, rocker sills, rear diffuser, and wheels -- your choice of 17-inch "Denver" or 18-inch "Detroit" patterns -- as its hatchback siblings. We suspect the Cabriolet may look a little lower once its convertible top is raised, thanks to a sleeker roofline and a raked windscreen.
Interior amendments are also typical GTI fare. A flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard, as is a unique steering knob, brushed stainless steel pedals, and red accent stitching for the steering wheel, shifter, and parking brake handle. Front sport seats are standard, and are trimmed either in the iconic plaid-on-black fabric combination or optional black leather.
Mechanically Identical In More Ways Than One
Structurally speaking, the GTI Cabriolet isn't much different from the existing Golf Cabriolet. Both models receive additional reinforcement -- including lateral braces in the sills, a beefier rear subframe joint, and four diagonal braces -- in order to accommodate the lack of a fixed roof. The signature roll bar of prior Golf Cabriolets is no more. Instead, VW provides rollover protection by means of a reinforced windshield header and pop-up roll hoops located just aft of the rear seats.
Surprisingly, when it comes to powertrain, the GTI Cabriolet isn't that far removed from its Golf cousin. As is the case with other European-spec GTI models, a turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 whips up 207 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque - but that very same engine is offered in the Golf Cabriolet in an identical tune. The GTI's edge appears to lie in its driveline. While the Golf is available only with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the GTI is also offered with a row-it-yourself six-speed manual. GTI models also benefit from stiffer suspension tuning, thicker anti-roll bars, and Volkswagen's brake-based XDS electronic limited-slip system.
There's A Catch
If a vehicle that mixes the fun of a GTI with the fun of open-air driving sounds too good to be true, you won't be surprised to learn the GTI Cabriolet forces owners to compromise. Predictably, space is at a premium, especially aft of the front seats. Rear passengers will find themselves with nearly three inches less legroom, along with about five inches less headroom once the top is raised. Trunk space, at 8.8 cubic feet, is nearly half that of the GTI hatchback, although that figure doesn't decrease once the top is stowed. Additionally, the folding top and its requisite reinforcements add around 330 pounds to the GTI's curb weight.
Arguing the pros and cons of the GTI Cabriolet is ultimately a moot exercise, at least for those of use who reside in North America. Like the Golf Cabriolet it's based upon, VW has no plans on bringing the GTI variant to our shores. Instead, the Osnabruck production line will supply only Volkswagen's European dealers, who expect to receive the car in early summer.
2012 Volkswagen GTI Cabriolet
On sale: Summer 2012 (Europe only)
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged DOHC I-4
Power: 207 hp @ 5300-6200 rpm
Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1700-5200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Wheelbase: 101.5 inches
Length x Width x Height: 4246 mm x 70 in x 56 in
Curb Weight: 3413 lbs (est)