When it comes to convertibles, there are two kinds of people:
Those who love even the rattiest ride on four wheels, as long as it enables them to drive with the sun on their face and the wind in their hair.
And those who demand that the top be raised before you even leave the driveway because the wind might mess their “do.” They wouldn’t drive with the top down even if Vidal Sassoon was in the back seat.
The feeling of the wind in my hair turned into a scalp massage several years ago, but I still love convertibles. They turn bumper-to-bumper traffic jams into sunbathing opportunities. They make routine trips to the grocery store fun excursions. And they bring a whole new meaning — and vantage point — to leaf-peeping.
But convertibles can also have a dark side, and I’m not referring to what happens when you find yourself on the interstate with the top down and thunderclouds mushrooming all around. Convertible tops can be clumsy to operate and sometimes cause poor visibility and a noisy and choppy ride.
If you drive a convertible in a major metro, you’re easy prey for any thief with a pocketknife.
But technology is changing that. Although many current convertibles still rely on conventional soft-top designs, there is a growing crop of hardtop convertibles. The most affordable with five-place seating is the 2012 Volkswagen Eos I recently tested.
For just shy of $34,000, the Eos eliminates virtually all of the conventional convertible kinks while delivering joyful open-air motoring at the touch of a button. No kidding. Simply push a button and the Eos’ hardtop separates into five pieces and deftly deposits itself in the car’s trunk.
There’s no muss and no fuss. No pins to align, no latches to latch. And even in the most unexpected downpour, you’ll be doused for no more than 25 seconds. That’s about how long it takes to fully raise or lower the top.
One caveat, however: Unlike some other convertibles, the Eos’ top won’t budge if the car is in motion. That means you can’t open or close it while creeping down your driveway or rolling to a stop at the side of the road. Of course that’s likely to matter only to anal convertible owners who are incredibly impatient or have previously gotten caught in an unexpected downpour.
With its top up, the Eos is as quiet and weatherproof as a conventional coupe. Its large rear window with electric defroster makes life with the Eos more pleasant than with most soft-top convertibles. And there’s no need to worry about pocket knife-packing punks.
Wait, there’s more: VW claims Eos is the only hardtop convertible with a built-in sunroof. I initially scoffed at that claim. Who needs a small hole in the roof when the entire roof disappears?
But VWs clever engineering makes Eos’ sunroof special and appealing. That’s because it creates a massive opening that extends from door to door and from the top of the windshield to just behind the front-seat passengers.
It’s more like a removable “targa” top than a typical sunroof porthole. It’s a great alternative to the full convertible experience on spotty days.
The Eos and its great top have been around since the 2007 model year, but there are some major changes for 2012. One is that a high-tech, six-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual override is now standard on all Eos models. Keyless entry also is standard this year. Other changes include new interior trim and a redesigned exterior that reflects Volkswagen’s new corporate look (say goodbye to the “shield” grille).
Eos is offered in three trim levels: Komfort, Lux and Executive. Even the least expensive Komfort model includes premium extras such as heated door mirrors, windshield washers, eight-way power adjustable heated seats, eight-speaker audio system with iPod and Bluetooth interfaces, and a dual-zone auto climate control that adjusts for the top’s position
The Lux adds leather upholstery, a navigation system, keyless ignition, automatic wipers, parking sensors, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
A top-of-the-line Executive such as the one I tested also gets an upgraded sound system, sport-tuned suspension with 18-inch wheels, genuine walnut trim, and a 10-speaker audiophile sound system.
Also standard on every Eos is Volkswagen’s refined interior and spirited performance. With its top down, the Eos exhibits a bit of body shake on choppy roads — typical of many convertibles — but otherwise handles crisply and is fun to drive.
Its turbocharged, 200-horsepower engine delivers decent mileage and has plenty of pep. So much so that the wheels would spin if I wasn’t gentle on the throttle when traffic lights turned green.
If the green in your wallet is a priority and you’re a convertible lover like me, take a close look at Eos. Its refinement, performance and features, along with its slick drop-top, make it an attractive alternative to pricier luxury brand hardtop convertibles.
Scott Wasser is executive editor of MaineToday Media. He writes a weekly auto column for the Sunday Telegram and other newspapers. He can be reached at