What's the used Volkswagen Golf sports like?
Back in the 1980s, the chic VW Golf Cabriolet was almost as iconic as the filofax, and it provided the aspirational motoring masses with high-quality, drop-top motoring. The fun lasted until 2002, when dwindling sales rather put paid to things, but with the re-emergence of the desirable Golf in competent Mk5 form in 2005 the good money was always on another cabrio version turning up again sooner or later. In fact, we had to wait until 2011 for this car, but turn up it did, once again offering all the good things we’d come to love in the regular Golf and then adding in the extra glamour of a soft-top.
You could initially choose from a healthy range of engines too, with four petrol units, comprising the 1.2-litre TSI 104bhp, two 1.4-litre TSIs in 158 and 120bhp variants, and a more high-performance 2.0-litre TSI with 207bhp, all complemented by two diesel engine options, a 1.6-litre with 104bhp and a 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI version.
There were initially three trim levels available, with S, SE and GT on offer. A GTI version was also available, and from 2013 even an R Cabriolet was briefly sold in limited numbers. Standard kit from the S model included 16in alloys, a DAB radio, climate control, Hill Climb Assist, reach and rake steering adjustment, electric door mirrors, height-adjustable seats and Bluetooth. There are plenty of optional packs to choose from including the performance pack that comes with extra details such as stainless steel pedals and exterior chrome details or technology pack with auto windscreen wipers and auto headlights. The R is distinguished by a gloss black grille and rear diffuser, side sill extensions, tinted light clusters and 18in alloy wheels, with 19s as an optional extra.
On the road, the 105bhp 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol is a good performer, and it will power the car to 62mph in 11.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 117mph. The 158bhp 1.4-litre turbo gets the Golf to 62mph in 8.4 seconds and a top speed of 134mph while the 2-litre turbo from the Golf GTI really shifts. The biggest seller – thanks to a good combination of performance and economy – was the 1.6 TDI. Developing 104bhp, it could reach 62mph from rest in 12.1 seconds and go on to a 117mph maximum.
The Golf Cabrio is a surprisingly refined car, too, much like the regular hatchback. It remains so whether the roof is up or down, an operation that can be completed in just nine seconds. It also rides well, although the lower GT and GTI models do thump into potholes and road irregularities, and the overall effect can be quite jarring. The flip side of this is that it steers and handles really well, with nicely weighted steering and a taut chassis. Keen drivers will like it. The six-speed manual and the seven-speed automatic gearboxes are both smooth and work well.
Inside is a roomy interior of typical Golf quality. The dashboard is built from upmarket-feeling materials and is laid out almost ideally, with all the major controls right where you need them to be. The driving position is multi-adjustable and visibility very good, despite the folding roof obscuring a little to the rear.
For many years the Golf Cabrio ran alongside its sibling the Eos, a folding hard-top convertible that was good and solid to drive but weighed in heavier than the Golf, despite sharing most of its oily bits. Alas, a fall in demand for convertibles generally saw the Golf Cabrio’s life end in 2016, with VW instead pointing buyers towards its Beetle Cabriolet.
Advice for buyers
What should I look for in a used Volkswagen Golf sports?
VW had largely sorted out the most expensive of its DSG automatic gearbox problems before this generation of Golf was launched, but there are still some early cars with which problems have been reported, so make sure the gearbox changes smoothly and there are no signs of temperamental behaviour.
Timing chains fitted to petrol engines have been known to snap prematurely; this can cause significant engine damage but can be mitigated by having the car serviced on time. This means a full service history is critical.
Faults with the navigation and entertainment system, as well as other electrical niggles, have been reported on some models, so it’s worth checking that all the electrics work as they should.
What are the most common problems with a used Volkswagen Golf sports?
Lights may fail without warning
An issue with the programming of the on-board supply control unit means the driver may not be warned of a light bulb blowing. It’s also possible for a message to pop up suggesting there’s a fault when there isn’t. The dealer is to install new software to fix the problem.
Passenger air bag
Due to a faulty weld in the gas generator used in the air bag assembly, there’s a potential for parts of the assembly to break off and cause injury to occupants. Affected vehicles are to have faulty items replaced.
Air bag and seat belt tensioner
Some examples may have an issue with either the air bags, seat belt tensioners, or both. Due to an error in the manufacturing process, these may not trigger correctly in a collision, affecting passenger safety. Affected cars will need to have all faulty air bags and seat belt tensioners replaced.
A tooling issue at the factory meant that some examples were fitted with engine cylinder heads that were not produced to the correct specification. This then lead to an issue with the fuel rail loosening over time and allowing fuel to leak, with the potential for an engine fire.
Front wheel bearing housing
The front wheel bearing housing on a small number of Golfs might not have been manufactured correctly and could potentially fracture. Your Volkswagen dealer should be able to check the casting date to find out if your car is affected and let you know whether replacements are required.
Incorrect front brake discs fitted
Some Golfs might have been fitted with front brake discs that are not of the correct thickness, which could crack under extreme circumstances. Contact your local Volkswagen dealer to check if your car is affected by this recall and needs to have replacement discs fitted.
Insecure head restraint
There has been an issue reported with the front head restraints of a limited number of Golfs where a burr created during the manufacturing process could prevent the locking mechanism from working correctly. Your Volkswagen dealer should be able to let you know if your car is affected.
Rear hub carrier
On certain Golfs there was an issue with the rear hub carrier not being manufactured to the correct standard, so in extreme circumstances, the car could lose a rear wheel. A recall was issued to replace the carriers on affected cars.
A small number of Golfs may have been fitted with seats where the welds on the backrest head restraint mounting could fail in an accident. You Volkswagen dealer should be able to tell you if your car requires a replacement seat to solve the problem.
High oil consumption
GTI models can suffer from high oil consumption, so it’s important to keep checking the oil level on these, even between services. If the level gets too low, it can cause damage to the engine or timing chain.
Adaptive cruise control
Examples fitted with automatic cruise control (ie cruise control that senses the distance from the car in front) can suffer from problems whereby the system gets confused and slams on the brakes. Often, there’s little that can be done to solve this. The system can be recalibrated, at a cost.
Is a used Volkswagen Golf sports reliable?
The Golf Cabrio didn’t feature in our most recent reliability survey, but it has always had a reasonably good reputation. According to our most recent survey, the standard hatchback Golf finished midway in the table of family cars. Most issues centred on non-engine electrics, but nearly all problems were fixed within a week and under warranty.
Volkswagen as a brand finished in 17th place out of 31 car manufacturers included in our study.
What used Volkswagen Golf sports will I get for my budget?
Prices start at around £5000 for a Cabrio with an average to high mileage for the year. This should buy you one in one of the lesser trims, rather than a GTI, and should find you a car with a full service history and bought from an independent dealer. Up that to £6000 to secure a car from 2011 or 2012 with an average mileage, and spend between £7000 and £9000 for a car from 2012 or 2013 that satisfies the same criteria. Increase the folding to between £10,000 and £12,000 and you’ll secure a good condition GTI model from 2013, or a lesser trimmed one from 2014 or 2015, maybe even one of the later ones from 2016.
How much does it cost to run a Volkswagen Golf sports?
The most efficient version of the Cabriolet Golf is the 1.6 TDI 105, which is capable of as much as a claimed average 70mpg, according to official government figures. In the real world, you can expect it to average 50mpg, which is still pretty respectable. Petrol-powered Golf Cabs are also able to achieve impressive economy. According to official figures, the 1.2-litre turbo is capable of up to a claimed average of 55mpg, equating to 40mpg in real-world driving, while even the 2.0-litre turbo in the GTI model is rated at a claimed 44mpg, which should mean around 35mpg out on the road.
As a result of those consumption figures, CO2 emissions are correspondingly low so the Golf Cabrio is relatively cheap to tax, especially as all of them would have been registered before the flat-rate tax changes of April 2017 came into force. Indeed, all but the performance versions fall into either the £20 or £30 tax band, while the most economical models are actually free to tax.
Meanwhile, servicing is reasonably priced, too. It won’t be quite as cheap as, say, a Vauxhall Cascada, but it compares well with most other rivals.
Which used Volkswagen Golf sports should I buy?
We like the flexibility and punchy nature, and reasonable economy, of the petrol-powered 1.4 160 engine. Trim-wise, we’d avoid the GT as it can be a bit harsh in the ride department, and go for the SE, which adds some goodies to the well-equipped base S trim that are well worth having.
Our favourite VW Golf Cabriolet: 1.4 TFSI 160 SE
What alternatives should I consider to a used Volkswagen Golf sports?
The Golf’s main rival was the wonderful Audi A3 Cabriolet. Based on one of our favourite family cars, the Audi was extremely comfortable to ride in and really good to drive too, thanks to its range of efficient engines and well-sorted chassis, which gave it a fine ride and eager handling. On top of that, its interior was classy beyond all other rivals, and its resale values are still strong now.
The BMW 2 Series Convertible is great to drive, in the best traditions of the German marque, and inside is a great iDrive infotainment system and a handsome interior. The driving position is excellent, and its small size means it feels sporty and slick even when going slowly. Used prices are quite tempting, too.
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