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Our Eos came equipped with the tasty Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), a six-speed sequential manual transmission making use of two computer-controlled clutches to effect very rapid gear changes either up or down. Our previous chance to try out this transmission was at a media track-day event where a Volkswagen GTI with DSG was present, but unfortunately it had taken more abuse than it could handle and was retired before we had our turn in it. There were no such troubles with the Eos' DSG, although we were disappointed that the optional DSG didn't include steering-wheel paddles for shifting, instead requiring a hand on the shifter to change gears.
This shortcoming was exaggerated by what we considered to be the Eos' biggest single letdown: poor traction under hard acceleration. Whether the standard electronic stabilization program was deactivated or left on, if we gave the Eos anything more than moderate throttle from a standing start, we were greeted with surprising amounts of spin from the front wheels, which would even turn into the dreaded front-axle hop unless we backed off. This behavior encouraged a both-hands-on-the-wheel approach and kept us from really probing the handling limits in corners.
This issue was even worse when the considerable weight of the steel and glass top was moved further rearward with the top in the stowed position. With the top down, the front tires scrabbled for traction so much that we wondered if they were prematurely worn; they weren't, and our Eos only had about 3,500 miles on it at the time of our test. Trying to power up some of San Francisco's steeper hills with the top down...well, you get the point.
That complaint aside, the Eos was generally a very enjoyable car to drive. The DSG shifts so rapidly and invisibly it's tempting to leave it in manual mode all the time even without the steering-wheel controls. Luckily, there is a Sport full-automatic mode that holds gears longer and makes better use of the power band than the standard Drive mode.
Cute and safe
The Eos is a fun-loving, sunny-day car at heart but it hasn't forsaken safety for cuteness. The Eos feels solid and incorporates some clever structural design elements to mitigate the usual shortcomings of a car with its roof removed.
The Eos' windshield frame is made of ultra-high-strength steel and is bonded directly to the reinforced frame rails of the floorpan. The chassis-stiffening full-width rollbar of earlier Volkswagen Cabrios is actually present in the Eos as well, it's just upside-down and residing under and around the rear seat.
For rollover protection, the Eos instead relies on two spring-loaded pop-up rollbars that deploy in a heavy collision or if the car tilts to a dangerous degree. Airbags are present in their usual configuration, including curtain and side-impact bags for the front passengers. The 2007 Eos had yet to be rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for collision protection and rollover worthiness at the time of our test.
Volkswagen's 2007 warranty protection is good for 4 years or 50,000 miles and includes roadside assistance, with powertrain coverage extending to 5 years or 60,000 miles. Corrosion perforation protection is good for 12 years and unlimited mileage.
Overall, the Eos did a lot to impress us during our week with the car. We learned early that it didn't like being whipped into a frenzy, so we assumed a more sedate driving style, relying on good balance and the fantastic DSG for our thrills.
The single most crucial factor in the Eos' American market fate will be price. While the Eos is certainly a relatively upscale proposition at a base price of $30,620 for the 2.0T with a six-speed manual (including $630 destination charge), it offers a lot of quality and visibility for the money. Our test car added the must-have DSG for $1,075, the Luxury package for $3,490, and the navigation system at $1,800. Total MSRP was $36,985--not a small chunk of change by any means.
If enough potential buyers share our worries about the Eos' ability to maintain traction under acceleration, a lightly equipped Audi TT with Quattro might seem more tempting at around $40,000 to start. But chances are outright performance won't be the deciding factor in the image-conscious target market for the Eos, and features such as the secure and quiet retractable hardtop will trump acceleration. In that case, the Eos should find enough takers to keep it from following the Phaeton into the fur-trimmed dustbin of automotive history