More than any car to have motored through the CNET garage this year, the 2007 Volkswagen Eos elicited enthusiastic interest from fellow motorists. Whether this attention is down to Volkswagen fans being more effusive than someone lusting after, say, a BMW M6, our car's cheery Eismeer Blue paint, or the simple fact that with the top down people can interrogate you in traffic, the Eos drew praise, especially from the women to whom VW is likely planning to sell it. Suffice it to say, the Eos passes the cuteness test, successfully integrating the VW family's chrome grille ring with a unique headlight shape to give it a face all its own.
The question is: will people be willing to shell out for it? A bare-bones Eos can be had for well under $30,000, a price that looks quite nice compared to a Mini convertible, for example. But option the Eos up a bit (or start with the V-6 model) and the MSRP slots in just shy of the upcoming soft-top Audi TT roadster's, no coincidence given Volkswagen AG's ownership of both brands. $40,000 is a car-buying dividing line but hovering just beneath it isn't as comfortable as hovering around $20,000. The Eos has its work cut out for it, and the ghostly shadow of the late, unlamented Phaeton is lurking.
Nicely put together
Buyers who do opt for the Eos won't be disappointed by the feature set and the levels of fit and finish they find inside. Materials are nice, switches and controls feel solid, and things are mostly where they should be. Beige leather complements the light blue exterior of our car well, and the interior generally impressed us throughout.
Our test Eos was equipped with the Luxury package and the navigation system, both of which contributed considerably to the upscale feel of the car. Wood trim, fully power-adjustable front seats including power lumbar support, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and satellite radio (subscription extra) are included in the Luxury package, and the navigation option, (which requires either the Luxury or Sport package), adds a good-sized screen in a brushed-metal surround that echoes the chrome bezels around the four main gauges and the central air vents.
The navigation system offers voice control, but we found it predictably temperamental when we used it with the top down. The onscreen keyboard is the best method of destination entry, and while the Eos' two click knobs and many contextual keys make operation relatively intuitive, a touch-sensitive screen would have been better. Processing was subpar, with noticeable delays in route calculations and map adjustments. A very nice extra, though, was the evidently Audi-sourced secondary screen between the speedometer and the tachometer, which shows the current street and direction, or the next route instruction if guidance is active.
With the navigation option, an MP3-unfriendly CD changer gets mounted in the center console.
The stereo system produced above-average audio quality from its eight speakers, even keeping the sound full under roofless conditions. Audio sources include Sirius satellite radio and a six-CD changer mounted longitudinally under the center armrest (an iPod adapter can be specified in place of the CD changer, as part of the nav option). In contrast, the voice route guidance instructions were largely drowned out by the stereo, (which didn't lower its volume enough), and ambient noise, and we were unable to adjust the various levels despite no small effort (a manual for the navigation system wasn't in our Eos' glove box). With the navigation option, the CD changer migrates from an in-dash unit to the center armrest, and loses the ability to read MP3 discs.
What was, unfortunately, in the glove box was the auxiliary audio jack (not present if the iPod adapter is chosen)--a nice feature, but better located in the cabin where the player can be accessed easily. More welcome is an air-conditioning outlet in the glove box that keeps the large inside area cool. Secondary controls for the audio system are on the steering wheel, and so is a phone-icon button, but the latter had no discernable function and Bluetooth integration is not offered on the Eos.
The retractable hardtop, with a built-in sunroof, takes about 25 seconds to fold into the trunk.
The Eos' retractable hardtop is, of course, its showcase feature. Dubbed "Coupe-Sunroof-Convertible" (CSC), it works flawlessly and feels as if it will continue for the car's lifetime. Rumor has it the roof's complex operation was the main reason behind the Eos' launch delay; if this is true, at least the time wasn't wasted. In the fully closed position, the Eos is a perfectly sealed coupe, with both a glass rear window and a large glass panel overhead. This sunroof can slide open and remain that way for driving, or the process can continue, releasing the rails from the windshield header and folding the whole shebang under the deck lid in about 25 seconds. An effective mesh windscreen is cleanly integrated into the top of the windshield frame and can be extended or not, and a larger wind deflector that snaps into place covering the rear seats is also included.
With the top up, cargo volume in the trunk is a relatively healthy 10.5 cubic feet, and even with the top down the Eos offers 6.6 cubic feet of trunk space, enough for a few grocery bags. The rear seats are really only suitable for children, and are more likely to be utilized for extra cargo space than carrying people for any distance. A lockable trunk pass-through in the rear-center armrest is standard, very helpful given the trunk's marginalized capacity.
Too much torque
The Eos 2.0T has a very nice, two-liter, four-cylinder engine, making use of turbocharging and Fuel Stratified Ignition (FSI), a direct-injection technology that improves low-load efficiency and emissions and maximizes power in the upper reaches of the rev range. Peak output is 200 horsepower at 5,100 RPM and the full 207 pound-feet of torque is available from 1,800 to 5,000 RPM. These are healthy numbers, yet EPA fuel economy ratings are still solid at 23mpg in the city and 31mpg on the highway (32mpg with the standard manual transmission).
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.
Although we like paddle shifters with a DSG, the console shifter worked just fine.
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