Classic CARmentary: 1999 Volkswagen Cabrio GLS

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

As with the Cavalier Z24, this was another convertible that I wasn’t really able to enjoy fully due to the time of year.  I distinctly remember taking this car to Arlington National Cemetery for the funeral of a friend’s father and it was snowing.  Although snow is rare in Arlington in early March, it’s not unheard of.  There must have been a day that week that was just warm enough for me to put the top down and drive, most likely with the heat blasting.

Now about Volkswagen’s 8-valve, 2.0-liter engine (affectionately known as the 2.Slow).  This engine, from an application point of view, is a lot like the Buick/GM 3.8-liter V6.  It hung around a lot longer than it should have, but was generally reliable and got the job done.  Furthermore, when you actually drove a VW powered by one of these engines, it wasn’t nearly as bad as you may have been led to believe.

One of the niceties that I appreciated was that VW got rid of the “parking light” setting.  The lights are either all off or all on.  Does anyone know the point of that setting, anyway?  In 35 years of driving I don’t think I’ve ever felt the need to have my dash and tail lamps on, but the headlights off.

Although I call this Cabrio effeminate, I’m actually coming around to considering one of these or a Cabriolet as a fun weekend car.  That is if we ever have “fun weekends” again.  

The following review was written on March 8, 1999.

With its new ovoid projector-style headlamps and rear trunk lid with bumper-mounted license plate, you would think that this Cabrio is based on the completely redesigned 1999 Golf. Don’t be fooled. It’s still the same Cabrio you’ve known and loved since 1995, based on the third generation Golf. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Although a little too effeminate for my tastes, the Cabrio (shortened from Cabriolet after its 1995 redesign) has always had a cult following due to its cute shape accented by its basket handle-style rollbar. I will admit, however, that our up-level GLS test model looked good in its dark green paint, alloy wheels, and black top. The (heated) leather seats feel hard at first, but turned out to be quite comfortable and supportive, and the height adjustment feature allows you to sit much higher than in most cars. All of the controls on the revised dash are logical and within easy reach. Standard daytime running lamps have made the useless “parking lights” setting redundant, and kudos to Volkswagen for disposing of it. Unfortunately, the new indigo side-lit instrument lighting offers poor contrast. The rear seat is best left for children or those you don’t care very much about.

Driving the Cabrio is a pleasure, especially with the standard five-speed manual transmission. It’s one of the most forgiving units I’ve ever driven, as its feather light clutch, wide ratios and torquey engine allow even inexperienced drivers to execute smooth shifts most of the time. Acceleration is average, however, with the 115 horsepower engine overcome by the Cabrio’s nearly 2,800 pound curb weight.

The power top alone is worth the extra $4,000 over the base model for the GLS. Just unlatch the top with the latches that ingeniously double as grab handles, press a button, and the world is yours. Although better than in the old Beetle and Cabriolet, wind buffeting is still higher than in most convertibles, but they don’t have a top nearly as thick as the Cabrio’s, either.

Although the GLS is pricey, if you’re willing to pay, and it fits your lifestyle, you’ll definitely be happy with your purchase.

For more information contact 1-800-444-8987


Type: 2-Door Convertible
Engine: 115-horsepower, 2.0 liter inline-4
Transmission: 5-speed Manual
EPA Mileage: 24 city/31 highway
Tested Price: $23,460