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2007 Volkswagen Eos

No Nature Lovers Needed

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$28,740 - $37,600

22 mpg/city - 32 mpg/highway

Model year tested: 2007

It's a lot of fun watching the automakers try to outdo each other when it comes to the next big idea. Most advances are marginal, but every now and then somebody pulls off a move that changes the game for everybody.

In the annals of convertibles, the power retractable soft top was a huge step forward over the manual roof you had to stow by hand. Then the removable hardtop eliminated the flapping and leaking that seemed obligatory with conventional ragtops-but you had to lift the whole thing off and stash it in the garage.

Some slick engineering led to the power-retractable hardtop, which folded and stowed itself in a mesmerizing mechanical ballet. Since then, the challenge has been lowering the cost of the pricey option and making it affordable to mere mortals.

Now Volkswagen has developed a new delight for topless-thrill seekers, by adding a big sunroof to the retractable hardtop on a four-seat coupe. If it's starting to seem confusing, here are the choices the Eos offers: If it's cold or raining, you can drive with everything buttoned up and enjoy the relative quiet of a conventional coupe. If you want some fresh air and sunshine, but don't want to risk a bad-hair day, you can open the sunroof (with wind deflector) and enjoy that quasi-convertible feel. And if you're ready to let it all hang out, you just push a button and watch the whole top contort itself like a yogi and disappear into the trunk.

You might be wondering: Isn't this a bit much? Buzzkill! I'm a practical and demanding family guy, and I had just one impression at every turn in the Eos: "Sweet!" Yeah, VW put a ton of engineering effort into the Eos, for a relatively minor payoff humanitywise. But it reflects the pace of modern progress perfectly.

Convertibles are not for fussy or practical people, and Volkswagen is trying hard to change that. In the Eos, you don't have to make trade-offs between outside and inside. You can meter the amount of sun and air that gets in. You can be at one with nature when you're in the mood, and at one with yourself when nature gets on your nerves.

Nature aside, there are plenty of other trade-offs in the Eos. As with most convertibles, there's a premium on space, both in the "back seat," which is really suitable only for kids, and in the trunk, which is largely given over to stowing the roof. While its performance is perky, don't be fooled-the Eos is a lamb compared with the ferocious GTI, and even the economical Rabbit feels tighter on curves.

And there are some features that are usually standard on cars in the $30,000-and-up category that you won't find on the Eos, like automatic headlamps and steering-wheel controls for the radio. But if you care about that kind of stuff, why are you interested in a convertible? Oh, right-you want to have it all.