The cure for climate change

With its one-of-a-kind convertible hardtop, the Volkswagen Eos can keep you comfy. No matter what Mother Nature unleashes.

By John Tayman, Business 2.0 Magazine columnist

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Call me an optimist, but when global warming arrives, I intend to be prepared. Thus, my climate-instability survival kit will include a 2007 Volkswagen Eos. Not that the jelly-bean-size Eos can cross rising waters or surmount sudden snowdrifts, because, alas, it cannot.

But if the weather is going to whipsaw between freakishly warm and bizarrely cold, as seems to be our fate of late, then I am damn well going to be comfortable. And no vehicle currently on the market is as finely attuned to the weather, or as tunable to the weather, as the cleverly changeable Eos.

Possessed of the world's first (and only) convertible hardtop with an integrated glass sunroof, the Eos can soothe the most persnickety of climatologists.

Feeling a trifle warm? No worries - just crack open the massive panel of smoked glass above your head. Still too hot? Simply lever a switch and the roof magically cascades into the trunk, leaving you open to the cooling breeze.

Oops, now you're chilly? Actually, that's impossible, since the Eos maintains multiple climate zones in the car based on the current configurations of windows, roof, and sunroof and tweaks them to please its occupants. With the top down and your preferences dialed in, it's already working to keep you comfy. So stop whining.

The Eos's ber-adaptability was revealed to me recently as I motored around San Francisco, a sort of ground zero for microclimates. (What with the hills, the fog, the city, and the bay, it's possible to pass from 70 degrees and sunny to 50 and overcast in mere blocks.)

Now, I'm no stranger to convertibles, and neither is Volkswagen. Back in the days before the ice caps started melting, there existed a nifty set of wheels called the VW Cabriolet, and lo, it was loved by suburban teenagers and editorial assistants from coast to coast. I used to own one.

The Cabriolet (known simply as the Cabrio in later years) was an unsightly shoe box, with an accordion ragtop that would whistle at highway speeds and leak while stationary. But it was affordable, and a blast to drive, and thereby much lamented after the company disappeared it in 2003.

So when word emerged last year that Volkswagen was prepping a new drop-top for market, most observers assumed it would be another compromised cloth top, kin to the dear departed. What VW unleashed instead was a wildly sophisticated coupe with a hardtop to rival that of a Mercedes CLK, but at half the cost.

Almost instantly the Eos became the best-selling convertible in Europe. The car is so nifty that it could easily duplicate that trick here, had VW not decided to ration out only 13,500 of them for sale in the United States. The line forms to the right.

Based on a specialty platform called the PQ46, the Eos is shorter than a Passat and a bit wider than a Jetta, attributes that supply its charmingly aggressive stance and also its stellar handling. Most important, the new platform allows for an extremely rigid body, with none of the telltale twistiness that typically mars a convertible.

To celebrate its accomplishment, VW dropped a 250-hp V-6 into the Eos and then married that beef to its celebrated direct-shift gearbox. More common to pricey Audis, the DSG transmission uses duplicate sets of gears and clutches, a redundancy that allows drivers to seamlessly preshift into a higher gear even as they accelerate in the lower one.

Need a real-world example? Let's say you're trundling along in traffic on Highway 101, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Suddenly a gap opens, allowing a hairpin escape from this commuter mess if you can just get past that puttering minivan. Easy. The Eos will leap from 40 mph to 90 with nary a hiccup, so you carve across those lanes, tap the Tiptronic shifter paddles, let the speed bleed away, and then goose the pedal one time to pop free of the freeway and onto the sinewy back roads leading to Sausalito. (Should you happen to misjudge the turn, the Eos's built-in roll bar will deploy in 0.25 seconds. Just saying.)

With the rocket ride over, it's an easy slalom down to the waterfront, the glide made pleasant and safe by all the simple things one expects in a $41K car (600-watt sound system with satellite radio, napa leather seats, built-in iPod adapter), as well as the pleasantly unexpected (puddle lamps beneath the side mirrors, for instance, lest you moisten your sneaks). And then, before you know it, here you are. It's a lovely day. The sun is out. The top is down. All is right with the world.


Spotlight: Retractable hardtop

The most impressive part of driving an Eos has nothing to do with driving it. In fact, you'll need to be parked, since the car's signature feature operates only with the Eos at a standstill. Which is just as well, because you won't want to miss the Transformers-inspired ballet about to, well, unfold. Here's how it works.

Press a brushed-aluminum lever, and 470 components whir into intricate motion, flipped and folded and stacked by a 40-amp electric motor, four pairs of hydraulic cylinders, and a dozen Hall-effect sensors (ask a nerd) - all of which help origami 187 pounds of metal and glass neatly into the trunk.

It's a wowsa performance, stunningly executed: The sunroof glides backward and just ... keeps ... going; the rear of the roof and chunks of trunk detach and arc gracefully south; the back deck splays open while assorted bits of Eos rotate and spiral and settle into place; and, a mere 26 seconds later, your cute coupe is now wantonly topless. You can even trigger the top from afar, by pushing a button on your key fob. Enjoy the show.

John Tayman, a contributing writer for Business 2.0, is the author of "The Colony" ( Top of page

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