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An open letter to distracted drivers


RATING 79/100



I hesitate to tell you this because you may not believe it. But as sure as there is a household tax the following happened. I was driving down to the midlands recently and as I (legally) overtook a large silver motor on the motorway I noticed the driver, the only occupant in the car, was reading a letter.

At around 100kmh.

I did my best to keep my eyes on the road and glance at him as often as I safely could, such was my fascination.

He must have just started reading it when we got on to the motorway because he soon placed the first sheet on the seat beside him. Then he cast a casual glance ahead and proceeded to read the second page on the steering wheel.

I stayed alongside as long as I could. But I had to push on because as you know (millions don't seem to) the outside lane on a motorway is for OVERTAKING, not dawdling along at two miles a fortnight holding everyone else back.

The man -- yes he was a mature, well-dressed individual in a beautifully bedecked motor -- and I parted ways. Heavy traffic militated against me catching a glimpse of him over the next 40 minutes or so before I exited. I hope it was not bad news. I sensed he was hellish busy, preoccupied. I know the feeling. But I've never seen anyone read a letter while driving at 100kmh before. We really do take an awful lot for granted on good roads and in great cars.

I'm certain he could not have read anything in the latest Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet with the hood down. The wind would have stripped the sheets from his hands.

Normally I'm a bit sceptical of cabrios. They cost a chunk more than their hatchback counterparts and are usually less spacious and a tad cramped.

And, this spring apart, we normally don't get the weather.

The VW Golf cabrio? Well it is a bit, just a little, different I think -- especially with its soft-top roof as opposed to the steel covering favoured by many.

Okay, take away the buffing and puffing of the specially coiffured version I had, and the cabin is ordinary enough. The plastics are dull too.

I liked the little bit of garble I got from the diesel engine when I snapped down a gear or two and pushed the right foot hard. I didn't get zip à la GTi, but there was a lot of in-gear pulling power there.

Good slick gear change too.

If you were to take the boot capacity figures at face value, you'd think you'd get all the shopping for a month in there. But there's not a hope with that narrow little mouth of an aperture. Ah! It's a real pity that.

Rear-seat leg room isn't the greatest, though there was decent headroom.

But we were lucky enough with the weather and had one especially mad-cap drive into town. Suffice to say the yelping and high-spirits were of such a magnitude the only letters I was afraid I'd be reading would be GARDA in my rear-view mirror. All in good, innocent fun really. I was happier with the car than I'd expected.

You know we often think of Golfs as straightforward pieces of work. Strong, often unimaginative -- when compared with some really impressive new 'lookers' -- and built to last. But there was a more refined feel about the cabrio where the little extra touch of 'give' made all the difference.

I would not be a major fan but I could see this suiting people who have a few euro, like the idea of a car with a few options for use and enjoyment and are optimistic enough to believe they'll get the weather to drop the old hood now and again.

Incidentally, that same roof tucks itself away, and rises from the depths of its boot compartment in next to no time to keep the hailstones off you (9.5 seconds to be exact).

It's probably one of the more practical cabrios around because you are more likely to get a decent trade-in for this, given the Golf name. Just a couple of things I noticed when we had the hood down and weren't a-whoopin' and a-hollerin'.

First, the taste and lingering odour of acrid fumes in our mouths and noses in heavy city traffic, even though the windscreen is angled in such a way to keep wind intrusion to a minimum for the driver and front seat passenger. We are usually so well cocooned from this with our air con and filter systems.

And secondly (and obviously), how important it is to leave nothing of a light-ish nature on the seats or unsecured. A valuable hat nearly went hurtling across south Dublin on one occasion.

One thing is for sure. That man with the letter wouldn't have had a hope of reading it behind the wheel of this. Maybe we need the odd drive in a cabrio to bring back the immediacy and sense of speed and conditions around us. Cars have become so (admirably) bedecked with driving aids and alerts, maybe some are taking too much for granted.

The Volkswagen cabrio, indirectly, gave me a little lesson on that.

And if the man reading the letter recognises himself, maybe he'll learn something as well.


Indo Motoring