It's easy to get people staring at the newly restyled, 2012 Volkwagen Eos _ particularly when the convertible hardtop is down and a nearly 4-foot-tall, bright yellow M&M's character is strapped into the back seat.
VW doesn't include the big, plastic M&M's character, but I picked up the cheerful candy store display at a garage sale _ for $5 _ and drew a crowd, who wondered how I'd load it into the subcompact Eos.
I had arrived with the Eos convertible disguised by its hard roof, so everyone expected me to struggle with the trunk. But all it took was a push of a button to lower the car roof, and the plastic M&M's man, legs and all, went over the side and into the back seat.
The utility of a back seat is a hallmark of the now 6-year-old Eos, which also is the only new car in the United States that comes with a standard sunroof embedded in its removable, power-operated hardtop roof.
And, while the Eos price isn't a garage sale bargain, it is a hardtop convertible that's priced akin to some soft-top models.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the 2012 Eos is $34,765.
This includes turbocharged, 200-horsepower engine, automatic transmission, dual climate control, heated front seats, Touchscreen premium sound system, cruise control, tilt/slide sunroof and a wind blocker to reduce wind buffeting when the top is down.
No manual transmission is offered, and the only engine in the Eos is the gasoline-powered, 2-liter, turbocharged and intercooled, direct injection four cylinder.
VW does not offer the Eos here with a diesel engine, but the gas powerplant qualifies the Eos as the fourth-best convertible in fuel economy in this country, according to the U.S. government.
The government rating for the 2012 Eos is 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway. In test driving that was 65 percent city driving and wasn't geared to maximizing gas mileage, I averaged 22 mpg for a range of 319 miles on a single tank.
Competitors include the 2012 BMW 128i Convertible, which has a starting retail price of $37,475 for a model with a soft top, 230-horsepower, inline six-cylinder engine and manual transmission. Fuel economy rating for this BMW convertible is 18/28 mpg.
The 2011 Mini Cooper Convertible with 121-horsepower four cylinder, manual transmission and fabric roof has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $25,550. Fuel economy rating for this Mini is 28/35 mpg. A turbocharged, 181-horsepower Mini Cooper convertible starts at $28,550 and has four-cylinder engine, manual transmission, soft top and fuel mileage rating of 25/37 mpg.
U.S. sales of the Eos are up 6.3 percent for the first seven months of calendar 2011 compared with the year-ago period, to 4,868.
Changes for 2012 are subtle and include new headlights, light-emitting diode taillamps and a revised grille.
The two-door car retains pleasing, but not showy looks _ at least until the power-operated roof starts its activity. Then, as the rear "boot" or cover over the space where the roof will store behind the back seats, rises and sits straight up in the air, the Eos garners attention easily.
The roof panels _ with that sizable sunroof in them _ separate and fold over themselves and snug down into the empty cavity and the boot goes back down and fastens itself into place. It all takes some 25 seconds.
As with most convertibles, the car looks prettiest when the roof is down. But this also compromises already limited trunk space of 6.6 cubic feet. There is a wind blocker that can be manually installed to help reduce wind buffeting when the top is down. But until it was in use, it took up space inside the trunk, which I didn't appreciate.
The Eos rode with a heftiness not expected because of its small size, which is 14.5 feet in length and 5.9 feet wide. The reason for the more than 3,500-pound weight is that heavy, mechanical roof.
Passengers must watch when they open the long doors. They can hit adjacent cars in parking spots.
And, it can take some contortions to get in and out of the two back seats when the roof is on. It's easier with the top down. The back seats provide a commendable 32.5 inches of rear-seat legroom. But there are only 27.9 inches of rear headroom when the roof is on.
The suspension managed many road bumps, but I felt road vibrations on the more stout pavement bumps. And when pressed hard on curvy mountain roads, the weight of the Eos was noticeable.
The test car didn't respond at the first touch of the accelerator pedal. It seemed to need a bit stronger nudge to get the turbo engine to provide more than a dab of power. But once the right amount of pressure was applied to the pedal, the Eos moved along well.
Torque peaks at 207 foot-pounds at a low, 1,700 rpm, so the car can feel solid and peppy.
The Eos has VW's Direct Shift Gearbox automatic transmission, whose computer controls ensure super-fast shifting from gear to gear. This contributes to the sprightly performance of the Eos.
Steering had a comfortable, weighted feel, and brakes responded capably and with good pedal feel.
Standard safety equipment includes electronic stability control, four air bags and automatic rollover protection.
But the Eos is rated below average by Consumer Reports in reliability, and on the test car, gaps between the exterior sheet metal panels appeared to be a tad larger and more noticeable than they are on some other cars.