Originally published on CleanTechnica.
Editor’s Note: CleanTechnica was invited to the first event in the US were journalists could test drive the new VW e-Golf. Chris DeMorro had the pleasure of attending the exclusive event for us and writing up this great review. Transportation and accommodation costs were covered by VW.
“Is it on?” That’s the first question everyone seems to ask when they first step into an electric car. I’ve had the privilege of driving more than a few EVs so far, but many of my colleagues at the Volkswagen e-Golf launch and drive event hadn’t yet, and so “Is it on?” became the common call as people rushed to get their tester on the road.
My driving partner, thankfully, was a legitimate gearhead who knew his way around all sorts of cars, and he had dibs on the first leg of our drive in the e-Golf. So when I heard him ask “Is it on?” I was mystified…until he repeated the startup procedure twice, with the gauges lit up but the steering wheel still locked. The hell was going on here?
“You have to hold the start button down longer,” a nearby Volkswagen rep explained. My co-driver held the button, and this time the gauges lit up and jumped up without much noise or fanfare save for a single electronic chime. So it was that we stealthily exited the parking lot at the Salamander Resort, as the same scene played out behind us with the other drivers.
We were warned that Virginia’s cops are notorious sticklers for speeding, and a recent Jalopnik story shed light on just how heavy-handed Virginia law can be when it comes to excessive acceleration. Still, we both thought that it would be easy to keep the e-Golf below the posted speed limit, which ranged from 25 to 50 MPH.
Turns out we were both wrong.
Make no mistake, the Volkswagen e-Golf is no GTI (which we drove later), taking about 10 seconds to arrive at 60 MPH despite a healthy serving of 199 lb-ft of torque. And yet as soon as you step on the accelerator pedal, the e-Golf leaps forward with a kind of hungry eagerness to please. No, you won’t win any races unless the guy next to you is in a Toyota Prius, but the e-Golf will put you back in your seat for the first couple of seconds after you stomp it, and with little more than the whine of its little electric motor.
Priced at $35,475, the e-Golf also isn’t cheap, though it does come fully loaded in the only available top trim level with leather seats, a large infotainment screen, backup camera, premium sound system, so on and so forth. It’s got all the Golf goodies you’d want, minus the combustion engine and traditional transmission. Volkswagen also went to great lengths to ensure that cargo space wasn’t compromised when it installed the 24.2 kWh battery pack, and save for a few aerodynamic body enhancements and the lack of a tailpipe, it looks like any other VW Golf on the road.
That’s a good thing, because it seems some consumers aren’t interested in advertising that they’re driving electric cars. Rather, many people would prefer to quietly scoot along in cars that look like every other car, rather than a vehicle that screams “LOOK AT ME, I’M ELECTRIC!” When parked next to the rest of the Volkswagen test fleet (which comprised mostly Jettas and Passats), it looks like it belongs there.
Volkswagen is playing coy with an official rating range, quoting a range of between “70 and 90 miles” per charge, which is a huge spread for a car with such limited range. When we first got in the e-Golf for our test drive, the range meter (placed on the infotainment screen, oddly enough) showed a full charge and an estimated 68 miles of driving. 16 miles later we arrived at our destination, Great Country Farms, and the e-Golf still showed a driving range of 67 miles.
After a brief tour of the peach orchard, we were back on the road, this time with me at the wheel, and I began to play with the various features, including the driving modes and regenerative braking. The e-Golf offers “Normal”, “Eco”, and “Eco+” modes, with the two Eco modes offering less power but more driving range. I didn’t stay in either mode too long, though I did use the regenerative braking in place of the brake pedal, gaining approximately a mile of range while coasting to a stop off of an exit ramp. The regenerative braking is too aggressive for just regular driving though, and I felt much more comfortable with the regenerative braking off, coasting along to the sound of wind and SiriusXM radio.
I also learned that cranking the air conditioning full blast costs about 4 or 5 miles of driving range, and it takes a minute or two longer than usual to really start blowing the kind Arctic cold one expects from a new car. Or at least that’s how it felt, despite it being a relatively pleasant summer day in Virginia. The sound system certainly delivered the kind of boom and bass my generation expects though, and Volkswagen claims that a Level 3 DC charger can deliver an 80% charge in just 20 minutes. VW reps also said that thanks to a joint effort with Bosch, Volkswagen e-Golf buyers will have access to affordable home charging stations. Just how affordable, Volkswagen wasn’t ready to say just how much those charging stations would cost.
Another interesting caveat is that, like Nissan, Volkswagen has opted for an air-cooled battery, rather than a liquid-cooled battery. However, Volkswagen says that a unique “Battery Management Unit” can keep the e-Golf cool even under extreme temperatures, though how that pans out in the real world remains to be seen.
At the end of my all-too-brief time with the e-Golf, I was left with the impression that Volkswagen has made a sincere effort to produce a good and viable electric vehicle. On the other hand, it also seems like perhaps Volkswagen hasn’t paid close enough attention to the wants and needs of electric car buyers. Both Nissan and GM are following in Tesla’s footsteps and plan to offer multiple battery pack sizes, while the e-Golf is limited to just the 24.2 kWh battery. Also, the lack of a liquid-cooling system could come back to bite Volkswagen in the fender, and by only offering the e-Golf as a fully-loaded model, it will remain outside the price bracket of many would-be EV buyers, who are instead left to choose between the Nissan LEAF and…well, that’s it.
There are those who would argue that for these reasons, the Volkswagen e-Golf is more compliance car than serious EV contender, but Volkswagen insists it is anything but a placeholder.
So, where can you buy an e-Golf when it goes on sale this November? Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont, and of course California are the only states the e-Golf will go on sale now, though Volkswagen reps said they could expand to other states (or even nationwide) depending on customer reaction. It’s no breakthrough or gamechanger, but it’s certainly worth a look if you’re in the market for an electric car.
A big thanks to Volkswagen for paying for my flight, food, and hotel accommodations at the awesome and eco-friendly Salamander Resort. Also, whiskey chocolate pudding is amazing.
All images by Chris DeMorro / CleanTechnica (CC BY-SA 4.0 license)