Volkswagen e-Golf review
Volkswagen e-Golf is user-friendly, but harsh ride and caveats like a low range and high price count against it
The Volkswagen e-Golf is the electric version of the family hatch favourite. A party piece of the new Golf Mk7’s MQB modular platform (beside its 90kg weight saving from the old model) is that it’s been built to accommodate the widest possible range of drivetrains.
Of course, you can have petrol and diesel Golfs and there’s a plug-in hybrid Golf GTE version coming in 2015. A compressed natural gas variant is offered in mainland Europe. The fifth and final version is the all-electric e-Golf, which joins the e-Up in VW’s burgeoning all-electric range from summer 2014.
Unlike rivals like the Nissan Leaf or BMW i3, the e-Golf is of course a conventional car adapted for electric power, rather than a bespoke EV-only creation. This has traditionally created many compromises in re-engineered electric cars, but in terms of its packaging and practicality, the e-Golf is barely any less usable than a normal Golf.
However, this five-door hatchback-only EV is let down by the weight of its batteries, and the effects this has on comfort and handling, plus the questionable usable range of around 80 miles.
Our choice: VW e-Golf
If you find yourself put off by the curious styling of EVs like the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 or Renault Zoe, VW’s thoroughly conventional e-Golf will hold just as much appeal as the sharp-suited regular Golf.
The e-Golf is the first Volkswagen to feature LED headlights, and has unique, C-shaped running lamps, while a signature blue strip runs through the grille and into the lights. The same blue tint circles the VW roundel.
The shape of the bumpers is specific to the e-Golf, while the drag-reducing rear spoiler and 16-inch alloy wheels look good – not that it needs much in the way of visual embellishment. Overall, the smart-looking, well balanced e-Golf has just enough detailing to make it appear special.
Inside, the e-Golf is equally familiar. The automatic DSG gearbox lever from standard Golfs is recycled hear as a direction selector for the one-speed transmission, while the rest of the Golf’s finely finished cabin remains largely untouched, save for blue stitching and revised instrument dials to show remaining charge and regenerative braking severity.
Instead of basing the e-Golf around the entry level Golf S, as VW does with the diesel Golf BlueMotion, the e-Golf is available in ‘GT’-spec trim only, on account of its high price. That means a 5.7-inch touchscreen infotainment centre, climate control, electric mirrors and adaptive cruise control are all standard.
Given the regular Golf is already an exceedingly refined family hatchback, that an all-electric version with no combustion engine thrashing away under the bonnet is even more well-mannered is no surprise. The drivetrain is silent, and wind and road noise also well-checked thanks to the slippery body and low-resistance tyres. While it might sound relaxed and sedate, the pace is still amusing.
The e-Golf’s 114bhp electric motor delivers all 270Nm of torque from standstill, so the roll-on pace is amusingly nippy. Don’t concentrate on the 10.4sec 0-62mph sprint (itself one tenth faster than a Golf BlueMotion) or the lowly 85mph top speed. Far more telling is the 4.2sec time from 0-37mph, which is even faster than the Golf GTI hot hatch.
While the e-Golf might briefy outsprint a Golf GTI, it certainly won’t out-handle or out-entertain its famous sibling. The e-Golf’s floor-mounted battery pack weighs a massive 318kg, and though the low centre of gravity does aid stability, the car can’t help but lurch in fast turns and generally feel out of sorts on any twisty road.
The low-resistance eco-tyres are partly to blame here, but worst of all is the ride. Stiffer, lower suspension has been deemed a must-fit due to the battery’s weight problem, but it makes the e-Golf fidget constantly, whether on a typical British A or B road or, more worryingly, in potholed urban surroundings. When the rest of the car is so quiet and relaxing, the uncomfortable ride (in relation to other Golfs) really stands out.
The firm ride aside, the e-Golf’s dynamics aren’t compromised and the driving experience is surprisingly normal. For instance, you start the VW with the key and select Drive with a familiar DSG lever. But to maximise range, the e-Golf has three driving modes – Normal, Eco and Eco+ – and five levels of regenerative braking.
In Eco mode, power is reduced to 94bhp with air-con output turned down. Eco+ switches off the air-con and limits maximum speed to 56mph from 74bhp. However, you can override these modes to get full power by pressing the throttle into a ‘kickdown’ effect.
In standard Drive, there’s no regenerative braking, but step up through the five levels and you can increase the amount of deceleration offered when you lift the throttle. So with a bit of practice, you’ll find yourself rarely using the brakes.
If you’re depending on the e-Golf as your everyday transport, don’t expect to travel more than 85 miles. Though 119 miles is the official range, VW’s official figures suggest a regular driving style taking in out-of-town roads and use of the car’s ancillary functions will drop the range dramatically. You can at least stave off range anxiety by selecting three different levels of engine power and four levels of regenerative braking, to reduce the rate at which the battery is depleted.
By 2018, Vw is aiming to be a global leader in EVs, and its multi-billion-pound investment in electric technology should put aside any reliability worries about the drivetrain.
The e-Golf comes with an eight-year battery warranty, five years’ cover on electric parts and a standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty on the rest of the car. Safety kit matches other models, while active cruise control comes as standard.
As with the rest of the Golf range, the current car placed 18th out of 150 cars in our 2014 Driver Power survey, while VW came 19th out of 33 carmakers.
Despite swallowing a 318kg battery pack, the interior of the e-Golf has been largely uncompromised. Headroom and legroom are still perfectly acceptable for four regular-sized adults, but the boot has paid a small penalty. There’s not no spare wheel well under the boot floor, and the capacity has been reduced from 380 to 341 litres in size.
Recharging the e-Golf at home is a 13-hour affair from a household socket, but installing a fast-charger (or using a public one) will juice 85 per cent of the battery in 35 minutes. VW recommends a British Gas-installed charging box which costs from £115 to install.
The biggest cost the e-Golf presents is, of course, its outright purchase price. Unlike Nissan, BMW or Renault, VW isn’t offering a battery lease deal to lessen the blow of the purchase price, so once the £5000 government grant is deducted, you’ve still got a big bill to foot.
Of course, once that’s covered, charging costs are in the pounds and pence, rather than the £50 and up it costs to fully tank a conventionally felled Golf, and maintenance costs should be low too. Plus, there’s no congestion charge or road tax to pay, so if you can stand the initial cost of early adoption, the e-Golf will cost peanuts to run.