Driving range: how far can an e-Golf really go?
Volkswagen’s e-Golf isn’t just for city slicking. To prove it, we took a road trip from Cornwall to Scotland - all on electric power
Is it possible to travel long distances in an electric car? The pub bore will say not. In fact, even friends and colleagues who confess to knowing nothing at all about electric cars will happily provide an opinion on the futility of the task. That was before the specifics of this particular adventure were even mentioned.
A long journey by e-Golf was the goal, but where from and where to? Simple; looking at the Volkswagen UK dealer network, we decided to drive from the most southerly outlet in Helston, Cornwall to the most northerly in Perth, Scotland. A distance fractionally short of 600 miles entirely on electric power, with nothing but the e-Golf and the right attitude to get us there. There was never any question that that the e-Golf could complete the trip comfortably and safely, but the implication was that somehow electric power was the inferior mode of propulsion. Our open minds would let the results speak for themselves.
Late to the party
You don’t need the surname Columbus to know that starting a long trip in the middle of the afternoon isn’t ideal. Still, a combination of prohibitive diaries and logistical hold-ups means it’s past 3pm when we arrive at our start point, Helston Garages Volkswagen. We’re a long way south here – Lizard is just 14 miles away – and despite its modern appearance Helston Garages slots neatly into the town’s aesthetic. Helston is old enough to appear in the Domesday Book so it’s seen a few changes over the years.
Mark Featherstone-Harvey is Sales Manager at Helston Garages Volkswagen and greets us warmly as we explain what we’re up to, and the e-Golf has a top-up from the dealership’s charging point while we chat. “This is a rural town, but there’s a lot of interest in electric cars; Cornwall generates a lot of its energy from wind and wave power so cars like the e-Golf go hand in hand with that approach,” he tells us. Invigorating coffees downed, we climb aboard and nose gently into the hustle of late afternoon urban traffic, taking our first opportunity to get to know the e-Golf.
If you’re expecting driving a pure-electric car to be like piloting a spaceship, you might be disappointed. It sounds obvious, but the e-Golf looks exactly like a regular Golf rather than the doodle of a sci-fi geek. Some unique details catch the eye, such as the blue-edged finishes around the nose, plus the slick alloy wheels are a nod to the 22nd Century. Yet you still get the reassuring solidity that is what the Golf is all about. The same goes for the cabin, where getting comfortable is easy and the controls are just as you would expect in any car; two pedals and one gearstick.
The first deviation from the experience from any other Golf comes when you prod the start/stop button. The dials flick into life – well, the high-clarity LCD display that presents an image of them – and there is the faintest hum as the climate control begins to cool the cabin. But otherwise we are greeted by resolute silence and a ‘ready’ acknowledgement to tell you that the e-Golf is fit to drive away.
Smoothly does it
Tight Cornish streets lined with parked vehicles aren’t exactly ideal for getting acquainted with a new car, never mind one with a powertrain you have no experience of, but the e-Golf is on your side. There’s nothing new you need to know; just as in any other automatic car, you place your foot on the brake, select D on the transmission and squeeze gently on the accelerator; smooth, effortless acceleration is your reward.
The first few miles out of Helston are typically stop and start, but the e-Golf’s manner is perfectly suited to keeping your blood pressure low. The only aural disturbance is the sound of other cars, so quiet are the electric motors and drivetrain, and it is a matter of minutes before you begin to forget about how the power is getting to the wheels and just enjoy the fact that it works so well.
The e-Golf is also quick to dispel any notion that an electric car can’t keep up with conventionally-powered vehicles; a brief burst of acceleration is always available from an extended squeeze of the accelerator, still without any fuss or noise other than a faint whoosh of gathering speed.
Already the dark is beginning to close in as we reach the higher-speed asphalt of the A30 heading north, and it seems only natural to let the e-Golf take the strain. Flicking on the Automatic Cruise Control on means we can allow the car to brake and accelerate to maintain a set distance to the car in front, and with our speed set appropriately to the road’s limit the miles tick by without drama. Even at higher speeds noise levels remain low, making the e-Golf impressively adept at covering ground outside of built-up areas.
Plug in, switch off
As we round Exeter and join the northbound M5, we are two hours into the journey and in need of a break, so we decide to find a charging point and have a rest. The built-in sat-nav has instantly displayed a selection of charging points along our route and it takes just a tap of the screen to add one as a waypoint. We’re soon a matter of minutes from the motorway, parked up in a charging bay.
Figuring out the charging process is also refreshingly straightforward – even without recourse to the handbook – and follows the same basic processes you would expect to perform at a petrol station. Turn the car off and open the filler flap; instead of a nozzle you are greeted with a female connector.
A quick swipe of a debit card means the charging point is ready to go and a plugging-in process no more complicated than a vacuum cleaner sees the e-Golf begin charging in seconds, as well as instantly displaying a predicted charging time in the instrument display.
We don’t even need to keep an eye on it; with the Volkswagen Car Net app downloaded to a smartphone, it’s possible to monitor the state of charge while we relax with a well-earned coffee. In fact, we find that after a comfort break and ordering hot drinks they have barely started to cool before the e-Golf is nearing a full charge once again. Only 40 minutes after pulling in, we are refreshed and ready to go.
With 170 miles still to go before we reach our overnight stop, the e-Golf is pressed back up to motorway speeds, with ACC taking the strain once more and ensuring we stay legal and keep our energy consumption at prudent levels. There is all the information you could possibly want on what the drivetrain is doing – configurable, too, so you can have as much or as little detail as you like – but so undemanding and fuss-free is the experience that you find yourself naturally leaving the car to get on with it, so that the miles continue to tick swiftly and silently by.
As we near Worcestershire with the Malverns hidden by the darkness, the sat-nav pipes up to let us know that our overnight destination at Stafford may be beyond the reach of our remaining charge. That doesn’t come as a surprise, but it is a helpful reminder, and another tap of the button finds us a charging location in a matter of seconds. All that is required is a quick top-up to ensure we have plenty in hand, as our overnight location has its own charging point.
It’s late when we roll into Stafford, but there are no signs of fatigue. We’ve covered a fraction under 300 miles since the afternoon across a mix of roads and driving conditions, making progress as quickly as any other car would, but with seemingly less effort. Although modern cars are hardly loud machines, it is only when you remove some of the background noise you take for granted that you realise what a difference the soothing, silent operation makes. Plugged in for the night, the e-Golf is already doing a fine job of winning us over.
A chill greets us as we emerge from our hotel too early for a hot breakfast, but a few taps on the Car Net app mean we’re well set. The climate control has been kicked into gear 15 minutes before we depart, and the standard heated screen has been switched on, too, so we load up and get going while other first-light departees are still chiselling away at their windscreens.
We have another 300 miles to cover today, but it feels no more of a challenge than in any other car; with our final destination plumbed into the sat-nav, the e-Golf has already suggested charging points along our route, so we head into the ugliness of an early-morning M6 looking forward to emerging out the other side.
Even the misery of temporary roadworks and tightly-enforced speed limits can’t puncture the calm and comfort within the cabin. The digitally-managed climate control keeps the temperature at a cool 19.5 degrees Celsius, while the toasty heated seats are supportive and welcoming. Rolling along constantly at 50mph gives us the opportunity to enjoy the impressive quality of the digital radio as well as make the most of the motorway’s undulations.
Disengaging the ACC means we can engage a little regeneration when going downhill; the e-Golf will do this automatically when the sat-nav tells it the speed limit is about to drop, but a simple nudge of the gearlever or touch of the brakes kicks in the regeneration, and it is immensely satisfying to put energy back into the battery for free without changing the car’s speed relative to other traffic. Keeping the energy needle just in the green raises a smile, with the reward of yet more miles that can be covered in petrol-free silence.
Above the clouds
Charging stops become second nature; it only ever takes a minute to park, hook up the e-Golf to the charging station and flick into the Car Net app to get an accurate time until it is ready to go. More than once we end up staying after the e-Golf is ready to go because we’re still enjoying our food or coffee; motorway service stations are zero-effort stopping places, but there is an ever-growing selection of places carrying charging stations alongside a taste of local flavours. A post office near Gretna Green, just over the border in Scotland, offers a convenient charging station as well as one of the best bacon baps in existence.
Our reward for outlasting the tougher sections of the M6 is the spectacular views as we push further north into Scotland. The wonderful hinterland where seemingly no other traffic wants to be presents six lanes of motorway, gloriously rolling hills and skies dotted with puffy clouds, and it raises the spirits even more as we eventually head into Perth, our final destination.
Cameron Motors sits close to the River Tay and is a genuine family business, with the Director Jamie being the third generation of Cameron to take the helm. He explains why our e-Golf turns heads among staff and punters alike as we pull onto the forecourt, telling us: “Customers are coming in and asking about electric cars. We’ve had quite a few people who have had Golf GTEs and then switched to e-Golfs, so they are clearly moving along that journey. We’ve also had a lot of people enquiring about electric SUVs; we live in a place where it snows a lot in winter, so people want SUVs, but electric is key.”
Our journey is complete, and the e-Golf has proven it has the capabilities to cover long distances with ease and in total comfort. With the UK charging network growing larger and more comprehensive on a daily basis, this Volkswagen shows that owning a pure-electric car brings so many benefits and demands no compromises. The future looks bright for the electric revolution.