Is this car the tipping point for battery-powered transport? Where most EVs (Electric Vehicles) have, up to now, looked and behaved like weird-looking virtue signallers, Volkswagen's new e-Golf looks pretty much like every other example of Europe's best-selling motorcar. Apart from a bit of discreet badging, this is Wolfsburg's heartland family hatchback.
MAY 17th 2017
First Drive: Volkswagen e‑Golf
It's a Golf. Look closely, however, and you'll spot the closed-up radiator grilles since batteries don't need as much cooling, and that lower ride height, which also improves aerodynamics to increase the range. The logic seems unassailable, if people like the Golf, why wouldn't they like the battery Golf? Why indeed?
This was the logic that motivated VW engineers as long ago as 1976, when they created the first 20kW electric Golf, the Mark I Citystromer, one of the first EV hatchbacks. VW has produced battery-powered Golf models in all seven of its guises; most of them test vehicles which didn't go on sale. But all this research did help to develop the technology and provided a spur to the company's 'Strategy 2025' plan, which will see the introduction of over 30 electric cars before 2025. For this year, the e-Golf gets an uprated battery pack and motor to increase its performance and range, as well as its weight and recharging time.
The VW-made synchronous AC motor now delivers 134bhp/100kW (increased from 113bhp) and 214lb ft, turning at a maximum of 12,000rpm and driving the front wheels via a single-speed, step-down transmission. The 345kg battery pack contains 264 Samsung lithium-ion cells providing 35.8kWh (up from 24.2kWh) and 323 volts. Prices start at £32,190 and as tested including £4,500 Govt grant it cost £27,690.
The car is based on the Mark VII Golf, underpinned with VW's MQB architecture, which was designed to accommodate an EV driveline from the start, so the battery is under the floor and the control electronics are low in the frame. The NEDC Combined range is quoted at 186 miles, which is a big improvement on the previous model's 99 miles, but VW cautiously (and more realistically) quote an all-conditions range (think hills, extreme heat or cold and/or fast driving) of 124 miles. Not that EV cars are a complete environmental free lunch. Using e-Golf's over optimistic NEDC range and a conservative estimate of average UK electricity generation carbon dioxide emissions of 470g/kW, the Golf's well-to-wheel CO2 emissions equate to about 56g/km.
Step inside and this is, to all intents and purposes, a standard Golf. Accommodation is commodious enough for five adults although the boot, while still quite useable, is smaller than the standard car's, because the battery pack intrudes into the space. The driving position is comfortable and highly adjustable via seat height and steering adjustment, and there's lots of well-thought-out storage space. This is a high-quality cabin, with soft-touch plastics, expensively moulded fascia panels, comfortable seats and premium car levels of build quality.
The instrument binnacle comprises twin concentric dials showing: power and recharging; state of battery charge; speed; and range – it's clear and self-explanatory. The centre console display uses VW latest generation architecture, with terrific graphics and logical control switches, but there's a disappointing and slow-responding touch-screen volume button replacing the radio volume control dial. The sat nav has a quick access button to find the nearest charging spots, but it doesn't tell you on which network they run, so you have to make further checks or you might not get a recharge. Gear selection is via a conventional automatic-type central lever, although there's a B setting which dials in more regenerating braking effect when you lift off the throttle.
EV cars tend to feel brisk from the start as their motors deliver maximum torque from zero revs. The e-Golf is no exception. At 1.6 tonnes, e-Golf weighs almost 300kg more than the standard 1.4-litre TSI petrol Golf, yet the e-Golf's acceleration (0-62mph in 9.6seconds) takes just 0.3seconds longer. In fact in the early stages of acceleration e-Golf feel much livelier and readily chirps its front wheels on fast getaways. In the interests of range preservation (and also because the electric motor's output falls off quite quickly), the top speed is limited to 93mph, but actually, the performance is starting to fall off as the speed approaches 70mph, which can occasionally lead to some over optimistic overtaking decisions.
The ride is superficially quite good, but that extra weight leaves the damping feeling a bit stodgy. So while the straight-line ride over typical UK small bumps and undulations is comfortable, larger bumps thump through the frame and although the body's roll is well controlled, the car does feel as though it's rolling over the outside front tyre when cornered hard. Not that you'd drive too hard in e-Golf, as the battery range falls off too quickly, but all told the handling is at least the match of the class including conventionally powered family hatch rivals.
Recharging times are quoted at 17 hours using a standard 10-amp domestic supply, 10 hours on a 3.6kW/16 amp wall box or charge post, and 45 minutes for an 80 per cent charge using a DC fast charger, although VW advises not charging consecutively on DC fast chargers or it could cause battery damage. This is still the bête noir of battery motoring. While metropolitan areas are reasonably well served for road-side charge posts, the countryside is not and you'd not really want to own an e-Golf without your own charging wall box. What's more, the DC fast chargers are a bit thin on the ground, so journey's that might involve a road-side charge require planning and forethought.
It's a great little car and a cinch to drive, but the problem isn't with the e-Golf so much as its recharging abilities. Until we can reckon on a DC charger available pretty much where ever we go, any EV, however good, can't do all the things a fossil fuel car can do. As a second car permanently hooked up to a wall box, you'd rarely not take the Golf, but as the only car in a household, it's still a great idea in search of an infrastructure.
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