The 2015 e-Golf is VW’s first all-electric vehicle for the United States, a battery-powered car designed to compete with zero-emissions compacts like the top-selling Nissan Leaf. By placing an electric drivetrain into one of the most popular small cars in the world, VW hopes to convince the car-buying public that EVs have moved beyond niche status.
When it arrives in late 2014, the all-electric version of the Volkswagen Golf will join a relatively crowded field of small battery-powered cars. Here’s how it will stand out: by its smart mainstream style that doesn’t scream out for attention as a space-age vehicle. The Golf is an ultra-popular platform that combines comfort, practicality, refinement and the simple tasteful lines—inside and out.
The E-Golf four-door hatchback looks like a regular Golf, except for aerodynamic wheels, a revised intake and grille, and a pair of C-shaped LED running lights. Carmakers like to give a signature color to their electric offerings—such as Fiat’s burnt orange theme for the 500e. VW goes with bright blue, although it’s not yet clear how this will be implemented with trim options.
The critical metric for evaluating EV range is the size of the battery pack, measured in kilowatt-hours (kWhs).
(Rule of thumb: a pack provides on average about 3.5 miles of range for each kilowatt-hour.)
The E-Golf’s 24.2-kWh battery pack is right in line with similar EVs, like the LEAF and Focus Electric. That means you can expect about 75 to 85 miles of range on a full charge. We are highly doubtful of any reports saying the E-Golf will deliver 100 or more miles per charge on a regular basis. However, unlike the LEAF, the E-Golf uses a liquid-cooled battery management system, which should mean more consistent range throughout the year. Liquid cooling keeps batteries warm in winter and cool in summer—minimizing the impact of temperature on driving range.
The E-Golf is expected to sprint from 0-62 mph in just over 10 seconds. That beats the LEAF by about a second. Top speed is governed to 87 miles per hour. For another point of comparison, the E-Golf employs an 85-kW motor compared to the LEAF’s 80-kW motor.
One cool driving feature available in the E-Golf is paddle-shifters (on the steering wheel) to control the level of regenerative braking. Dialing the regen up or down affects how quickly the car slows down without putting your foot on the brake. Slowing down faster—the motor-generator applies a grabbing action—means that more of the braking energy is used to recharge the battery pack. The net result is more range.
The E-Golf offers four regenerative braking modes, designated as D1, D2, D3, and B. They progressively increase the amount of regenerative braking applied, ranging from a no-regeneration (or “coast”) mode in D1—to heavy simulated engine braking in B. Anything stronger than D1 illuminates the brake lights, the same way the lights would come on if you hit the brake pedal to warn drivers behind you.
Volkswagen promises that the E-Golf will have a 7.2-kilowatt onboard charger. That means it can fully take advantage of 240-volt home chargers supplied with 30-amp service. For all intents and purposes, this will add the same amount of miles per hour of charging as with the LEAF, Focus and most other EVs. Technically, the rate of recharging is about 10 percent faster—but it’s a negligible difference, especially when considering that most charging takes place overnight when drivers are asleep.
In addition to 240-volt charging, the Volkswagen E-Golf will offer Quick Charging as a standard feature—where historically it has been an upgrade option. VW is using the so-called “Combined Charging System” or combo-cord favored by German and American automakers—as opposed to the CHAdeMO fast charging port utilized by Japanese vehicles. The network of combo-compatible Quick Chargers is not nearly as wide as CHAdeMO, but this is expected to level over time (as many Quick Charger providers begin to offer two plugs).
It’s rare for EV drivers to depend on Quick Charging except in a pinch.
The conventional VW Golf has always been known for its relatively upscale interior for a compact car. The seats are comfy, with the level of support usually reserved for luxury cars. Dashboard gauges and controls are clear and accessible.
In terms of cargo, the baggage area in the gas- or diesel-powered Golf does lose about 10 percent of its capacity to make room for EV batteries. The Focus Electric compromises its cargo to a much greater degree.
Standard features with the Golf include an eight-speaker CD sound system and an auxiliary audio jack. Optional features include Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, satellite radio, iPod connectivity, navigation and an audio system with a touch-screen display.
The E-Golf, VWs first all-electric car available in the US, is priced at $36,265 (including destination and delivery). That means the E-Golf is priced in between the more affordable popular Nissan LEAF, which has a starting price of $29,800, and German luxury EVs—the BMW i3 and Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive—offered at $42,300 and $42,400 respectively.
These figures do not take a $7,500 federal tax credit, or a $2,500 rebate offered in California, into consideration.
The Nissan LEAF and VW E-Golf sell at nearly identical prices, that is, when you compare a fully loaded Nissan LEAF to the E-Golf’s single trim option: the SEL premium. Standard features include LED lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, rearview camera, keyless access, heated front seats, automatic post-collision braking system, and SiriusXM satellite radio.
The E-Golf is bigger and more robust than the suite of subcompact EVs from Fiat, Chevy, Smart, and Mitsubishi. The VW electric car, while cheaper than EVs from BMW, Mercedes and Tesla, does not compete in terms of luxury features, design and innovative technology. That puts the VW E-Golf in the group of all-electric five-seat compacts that includes the Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus Electric. The main distinguishing factors between those three vehicles are design—which vehicle is most attractive in your eyes—and the level of commitment from the different automakers. Nissan is all-in, with domestic LEAF production and availability in all 50 states. Ford is on the fence in terms of pure electrics, but is indicating support of plug-in hybrids. And Volkswagen, while claiming that it wants the industry’s lead position in terms of electrifying the automobile, has not yet backed that goal with big production and wide distribution of battery-powered plug-in cars.
Overall, the e-Golf is one of the strongest efforts to date in the electric space, but you might not be seeing too many of them any time soon. For now, it’s going to be on sale only in states that are on board with the California-led Multi-State Zero Emissions Action Plan: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. Live somewhere else and you’ll have to burn a little gas to pick one up.