Volkswagen e-Golf Review

Jul 17, 2015 04:20 PM EDT | Nick Jaynes

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Serenity is not easy to come by these days. Our lives are filled with noisy distractions – from kids to smartphones to an overwhelming 24-hour news cycle. And driving used to be another one of those disturbances, with engine rumble and smelly hydrocarbons.

I say 'used to be' because now there's a car that takes away all the auditory chaos out of the daily commute and replaces it with icecap-kissing serenity. Of course, I'm referring to the Volkswagen e-Golf, which might be the best and most enjoyable non-Tesla electric car on the market.

TOP OF ITS CLASS

The e-Golf is distinguished in the EV market in many ways. Broadly, it runs the line between bespoke EV, like the LEAF, or an altered mass-market car, like the Ford Focus EV. Instead, the e-Golf was planned as an all-electric variant of the all-new mark 7 Golf from the outset. That means designers designed the platform for gas, diesel, and electric - and to excel equally, no matter the powertrain.

This means the e-Golf doesn't suffer from diminished interior capacity nor does it drive like something out of a child's dream journal. This, I should mention, is true for virtually no other compact EV on the market; most suffer from one or both of those issues. I'll get to driving dynamics in a moment, though. First, we should talk specs.

The e-Golf is powered by an AC electric motor that produces 115 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque, which is sent down to the front wheels by way of a single-speed transmission – both of which were designed in-house by VW. Energy comes from 264 lithium-ion batteries – totaling 24.2 kWh – that were co-developed with Panasonic. With a full charge, the batteries will propel the e-Golf for 83 miles, good for a best-in-class EPA rating of 119 MPGe. If you don't know what MPGe is, don't worry. It will never really ever come up. So just remember 83 miles per charge; that's the important figure.

Thanks to the 7.2-kW onboard power module, the e-Golf will recharge on a standard 110/120-volt outlet in around 20 hours. Plug in to a 240-volt and a full recharge is achieved in less than 4 hours. Get real fancy – or lucky – and find a 50-kW DC fast-charge station and you can gather an 80-percent charge in just 30 minutes.

If for some reason you care about acceleration, the e-Golf will jaunt to 60 mph from a standstill in just over 10 seconds on the way to its 87 mph top speed. Pop it into "Eco" mode and that 0-60 time drops 13 seconds and the top speed is reached at 74 mph, as the car limits system power output to 94 hp and 162 lb-ft. Go one step further up the green ladder to "Eco+" and total power is capped at 74 hp and 129 lb-ft and the top end is limited to a meager 56 mph. I like to call that last setting the "Tree-hugger's Revenge" mode.

TRANQUILITY

As I mentioned in the opening, the overwhelming experience behind the wheel of the e-Golf is its tranquil driving style. Unlike other EVs, there's not an incessant whine from the electric motor, nor is there an excessive prevalence of tire or road noise. Instead, the e-Golf has a can fit for a Buddhist monk.

Thankfully, the e-Golf isn't only just quiet, it's also quite well planted. For example, I am going to throw the aforementioned Ford Focus EV and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV under the bus. The Focus is one of the cars that was modified to be electric after its initial design phase. Not only does it offer far, far less usable space in the rear cargo area than the gasoline-powered version, it also drives like it's been weighted down with lead bricks and its steering blocked off at 20-degrees of turn. Really, it's quite an atrocious car to drive.

Then there's the bespoke i-MiEV, which drives like a go-kart made from recycled golf carts. Honestly, there's a chance it is. Though I give Mitsu kudos for creating rear-drive EV, the rest of the experience is harrowing for all the wrong reasons. With these comparisons in mind, the best compliment I can pay the e-Golf is to say that it is normal ... wonderfully normal.

Like the rest of the 2015 Golf line, the e-Golf has crisp steering complete with a world-class turning radius, wonderfully responsive brakes, and enough headroom to comfortably accommodate Dennis Rodman. Plus, the seats are extremely cozy, outward visibility is outstanding, and the infotainment system – though slightly boring to behold – is easy to use and reliable (aka it didn't ever crash ... I'm looking at you, Ford).

The e-Golf also gets up out of its way pretty well, though, due to low horsepower figures, anything above 30 mph is kind of underwhelming. Again, if you're looking for seat-of-your-pants acceleration, you've come to the wrong place.

SKEPTIC

Of all the greatness the e-Golf offers – and there is much – the biggest detraction I see is its inability to be truly operated like a 'regular' car. By that, I mean a driver still can't run the A/C and give it the beans and still expect to go 83 miles on a charge. Believe me, I tried.

When I got into the e-Golf, I found myself babying it like I had with all other EVs. After a day or so of that, I said to myself, "No, drive it like a gas-powered car." That experiment lasted about 30 minutes. After punching the accelerator and running the climate control for a while, I watched the estimated range rapidly drop. I immediately gave up that experiment, rolled down the windows and applied the throttle as if an egg were underneath the pedal.

Range lost to the lead-foot gods can easily be regained through regenerative braking, which is essentially the car spinning the electric motor backward, slowing the vehicle and also creating electricity, which is sent into the onboard batteries. Leaving my house on day with a full battery, I went down a long hill into downtown Portland and by the time I hit the flatlands, the car was showing 113 miles of charge. That said, if you live in an entirely flat city, you won't have that saving grace.

Also, should the owner forget to plug the e-Golf in, his travel plans will be shot in the proverbial foot. One day during my week with the e-Golf, my father invited me to lunch and wanted to see the car. Unfortunately, as I climbed into the car, I discovered I had forgotten to plug it in the night before, leaving me with only 28 miles of estimated range. Though he only lives about 20 miles from my house, there would be no way I could get to him. So I ate lunch alone. Obviously, this wouldn't have been an issue in the gas-powered Golf.

Regenerative braking and my sob story aside, the overarching issue I see with the e-Golf is its needing to be babied – like all other compact EVs. 

NORMALCY

If you're the kind of buyer who is OK with the idea that you won't be able to treat the e-Golf like you might a gas- or diesel-powered car, then I fully recommend it. In fact, I recommend it over any other EV on the market, including the Model S. That's another discussion for another day.

The e-Golf is a good-looking, safe, spacious, and wholly enjoyable car that makes the EV-owning experience nearly normal. If VW could just make one that had a bit more on-board power, it could very well be the perfect car for the Twenty-first century. Until then, however, it's still a bit of a larf.

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