The risibly visible, yet indivisible splendour of the VW e-Golf
Underscoring the importance of a single motorcar can be quite difficult in world terms but, states Iain Robertson, German carmaker, VW, gives it a darned good try in most territories, especially since a new EV now exists.
White test cars usually sound off a warning to me, ever since a very good ‘friend’ pranked me by applying ‘UN’ and ‘MEDIA’ across several panels of one, as I slept. It took ages to remove the electrical tape and even longer to polish out the adhesive residue on the bonnet, bootlid, roof and both doors of the poor vehicle. Seldom have I returned a car to its maker so clean.
Whether it is because the Volkswagen e-Golf looks so anodyne, as a result of its undoubted popularity, I cannot tell you. Yet, a white one managed to escape his jocular intentions, despite sitting in my driveway for the best part of a week, with the added attraction of slightly ajar window, due to an electrical cable running from a fortunately sited, domestic electrical socket directly to the charging point on the Golf.
The whole concept of a plug-in hatchback that will seldom see the forecourt of a fuel station, unless it is on the motorway, sipping its energy from one of the growing number of charging points sprouting at service areas, certainly presents a raft of amusing opportunities to pranksters. Unsure of whether I would make the distance to some of the places I needed to visit, during its tenure with me, I shall admit that ‘range anxiety’, a fresh phenomenon that is now the premise of every EV driver in the UK, regardless of how much their operators might deny it, kept my usage of the e-Golf somewhat closer to home than I had originally intended.
However, despite the nervously curtailed nature of my test exercise, I remained immensely impressed by the e-Golf. Apart from its subtle badges and equally subtle body-kit, there is little to distinguish it from other Golf models. In some ways, I think that I wanted it to spark reaction, as though it were a ‘Back To The Future’ movie prop, with factored-in blue arcing (it does have blue styling strips) and an accompanying flash of inspirational genius. Yet, it did not, even though it delivered a more than shocking power delivery, thanks to instant urge at traffic lights and junctions, where it would leave even the most determined local hot-rod in its silent wake.
With only a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em hints externally, the interior is even more ‘normality’, complete with DSG-type gear selector, large-screen sat-nav and only an electricity usage dial in place of a rev-counter. Its front and rear seats are like those of any run-of-the-mill Golf, exceedingly comfortable and accommodating, with height, rake and reach adjustment for the driver, matched by rake and reach feasibility of the steering column. Naturally, an all-pervading greyness infests the interior décor but, as every regular Golf is thus equipped, it performs a very good task of its character just wafting past everyone fortunate enough to ride within its spacious, comfortable and well-built cabin.
The simple truth is, I much prefer the inoffensive approach adopted by VW. It is far better than the stare-if-you-dare plug-ugliness of every other EV presently on sale, which warrants halo-polishing with every window of opportunity. As such, the e-Golf lends itself perfectly to residence in the corporate car park, or plugged into one of NCP’s new-fangled charging posts (where available and not already occupied by a Leaf, Lexus, Prius, or Zoe).
Ironically, even though I could sense its value as a city commuter, it was the ‘range anxiety’ that caused me to experience a state of apoplexy, even while I was taking the pictures of the car. Although it had been fully, overnight charged (for 13 hours; showing 100 miles available on the dial), within two miles of leaving home, the car was showing just 80 miles worth of range. After a drive into the countryside to sample its ride, handling and road holding on my customary 50-mile test route, I stopped to pick up some shopping and commenced taking the photographs…with 30 miles remaining on the clock, just two miles distant from the salvation of my domestic, three-pin recharging facility. Catch the opportunity to ‘fast-charge’ the car and its battery pack can be charged to 80% capacity within around 35 minutes.
Never have I been so jittery about a lack of fuel. It was quite different to the low-fuel situation I have experienced with petrol, or diesel-powered vehicles. It even affected the manner by which I took the photographs, the poor results of which demanded that I retake them on a separate occasion. I believe that it was not so much the remaining distance in the ‘tank’ but the alacrity with which the e-Golf consumed its charge. By the time I returned home, the reading was down to 18 miles.
Hills guzzle the charge, as do any bursts of show-off acceleration. Yet, there is an interesting ‘hybrid-esque’ on-board recharging system that gathers up the energy created either through braking, or while on a trailing throttle. By slapping the auto-selector to the left, once, the charge dial shows a satisfying extra mile, or few, while conducting the car’s progress in and around town. Carry out the exercise a second time and every time the throttle is released, the brake lights are illuminated (as a rearward warning) and the car slows rapidly, with the driver scarcely needing to apply the left-hand pedal and with an accompanying slug of extra charge recorded on the clock. Used judiciously, this ingenious facility will help drivers to overcome some of the anxiety and even extend the car’s range, as if by ‘witchcraft’.
Having driven several examples of various Golfs over the years, I can tell you that the e-Golf’s general dynamic balance is pretty much what you would expect of it. However, thanks to the weight of 264 Lithium-ion battery cells, the car does feel slightly leaden (if you will pardon the use of that word), when tackling bends and inevitable road bumps. It is difficult to disguise such bulk. Yet, grip levels are high, the steering is accurate and the ride quality is better than tolerable.
Its actual zero-CO2 emissions, zero VED performance feels significantly better than the stated 0-60mph in 10.2 seconds, with a top speed of 87mph. The auto-hold electronic parking brake works efficiently, although I remain unconvinced by the value of e-brakes. While the ‘engine’ develops a moderate 115bhp, two economy profiles are incorporated, the first of which (Eco) cuts power to 95bhp, reduces the output of the air-con and alters the throttle response. The second (Eco+) cuts power to 75bhp, disables the air-con and alters throttle response again.
Conclusion: Living with an e-Golf is something by which greater familiarity will surely develop more user trust. I can see the point of the car, most especially in a city environment, as long as daily commuting is less than 70-80 miles round trip. For many London-based dwellers, an e-Golf might be a boon. However, without the government’s £5,000 grant, its £31,145 on-the-road price tag (as tested) is typically heavy-handed. It is a most ingenious hatchback, from its LED headlamps and under-bonnet technology rearwards, but I believe that hybrid technology is far more useful, especially if you reside in the countryside. Yet, that is not to deny its fairly broad appeal. I love it and appreciate it; I am just unconvinced if I could live with it, or not.