After a night charging up in the garage, the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf's display showed 108 miles of range when I pushed the start button. After slogging through San Francisco traffic then running down a rain-soaked freeway at 60 mph, covering 12 miles, the range figure was down to 82 miles, suggesting my real-world range from the garage had been 94 miles.
Still, it was considerably better than the EPA range of 83 miles for the e-Golf and illustrated the vagaries of electric car range estimates.
The e-Golf is Volkswagen's entry into the electric car game, and incidentally broadens the Golf range beyond its gasoline and diesel offerings. As with other electric cars on the market, it could be considered a "compliance car," necessary to meet zero emission vehicle (ZEV) sales requirements in seven US states that have adopted the ZEV mandate. Despite its limited range, however, I found nothing in the e-Golf to suggest it's anything less than a fully realized car.
Some of the e-Golf's quality driving feel comes down to the base Golf model. Getting a major update for the 2015 model year, the new Golf is built on Volkswagen's MQB platform, a modular chassis designed to handle a variety of drivetrains. The Golf GTI hot hatch and Golf TDI diesel share that platform and the basic Golf hatchback body with the e-Golf.
For the e-Golf, Volkswagen leaves out engine, transmission and fuel tank, replacing them with an 85-kilowatt motor driving the front wheels with a single reduction gear and a 24.2 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. Impressively, this electric driveline gear does not impact the cabin space at all, nor does it unbalance the car. Instead, it gives the e-Golf 83 miles of zero emission driving, according to its EPA rating. The EPA rating of 116 mpg equivalent makes the e-Golf the most efficient compact electric car on the market.
As with electric cars from other manufacturers, Volkswagen offers just one well-stocked trim level. For the US, that means the navigation-equipped SEL Premium, at a price of $36,265 with destination fee. Volkswagen also offers the e-Golf in the UK, again with navigation, for a price of £30,845. UK buyers can shave off £5,000 with a government electric vehicle grant, and US buyers can figure in the government's $7,500 tax credit.
Regen or coasting
There is something of a dialogue among electric car builders as to driving style. Tesla led the single-pedal movement, also followed by BMW, where lifting off the accelerator causes heavy regeneration, slowing the car as if you were braking. On the other hand, some automakers prefer to only engage regeneration when the driver uses the brake pedal, maximizing the car's ability to coast.
Volkswagen leans towards the latter position, as the e-Golf's default mode lets it coast with zero regeneration. However, slapping the shifter to the side engages up to three levels of regeneration, from light to heavy. At the heaviest level of regen, the e-Golf came very close to single pedal driving, slowing enough that I hardly needed to use the brake for stop lights. The e-Golf includes a B setting on the shifter gate as well, but it duplicates the heaviest regen setting attainable by slapping the shifter to the side.
As another means of maximizing range, Volkswagen includes Eco and Eco Plus driving modes. The car defaults to Normal, which gave me full power and climate control. Eco detunes both throttle and climate control somewhat, while Eco Plus detunes the throttle further, limits speed to 60 mph, and disables heating and air conditioning.
The lack of accelerator response in Eco Plus mode made driving the streets of San Francisco frustrating, but it wasn't completely untenable. The pace of traffic was not quick, as the trip computer's display showing an average speed of 10 mph attested, so keeping up with traffic was not challenging. But it made the e-Golf feel very boring. Getting on the freeway in Eco Plus mode felt suicidal, as it was limited to 60 mph. I cruised along in the slow lane, hoping merging traffic or the ever present big rigs notice the little blue Volkswagen.
After giving Eco Plus a try, Normal mode felt more than fresh, it was downright exciting. You see, the motor's 115 horsepower isn't much, but its 199 pound-feet of torque comes on hard and fast. That kind of power was more than ready to tear the tread off the 16-inch low rolling resistance Continental ProContact tires when I stomped the accelerator. Trying a fast start on wet pavement, the e-Golf's traction control struggled to keep the car from sliding all over the road.
At 3,391 pounds (1,538kg) curb weight, the e-Golf weighs in at about 370 pounds (168kg) more than the gasoline-powered Golf. I didn't feel that extra weight when starting, stopping or changing lanes, partly due to the car's suspension gear. Along a strut-type suspension in the front, the e-Golf uses a sophisticated multi-link system at the rear wheels. I could feel the car comfortably handle lane changes, nimbly adjusting for body motion.