VW's electric e-Golf more than just a cart

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/ Updated: May 14, 2014 3:17 PM PDT

In a rather bold statement, Volkswagen has said it intends to be the leader in e-mobility among automakers. If it intends to surpass companies such as Nissan, which has had the Leaf electric car out since 2010, it has some catching up to do.

Volkswagen's first electric car out of the gate will be the 2015 e-Golf, and from my drive of a European version during a recent press event, it looks like the company is on the right track.

The seventh generation of the Volkswagen Golf, sometimes referred to as the Mk7, comes to the US this year in a variety of flavors: the gasoline TSI, the diesel TDI, the high performance GTI, and the electric e-Golf. The new Golf body retains the hatchback and comes in two-door and four-door body styles. It adds a little over an inch in length and half an inch in width, but the roof is about an inch lower.

More importantly, the new Golf is built on Volkswagen's new MQB architecture, which lets it fit different drivetrains. For the e-Golf, which will only be offered as a four-door hatchback, that means its 24.2 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack fits under the front and rear of the vehicle, and down the transmission tunnel. Although that battery pack weighs 701 pounds, the curb weight of the e-Golf comes in at just 3,090 pounds, equivalent to its conventionally-fueled brethren.

With this battery pack, Volkswagen claims 70 to 90 miles of range, and 115 miles with its Eco Plus mode, although these are not EPA numbers.

When I got into the car, it showed 110 miles of range on its instrument cluster display. Pushing the accelerator, it moves quietly forward, offering a nice and predictable response to my input. Even better, I didn't feel it lurch, which the 199 pound-feet of torque from its 115 horsepower electric motor would surely have caused without some decent acceleration programming.

2015 Volkswagen e-Golf
Volkswagen used its new Golf platform for the electric e-Golf, stuffing battery packs under front and rear, and in the transmission tunnel. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Noting the easy power delivery, I stomped the accelerator on the first straightaway. The e-Golf reacted very well, chirping its front wheels a bit and setting forward with determination, that linear non-stop torque of an electric vehicle. Volkswagen cites figures of 4.2 seconds to 25 mph and a leisurely 10 seconds to 60, but it felt faster to me. However, I couldn't bring it up to the full 60 mph on the streets Volkswagen had chosen for the route.

Coming to a full stop, I felt the weight of the battery pack a little, as at the moment of stopping the e-Golf felt like it wanted to pull the suspension forward. As with all new electric cars, the e-Golf uses a regenerative braking system, capturing kinetic energy and recharging the battery pack.

And like the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive I tested recently, the e-Golf offers multiple regeneration settings. I could pull the shifter to the left and choose from three different settings. Maximum regeneration slowed the car down precipitously when I lifted from the accelerator, while the minimum setting let the car coast further.

At a steady pace down the road, the ride quality felt good, not much different than the standard Golf. The weight of the battery was well disguised by the car's dynamics. Even better, when I took the e-Golf around turns, it handled comfortably. There is a little play in the wheel, enough to make the e-Golf an easy-driving cruiser.

2015 Volkswagen e-Golf
Slapping the shifter to the sides changes the regeneration mode from light to heavy. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Volkswagen includes three different drive modes in the car: Normal, Eco, and Eco Plus. Eco reduces the power output of the drivetrain from 115 to 94 horsepower and bringing the top speed down to 72 mph. Eco Plus brings horsepower down to 74, and the top speed down to 56 mph. Both modes also reduce air conditioning power. However, Volkswagen notes that flooring the accelerator defeats the mode limitations, unleashing the full drivetrain power.

I was driving in Normal mode, and making ample use of the accelerator. As such, I had brought that projected 110 mile range down to 83 miles, while only covering 8 miles of actual road. That remaining range is more in line with the 70 to 90 miles Volkswagen says the e-Golf will go when driven in Normal mode.

Under the fuel-filler hatch on the right rear fender, I was pleased to find a J1772 Combo port. The only other vehicle I've seen with this charging port is the Chevrolet Spark EV. This port lets you hook up a standard J1772 plug for Level 2 charging, from a 240-volt source, to recharge the battery in less than four hours, according to Volkswagen. From a DC fast charging station supporting the J1772 Combo standard, the e-Golf can gain an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes.

2015 Volkswagen e-Golf
The J1772 Combo port allows Level 2 charging or fast DC Level 3 charging. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The 2015 e-Golf benefits substantially from the development Volkswagen put into the seventh generation Golf, an extremely important global model for the company. The hatchback design and dashboard ergonomics are well thought out. The e-Golf gets a little extra in the form of improved aerodynamics and standard LED headlights, which use less power than standard automotive headlamps.

The e-Golf will also get the new infotainment head unit Volkswagen developed for the Golf. This system includes navigation, digital audio sources, and a Bluetooth handsfree phone system. In addition, owners will be able to schedule charging with a smartphone app.

A Volkswagen spokesperson said there will be some changes for the US version from the one I drove to comply with vehicle regulations, but the driving character and performance should be the same. Although not revolutionary when it comes to electric vehicle driving range, the 2015 e-Golf will make a good choice within its limitations.

CNET will offer a more comprehensive review of the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf when we get one in for a full test.

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2015 Volkswagen e-Golf

Part Number: 2015e-Golf
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