2015 Volkswagen e-Golf review: e-Golf expands VW's hatchback range into electrics

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Starting at $36,565

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.5 Overall
  • Performance 7
  • Features 6
  • Design 7
  • Media & Connectivity 6

The Good The 2014 Volkswagen e-Golf's 85-kilowatt motor gives it ample acceleration, while multiple driving modes and regeneration levels add flexibility. A J1772 Combo port allows for fast charging.

The Bad As with most electric cars, range is limited, at only an EPA-rated 83 miles for the e-Golf. The navigation system has a tedious process for entering addresses.

The Bottom Line The 2014 Volkswagen e-Golf is a solid electric car, offering comfort and good driving dynamics, but its range and feature set do not distinguish it in any particular way from its competitors.

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.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

The engine compartment hosts an 85-kilowatt motor driving the front wheels and power control electronics. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

The low-slung nature of the extra weight become more apparent when I took turns at speed, as I could feel the inertial force work on the chassis more. I've felt similar handling behavior in the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf , which also keep their weight low.

The e-Golf's 24.2 kilowatt-hour battery pack sits low in the center of the car. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Capacitive touch

Filling the e-Golf's center dashboard is a 5.8-inch touchscreen showing navigation, phone, stereo and trip information. Volkswagen notes that this new infotainment system uses a capacitive touchscreen, similar to smartphones, and I found it to be very responsive. A homescreen includes icons for the system's functions, but hard buttons along the bezel made for quicker access to the navigation and stereo controls.

Entering destinations through the touchscreen or voice command proved exceedingly tedious, as this step-by-step process begins with choosing between North American countries, then drilling down to state, city, street and number. Volkswagen needs to streamline this process, possibly by adding the assumption that your destination is in the same state as the car. The points-of-interest database includes a list of charging stations, sorted by distance. However, it would do better to include more robust, data-connected listings that show which charging stations are occupied, and what standards they support, similar to what PlugShare shows.

Volkswagen has long insisted on using a proprietary port for media devices instead of a standard USB port, and it is no different with the e-Golf. As such, you will need adapter cables for mini-USB, standard USB, and iOS 30-pin and Lightning devices or drives. In the car that Volkswagen provided for CNET, I made use of the Lightning connector for my iPhone 5S. With it plugged in, I could browse its music library using the car's stereo interface. For shorter drives, I relied on the Bluetooth connection and its wireless convenience, but I had to use the phone to select music in this mode.

The e-Golf uses a capactive touchscreen, similar to that used on smartphones and tablets. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

As with other Golf models, a monochrome display on the instrument panel let me choose between trip, navigation, stereo and phone information. Likewise, the center head unit included more detailed information about the e-Golf's electric performance, including its remaining range and miles per kilowatt-hour rate, this latter figure being one means of rating your driving efficiency. I saw it go as high as 4.6 miles per kilowatt-hour, a rate that would get it much further than the EPA's 83 miles, considering the 24.2 kilowatt-hour battery pack.

Volkswagen notes that it takes 20 hours to charge the battery to full from a 110-volt outlet, but the e-Golf's 7.2-kilowatt onboard charger cuts that time down to under 4 hours from a 240-volt charging station. In addition, Volkswagen includes J1772 Combo fast charging capability, a relatively new standard, that can bring the e-Golf's charge level up to 80 percent in half an hour.

This J1772 Combo port allows DC fast charging, bringing the e-Golf's battery to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Lifestyle fit

The limited range of electric cars such as the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf requires you have a fairly specific lifestyle. It's best if you have a place to charge it at home and commute under about 60 miles a day. You can get away with a longer commute if you have a place to charge at work. From my conversations with owners who fit this profile, the EV becomes a primary car, the daily driver and often the weekend errand runner as well. Meanwhile, the gasoline-fueled car gathers dust in the driveway until it's needed for a longer trip.

With that profile, the Volkswagen e-Golf makes for an excellent fit. Its smooth and comfortable driving characteristic makes time behind the wheel enjoyable. Its simple driving controls let you engage with it to a greater or lesser degree. If you don't want to think about its electric drivetrain much, for example, you can drive it in default Normal mode, only touching the shifter for Park, Drive and Reverse. If you want to maximise your efficiency, you can play with the different regen settings.

However, the e-Golf does not offer any sort of electronic driving coach to help efficiency, as some other cars do. I also would like the car to hold onto my drive settings instead of defaulting to Normal mode and coasting. If I parked it in Eco and the first level of regeneration, I would like it to be on those settings when I get in again.

The cabin electronics offer decent navigation, hands-free phone and stereo options, features that keep Volkswagen up with the competition. The response from this system is very good, but Volkswagen needs to streamline destination input. I did not find any voice controls for the audio system, either. Volkswagen includes its Car-Net service with the e-Golf, a telematics service making some features available through an app.

Tech specs

Model 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf
Trim SEL Premium
Powertrain 85-kilowatt electric motor, 24.2 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack
EPA fuel economy 116 mpg equivalent
Navigation Standard with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming, SD card, USB drive, iOS integration, satellite radio, HD radio
Audio system Eight speaker system
Driver aids Rear view camera
Base price $35,445, £30,845
Price as tested $36,265

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