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2017 Volkswagen e-Golf review: VW's electric hatch edges toward 150-mile range

Although the EPA only credits it with 125 miles, our testing showed the e-Golf easily hitting 145 miles, and at a bargain price.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
6 min read

When I unplugged the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf and got behind the wheel, the center cluster display said it had 145 miles of range, 20 miles over its EPA-rated range of 125 miles. I tracked the e-Golf's stated range against its real-world miles on a trip that involved freeway speeds, a hill or two and urban traffic.

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

The Good

The 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf beat its 125-mile range estimate in our testing while its hatchback body makes for practical everyday use. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in the dashboard integrate nicely for navigation, audio and communications. At $28,995 before incentives, the e-Golf is an affordable EV option.

The Bad

Power steering feels unnaturally electric at low speeds, and the lack of hill hold or a creep mode lets the e-Golf roll back too easily. Rear-mounted charging port means backing into parking spaces with chargers.

The Bottom Line

In its SE trim, the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf is a very affordable and useful electric vehicle, with enough range to meet the needs of most urban and suburban buyers.

After parking and plugging the e-Golf back in, I calculated that the estimated range was almost exact, as I drove one more mile than the car thought it could go.

VW may have overestimated its emissions compliance for its diesel cars, but it appears to underestimate the range of the all-electric e-Golf.

In fact, the e-Golf received an impressive upgrade for its 2017 model year. Although it looks virtually identical to the previous e-Golf, VW gave it a more powerful motor and a bigger battery pack, increasing the range from 83 miles to the EPA-rated 125-mile specification.

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

With a substantial range increase for the 2017 model year and its hatchback body, the e-Golf makes a great first step into the electric pool.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

As with its gasoline-fueled counterparts, the e-Golf is a four-door hatchback, which I could argue is about the best body type for any car, as it combines ample cargo space with seating for five. As a testament to the compact size of the batteries and the flexibility of the Golf platform, the e-Golf doesn't lose any cargo capacity compared with its model siblings.

The e-Golf's 22.8 cubic feet of cargo space, with the rear seats up, bests that of the Mazda3 Hatchback and even squeaks by the Subaru Impreza Hatchback. And although the Honda Civic Hatchback comes out ahead at 25.7 cubic feet, it is also a bigger car, measuring 10 inches longer than the e-Golf. Sticking to electrics, the Chevy Bolt only gets 16.9 cubic feet under the hatch, although the longer Hyundai Ioniq Electric comes in at 23.8 cubic feet.

Numbers aside, I easily fit a flat-pack Ikea bookcase in the e-Golf, with room left over for far more Ikea Köttbullar, or meatballs as we call them, than I could ever eat.

VW e-Golf wraps new electric drive in hatchback goodness

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VW offers the e-Golf in two trims, SE and SEL Premium, the latter of which I drove. Both come with an 8-inch touchscreen in the dashboard, but the SEL Premium adds onboard navigation to the standard stereo, phone and energy management controls.

This generation of Volkswagen's infotainment system uses an intuitive icon-driven interface and works very well, with responsive touch times. The navigation system includes charging station locations, although it lacks real-time information on plug availability. When entering destinations manually, the system gave me a single entry box, much more convenient than choosing between a points-of-interest or address menu. However, the e-Golf doesn't integrate online destination search.

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf
Enlarge Image
2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

Volkswagen conveniently includes a list of charging stations in the navigation database, although it doesn't show real-time availability.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

As the e-Golf supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto , I didn't sweat the limitations of its own navigation system much. The CarPlay integration worked as well as I've seen on any car. Annoyingly, Apple hasn't added to CarPlay apps much since launch. I would absolutely love to have the PlugShare app, which shows real-time availability for EV charging stations, on the e-Golf's dashboard.

One nifty feature on the e-Golf's infotainment system is its ability to schedule departure times, which helps the car know when to begin charging its 35.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. Charging in the darkest hours of the night can take advantage of lower electricity rates for regions that use variable pricing.

Volkswagen claims less than 6 hours for a full charge from flat on a Level 2, 240-volt charger. My e-Golf SEL Premium came standard with a Level 3 Combo charging port, which can bring the battery up to 80 percent of charge in an hour, according to Volkswagen. The e-Golf's charging port sits on the right rear fender, which forced me to back into parking spaces when I wanted to charge. Other electrics, such as the Chevy Bolt, more conveniently put the charging port in front.

A button on the e-Golf's console let me choose between Normal, Eco and Eco Plus drive modes, although I found the shifter, with its D and B settings, more generally useful for optimizing energy use. D, or drive, lets the car sail, as the Germans call it, or coast, and only begins regenerating electricity when you hit the brakes. I found that D worked best on the freeway, where I could gain some momentum going downhill to use on the ensuing ascent.

B, which stands for braking, began regeneration and subsequently slowing the car as soon as I took my foot off the accelerator. I preferred using B in the city, where I learned to gauge when to lift from the accelerator so that I could come to a stop right at the next traffic light. Although the e-Golf doesn't regen hard enough for full one-pedal driving, it came very close. I was also pleased to see the power gauge enter the charge zone each time I lifted. Those analog gauges on the instrument cluster are an odd choice for an otherwise future-forward car like the e-Golf.

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

Taking the place of an internal combustion engine, the e-Golf's power control electronics sit directly under the hood, with a 100-kilowatt motor just below.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

Impressively, the e-Golf didn't feel particularly heavy, despite its 701-pound battery pack, which makes it about 500 pounds heavier overall than the standard Golf. The car felt reasonably balanced, although I stuck to typical urban and suburban driving rather than attempting to carve up the corners. However, I did not care for the steering, which had that electric rheostat feel I remembered from early electric power-steering systems. Overboosted, the wheel turned too easily, and was accompanied by a whirring noise. But despite its feel, the steering is precise.

For the 2017 model year, Volkswagen boosted the e-Golf's drive motor from 85 to 100 kilowatts, which comes out to 134 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. The torque number pays off in typical urban driving, as I could get off the line quickly when traffic lights turned green. In hilly San Francisco, the e-Golf pulled up steep ascents easily, without my having to dig deep into the accelerator.

Some sort of hill-hold feature would have come in handy on even small inclines, though, as I found the e-Golf ready to roll backward if I didn't keep my foot firmly on the brake. Likewise, no creep mode meant I had to affirmatively use the accelerator, even if I just wanted to close a car length while sitting in traffic.

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

Although compact in size, the e-Golf boasts a substantial cargo area.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

Overall, I really enjoyed driving the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf. Its electric drivetrain makes it very simple to get in and go. The overly electric steering feel wasn't as much of an issue at speed, mostly just when I maneuvered through parking lots. And the range made it practical for most suburban trips. 125 miles should work for most people; however, the Chevy Bolt, at 238 miles, blows it away. Likewise, the Tesla Model 3, which should feel a little more upscale than the e-Golf, will come with 215 miles of EPA-rated range.

I was also disappointed at the e-Golf's lack of driver assistance features, such as adaptive cruise control or even a blind-spot monitor system. However, Volkswagen says that driver assistance will be available as a package later this year on e-Golfs with the SEL Premium trim. One additional late available feature, called Maneuver Braking, sounds useful, as it automatically brakes if you are about to hit something during low-speed driving, such as in a parking lot.

Volkswagen prices the e-Golf at $28,995 for the SE trim and $35,595 for the SEL Premium version. Given that those prices do not reflect potential federal and state subsidies, this is one exceptional deal for an electric car. Although the SEL Premium trim offers some nice features, such as LED headlights, available driver assist features and a Level 3 charging port, I would opt for the lower-priced SE trim. It integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so that takes care of navigation, and features such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist are more useful on road trip cars, whereas the e-Golf works better as a suburban runabout.

The new e-Golf, with its longer range, adds to the recent influx of truly practical electric cars . Along with the Chevy Bolt, Hyundai Ioniq Electric and Tesla Model 3, we are at a product tipping point which should boost the adoption of electric vehicles. Not only do all these cars come with useful range, they are reasonably affordable. And consider the greatly reduced cost of fuel, which the EPA estimates at $550 annually for the e-Golf, along with likely lower maintenance costs due to the many fewer moving parts in an electric drivetrain versus gasoline.

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Features 7Design 8Media 8