An all-electric Golf is the gentle nudge many motorists have been waiting for to embark on a journey away from the internal combustion engine. Being a Golf, it is familiar to just about everyone and makes for an easy transition into the world of electric cars. Other electric cars that are arriving on the scene are doing their very best to appear futuristic, post-modern even. They want to draw a line in the sand, mark a departure from the fossil fuel past, and drive squarely (and silently) to pastures new. Volkswagen see a flaw in this plan, however. They see the range anxiety, the fear of the unknown, the reserved nature of most motorists and so wanted to keep things familiar. Enter the e-Golf.
And familiar it is. Sitting in the e-Golf, you are struck by… well, very little. It’s a Golf. Its comfortable and functional, but understated and refined. The steering wheel, save for the blue stitching, is lifted straight from its siblings’ interiors. As is the infotainment system, the seats, the switchgear and the optional Active Info Display. It’s all reassuringly familiar. And being Volkswagen, it all works, it’s all sensibly laid out, switches are where you expect them to be, and you very quickly get on with the job of driving.
Strangely, another item lifted straight from the smoky-next-of-kin is the “Engine Start” switch. Which does still have the word “Engine” etched into its surface. Still, quirks aside, press it and you are met with a lively binnacle wake-up display and a friendly two-tone bong to alert you that you’re all ready to go. There’s no fanfare, no rumble, no electric whine, no lightning bolts and no three-phase hum. Slide the (borrowed) gear selector down to D, press the accelerator, and you silently waft forward.
Around town the e-Golf behaves faultlessly. The electric drivetrain owes itself well to the stop-start nature of a city centre, and leaning on the regenerative braking makes traffic-creep even more tolerable than some automatics. Whilst we’re on the subject, the drive modes are flexible, and allow the car to react exactly as you would expect from your run-of-the-mill slush-box, or put it in full regen-mode and you get a much more aggressive deceleration when you drop below about 10% throttle. One-pedal driving takes a few miles to get used to, but isn’t so unfamiliar as to be daunting. With four levels of regen to choose from, it’s an easy transition. (Notice the theme?)
Stretching the e-Golf’s legs a bit on an A-road proves to be very Golf-like too. The electric motors do well to get you up to speed from the lights, and the regenerative braking again coming in to its own between the traffic light dashes. No complaints here, but at almost 10-seconds to 60mph, the e-Golf doesn’t quite have the party-piece acceleration we’ve come to expect from other electric cars. Not that it should at its price point of just over £30,000 with the latest government grants, coming in well short of Tesla’s entry level offering. The acceleration whilst not brisk, is perfectly palatable, and I can’t help but feel we have been just a little spoilt by those high-class electric cars to date.
Then there’s the motorway. The silence of the drivetrain, the calming dash display which happily doesn’t spend precious electrons telling you to be gentler on the throttle or plan further ahead. The wind noise is minimal, and the tyre roar is only audible because all other sounds have been muted. It isn’t droning or deafening but has become the dominant noise in the cabin at 70mph. As a motorway cruiser it is… well, a Golf. Dare I say, a Golf with a tad more refinement?
It’s on the B-roads that you first get an inkling that this car isn’t your normal Golf. The ride is comfortable and supple, the steering direct and progressive, but at 1600kg the e-Golf is a chunky monkey. Compared to a petrol-powered Golf, this car does start to show that extra 300kg when you push on a bit. The instant torque from the motor means the weight is of no concern when overtaking a tractor, but you do feel the car take just a fraction of a second longer to get settled in a turn. There’s also a build-up of understeer on longer, sweeping corners that is just a little more pronounced than its leaner siblings.
So, it’s a Golf, but a little heavier. Good car, but B-road blasts have suffered. Four out of Five stars. Next please.
There is an aspect of electric car ownership I have not touched on yet. And I haven’t because it isn’t Volkswagen’s fault. It’s a limitation of technology that’s intrinsic to the cars we have available as consumers today. Range.
When I first got in the e-Golf, the range was 138 miles. I was told it had been on charge all night and not moved a wheel, so 138 miles is all I got. Breaking that number down, we need to have some contingency, and charging points are far rarer than petrol stations. Let’s take 20 miles for that. Then there is a “real world” multiplier, which means your indicated range is what you can get if you do nothing but concentrate on driving efficiently. If, like me, you’re human and have to be somewhere, you lose 20%. We are now at around about 100 miles. 100 miles before you need to be charging. And that is just not good enough.
As an engineer, I am fascinated by the e-revolution. That instantaneous torque, the peaceful silence, and ultimately, the foregoing of emission spewing vehicles is not only inevitable, but essential. But, also as an engineer, I am aware that we just aren’t there yet. The batteries are inadequate, the charging network insufficient and the range-anxiety, inescapable.
Given these innate shortcomings, the e-Golf is an absolutely critical step towards the future. It’s just so familiar. It is the perfect electric car for someone who doesn’t care that they have an electric car. For the pragmatic person that the practicalities and costs of “going electric” make more sense than a petrol or a diesel. It allows for such a gentle transition from the past to the future that most people wouldn’t even notice, and for that you have to commend what Volkswagen have achieved. It has the classless good looks, the superior build quality, the ergonomic cabin and the multi-discipline capabilities that we have come to expect from every Golf, as acceptable in the supermarket car park as it is outside a hotel in Mayfair. No one would ever question your decision to buy a Golf, but you may end up explaining why the e-Golf best suits you.
|Price||Starting at £33,840 OTR As tested £39,810 (£36,310 with Plug-In Grant – metallic paint, Discover Pro Navigation and Infotainment, TFT Active Info Display, dynamic lighting, lane/brake assist, winter pack, tinted glass)||Minimum you want £37,320 (£33,820 with Plug-In Grant – Dynamic lighting, TFT Active Info Display, Discover Pro Navigation and Infotainment, rear-view camera)|
|Range||144miles||As Tested 112 miles|
|Exterior||Does what a Golf does best. Smart, classless, understated and a great all-rounder.||****|
|Interior||All very familiar, very functional and very friendly. Upgrading to the TFT Active Info Display and the Pro infotainment makes this a joyous place to be.||****|
|Performance||That extra weight does start to show itself when you push-on, and the sluggish 0-60 detracts from the fun factor.||**|
|Comfort||Silent. Not quiet, silent. Supple and an easy mileage muncher.||****|
|Practicality||The batteries are hidden under the rear seats and floor so there’s loads of boot space. Going four-up isn’t a drama either. You’ll find yourself constantly searching for charging points which puts a drag on longer journeys.||***|
|Value||As far as electric cars go, very few really come close to this in terms of value. The build quality and familiarity of a Golf, with a futuristic touch.||****|
|Overall||A Golf, but electric. It’s a great car in and of its own, and makes the change from fossil fuel to electric much easier. Range is the only thing letting it down.||****|