Volkswagen e-Golf first drive review: No gas, no diesel, no engine

eGolf Exterior

While other manufacturers have dabbled in the electric-vehicle arena, this is the first all-electric car for the U.S. market from Volkswagen. It features a large 24.2 kWh lithium-ion battery, is powered by a 115-horsepoer electric motor, and can go 70 to 90 miles of normal range, with up to 115 miles in Eco+ mode on a single charge. The e-Golf also jumps ahead of the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus EVs in the segment with more interior volume, rear-seat leg room, and up to seven percent more lb-ft of torque. The Volkswagen e-Golf features a single-speed transmission, which was developed in-house along with the motor at VW’s plant in Kassel, Germany.

The difference between the e-Golf and regular Golf models for the spotter’s guide list includes LED headlights (the first VW product in the U.S. with this feature), cool C-shaped LED DRLs, unique badging, different front and rear bumpers, and, of course, no tailpipes. While the regular Golf has a low 0.29 coefficient of drag, the e-Golf improves on that at 0.27 thanks to even better airflow management. In addition, the 16-inch alloy wheels are styled with aerodynamics in mind, and the low-rolling resistance tires help up the mileage range. The Volkswagen e-Golf also is only available as a four-door model.

eGolf Electric MotorOnboard the e-Golf is a 7.2 kW charger. Using a 240-volt Bosch box installed in your garage (or wherever you want), the e-Golf will take a full charge in less than four hours. It also has DC quick-charging capability, which means you plug in at a station with levels up to 40kW, and you can be 80% charged in about 30 minutes. If you have some time, you can also use a 110v outlet, but that will take you 20 hours. If you’re thinking about going to a full electric, you almost have to go with a 240v home unit. The Combined Charging System with dual plugs lives under the “gas cap,” and you can control a handful of functions through the VW EV app that soon will be available for Android and iPhone cellphones.

We mentioned maximum mileage in Eco+ mode; the e-Golf attempts maximum travel distance through a three-mode driver profile: Normal, Eco, and Eco+. Normal is the default mode. Select Eco, and max power output drops to 94 horsepower versus 115, and starting torque to 162 lb-ft from the normal 199. It also modifies the output of the A/C system and the throttle response curve. Go into Eco+ mode, and the power drops to 74 and 129, respectively. This also turns off the A/C completely, and limits throttle response even more.

What does this mean for overall performance? In the Normal setting, the top speed is electronically limited to 87 mph and 0-60-mph is accomplished in about 10 seconds. Eco mode drops to 72-mph tops, and 13 seconds 0-60. Eco+ is 56 mph and accelerates to 60 mph quicker than a bicycle, but not by much. Obviously, Eco+ mode is perfect for stop-and-go traffic (unless it’s the middle of summer and you’d pass out in the car without A/C) and short, around-town trips. In case you forget what mode you’re in, and try to get on the freeway before noticing the big rig barreling down your entrance lane, the e-Golf can smell fear and will give you full power and maximum torque if you drop the pedal to the metal in either of the Eco modes.

If your lack of control when driving prevents you from ever touching the Eco modes, you can also tune your brake settings to provide more regeneration. Level D1 (tap the shift lever once to the left) regenerates energy and slows down the car the least; move to level D2 or D3/B (tap the lever left twice or thrice) and it will slow down the car even more quickly, so much so that the brake lights come on automatically. If the battery is fully charged, however, no regeneration takes place.

eGolf InteriorInside the Golf, there’s a different instrument layout, with the power display replacing the tach. The speedo includes a battery-level indicator, and there are other e-Golf-specific gauges to either keep the driver informed/entertained, or totally confused. For example, I couldn’t find the odo reset button, no matter how hard I looked for it. It certainly wasn’t in the same place as on the regular Golf.

Other standard features, because the e-Golf comes only in SEL Premium trim, include touchscreen navigation, keyless access with pushbutton start, heated front seats, Bluetooth, V-Tex leatherette seats, rearview camera, Park Distance Control, and VW Car-Net connected services. The e-Golf’s special interior treatment includes touches of blue on the steering wheel stitching, seat trim, shifter, and the floor mats to play up VW’s global Think Blue initiative, under which all fuel-efficient VW vehicles fall.

On the road, the e-Golf was a lot of fun to drive in normal mode, with its impressive torque number. You could tell the difference with Eco mode and power reduction, and since it was a warm day when we drove, and we’re native Californians so by nature are addicted to A/C, there was no way we were going into Eco+ mode. We can try it later when we have the car for an extended period and it cools down in the “winter.” (The e-Golf doesn’t go on sale until early next year.)

egolf badgeWhile one of the drawbacks is noticeable noise because there’s no engine roaring to mask it, the e-Golf was impressively quiet on the road. VW made sure to compensate for the increased wind and road noise by changing the subframe to a pendulum mount. This not only offsets the electric motor torque’s build up when accelerating, it also reduces ancillary NVH. The e-Golf also uses numerous sound-deadening materials to ensure a quiet cabin. One sound VW added was a low-speed system to specifically protect pedestrians so they can hear the e-Golf coming down the road.

Because this is a new experience for both VW and its customers, VW’s roadside assistance plan includes picking up the car and bringing it to a charging location if it’s within 100 miles of the customer’s home, and will even pay for the customer to take a cab home or to work if they decide not to ride along in the tow truck hauling the vehicle. The e-Golf also gets its own e-Remote app that allows owners to do most of the functions that other EVs do, such as set start and stop times for the climate control, battery charging, vehicle data, and vehicle status.

No price has been announced, and don’t expect to see one until after the beginning of next year. But in order to be competitive, it should come in somewhere near $35,000. One of the biggest benefits to the e-Golf besides the whole no-gas thing, is that because it’s packaged in a Golf, you really don’t have to make any sacrifices in fun and cargo capacity to be green…or in this case blue.

Photos courtesy of VWoA and Team Killeen