DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: It’s hard to accurately judge the merits of the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf as an EV simply because the new seventh-generation Golf platform itself is so darn good. Really, you could put a steam engine or Cadillac V8-6-4 in this thing and it’d still probably be a better driver than half the compacts on the market. The aluminum-intensive MQB architecture used here (and on the Audi A3, etc.) really is that good.

Fortunately the V8-6-4 is dead and buried and VW has instead opted for a 115-hp electric motor and single-speed transmission to motivate the e-Golf. If you’ve read much of our EV coverage, you know that the instant torque and smooth, silent operation makes electric cars entertaining drivers. Add brilliant chassis control, a VW premium interior and competitive range and the e-Golf replaces the Ford Focus Electric as my new benchmark in EVs for the common driver (yes, the Tesla Model S is better; it’s also three times the price).

It’s still electric, though, and that means limited range: 75-100 miles, according to Volkswagen. Ours had 71 miles of range when I loaded up for the evening -- double what I needed to pick up the kids, get home and get to work the next morning. No sweat, right? Yes, but range anxiety is both irrational and the result of decades of “low fuel” mental warning training. In a regular car, if I look down and see a message saying “Range 36 miles,” I need to get to a gas station pretty dang quick. In the e-Golf, though, that’s the equivalent of about half a tank. To bridge the perception versus reality, VW has wisely added a “fuel” gauge that offers a relative representation of the volume of energy left -- it helps visualize the remaining charge in terms the average driver is accustomed to rather than raw range numbers. That said, I still checked the range meter about 10 times more often than I would have a fuel gauge on an ordinary car.

At first glance, the e-Golf is also pricey, but when federal (and possibly local) tax credits are factored in, the car ends up very close to any number of nicely equipped, comparably sized cars -- in fact, right around the MSRP of the new GTI, which is one of my favorite cars on the market today.

Something for everyone, then: The new Golf is proving to be a class-leader in every iteration, and the electric e-Golf is no exception.

No oil burner here, the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf SEL Premium features a 85 kW AC synchronous electric motor and a single-speed automatic final drive.

EXECUTIVE EDITOR RORY CARROLL: In my book, the new MBQ-platform Golf is a triumph. There’s a Golf GTI in the parking lot of my building that says just about all I need to say about how good I think that car is. And, short of the Tesla Model S, the e-Golf is the best electric car I’ve been in.

I had to think about that though, driving the e-Golf around, I actually wondered, “Is this better than the Model S?” I immediately concluded that it wasn’t, but it’s good enough that the thought crossed my mind.

VW did enough with the exterior styling to differentiate it from the other Golfs, and then did a little bit more. It’s not immediately obvious that it’s an electric car, not a blatant statement of green credentials, and in that sense it’s just ahead of the trend; the next generation of especially environmentally responsible cars will look more like normal cars.

Like every MK7 Golf, the interior isn’t necessarily packed with super-high-end materials, but VW did make wise use of the materials that were chosen and there’s nothing in there that I’d call cheap. It feels like a good value, like you’re getting a little more than you paid for.

On paper, range is good enough to make the e-Golf viable as a commuter car for a lot of Americans, however, VW and everyone else need to figure out how to provide a more accurate picture remaining battery life. I left work with something like 88 miles of range and at the end of my 2-mile commute; the gauge said I had something like 67 miles of range left. Granted, I was driving like a complete buffoon, but the gauges didn’t really give me a clear idea of how the hard launches and hard stops were impacting range. Gauges that look like traditional gas-gauges probably aren’t the best way to do it.

 

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What is it?This is Mk. VII for a car that has defined its brand -- and a category -- for 30 years. Given its near-complete makeover, it probably goes without saying the 2015 Volkswagen GTI is the best ...

The 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf SEL Premium puts out 115 hp with 199 lb-ft of torque.

WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: I like electric cars and motorcycles. They’re so much more efficient than any other mode of transportation. (Don’t say it’s all coal powerplants and you’re just transferring emissions from tailpipe to smokestack. Coal is not 100 percent of power generation here in America. There are other means of getting it. Even if you live in West Virginia, where it really is almost all coal-fired power, it’s still cleaner to drive an EV than a gasoline, diesel or hybrid car. And EVs have the potential to be much, much cleaner. I power mine via solar panels on the roof of my house. You can, too, in many cases.)

So after only a short drive in LA on day one of my loan, I already liked the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf. It’s a lot more sophisticated, quiet and car-like than anything on the electric car market short of a Tesla, and the Tesla costs three times more. It’s quieter than a Nissan Leaf and goes farther on a charge than anything short of, again, a Tesla. In fact, the Tesla is really the only EV better than this and nowhere near the value. The e-Golf stickers at $36,265. Knock off $7,500 in Federal tax credit and $2,500 in my state of California and the car costs $26,265.

Why is the e-Golf better? The regenerative braking, for instance, kicks in only when you want it to, not as soon as you lift off the gas, er, accelerator. Under normal driving with the shifter lever in D, when you lift off the accelerator, the VW e-Golf just coasts.

“You are trying to maximize your range, the distance you can travel on a given charge, so you don’t necessarily want to use regen every time,” said a VW engineer when I drove a prototype maybe three or four years ago in Santa Monica, Calif.

That makes all kinds of sense. If you’re in stop-and-crawl traffic of the kind endemic to Los Angeles, you can click the shifter lever one back to “B” and use the regen to not only brake the car but extend your range. Ideally I would like to see an infinitely variable regen control, where you could fine-tune acceleration and deceleration. I remember 20 years ago driving the AC Propulsion Honda Civic that had been converted to electric power. There was a matchstick-sized lever on the dash to do just that. Never needed the brakes at all. The twist-grip throttle on the Vectrix electric scooter actually went beyond full regen to where it was functioning as a reverse gear. Never needed the brakes on that one, either. That’s the kind of regenerative braking control I would like. 

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WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: This 2014 Nissan Leaf SL is killing my enthusiasm for my own personal Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car. Faithful readers know that I paid my own hard-earned cash to ..

By adding the “Range” readout prominently on the dash with whatever was on the trip odometer I found was getting over 100 miles a day. Volkswagen lists range on the car’s U.S. spec sheet at “70-90 miles.” I could always get 100 miles or more, if I tried. One drive of 89.9 miles left 16 miles range remaining, for 105.9 miles. That was mostly doing about 55 mph on the freeway with mostly no air conditioning. We fired up the a/c for maybe 10 or 15 of those miles. As soon as you fire up the air conditioning, you lose 10 percent of your range. That’s more than a gasoline-powered car eats up with a/c, right? Didn’t try the heater, but previous experience says it uses about maybe 15 percent of range. Your experience may vary. If you drive without regard to range and use the air conditioner or heater, the range readout drops. Today I started out with a little over 3/4 of a “tank” and a range of 90 miles. As soon as I switched on the a/c it dropped to 80. When I accelerated pretty quickly and drove up a slight incline for 12 miles the range had dropped to 57, then 61. You can drive yourself nuts paying attention to this. But suffice to say that an e-Golf will meet 90 percent of the driving needs of 90 percent of the people in the industrialized world.

There are many good things about the e-Golf compared to e-competitors. First of all, you don’t give up any interior space to batteries or anything else. You get the same 51.2 cubic feet of volume in front and 42.3 rear. The interior is as usably utilitarian as anything in the class. The infotainment is a lot easier to use than more upscale units, the seating is perfectly comfortable and the volume of cargo space is great. I myself like the exterior, too. I don’t want to call attention to myself as you have to do with a Leaf. I don’t want to make a statement or start conversations. I just want to blend into the anonymity of traffic. With this unadorned exterior you can do that. Only a couple very tiny badges declare that this is an e-Golf and many people wouldn’t even know what that means.

If this car had been available three years ago when I bought my Mitsubishi i-MiEV, I would have gotten this. Still might trade in the Mitsu and swap into one of these. Yes, that’s my own money talking.

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