e-Golf has flush aero wheels plus glossy blue trim across its grille and within the headlamp modules

e-Golf has flush 'aero' wheels plus glossy blue trim across its grille and within the headlamp modules

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Volkswagen has given the e-Golf a new battery pack and made other changes, all of which add up to a range that has been extended by a claimed 50 per cent. For anyone who wants an electric vehicle that doesn't make a bold design statement, this could be their car. 

Golf GTE or e-Golf?

Surely the main reason why people order Teslas is the looks of the cars. The Model 3 in particular has clutter-free surfaces and an interior which the company has taken to an extreme level for anyone who loves minimalism. 

People mostly lease or buy cars because they like the looks of them. It's therefore easy to see why the Model S, Model X and Model 3 are in demand, as each has multiple clever, useful and often advanced features too. Owners are forgiving of any faults and Tesla is usually quick to remedy these with over the air updates.

None of the above really applies to the e-Golf, which is why Volkswagen is developing a separate range of electric models, each one part of an I.D. family. It and other OEMs are hoping to cash in on the fascination for fully electric cars, which really only Tesla has been able to exploit, even if it still hasn't turned a profit from such models. 

We can therefore think of the electric Golf as a kind of half-way house, in the same way that the Golf GTE is. Interestingly enough, it's the PHEV which Volkswagen UK is pushing on television, showing the car as being all about having secret reserves of power. A driver can have the thrill of being a bad guy but paradoxically, he's the good guy, seems to be the message of the advertisement?

Manufacturing and technology

The e-Golf entered production during the second quarter of 2014, with LHD European market deliveries commencing in May/June, and cars for the UK in dealerships from July. Volkswagen of America began deliveries of what was its 2015 e-Golf in November 2014. The facelifted car with its new 35.8kWh battery pack entered production this European summer and UK deliveries commenced in September.

A synchronous electric motor, which the Volkswagen Group designed and builds, powers the car. In the original e-Golf it would spin at up to 12,000rpm and develop up to 114bhp and 200lb ft of torque, depending on which one of three driving modes was selected. Drive was via Volkswagen's own EQ270 single-speed gearbox. Power came from a 24.2kWh lithium ion battery supplied by Panasonic, mounted below the boot floor.

The updated e-Golf's battery pack has a capacity of 35.8kW, recharging takes five hours and 20 minutes via a wallbox but you can have 80% of capacity in under an hour if using a DC socket.

The electric motor now develops 100kW, or 136PS. Maximum torque has been boosted by 20Nm to 290Nm. The car is now a second faster to 62 mph (now 9.6 seconds) and top speed increases to 93 mph. As before, drive is via a single-speed gearbox.

In April, Volkswagen began building the e-Golf at a second plant: its so-called Transparent Factory in Dresden, where the Phaeton had been produced. The car is also still manufactured in Wolfsburg. There will be build in China too, it was announced in July. Cars will be assembled by the FAW Volkswagen JV and batteries supplied by local firm Contemporary Amperex Technology.

An overnight charge gave an indicated 157 miles. After driving the car as anyone used to a Golf GTD or GTI would, this plunged to 115 after 17 miles.

What you get in the GTE is a petrol engine and a motor, whereas the e-Golf is the real deal, with no available combustion power. Charging is easy enough as VW supplies two bright yellow cables: one for fast charging and another that can be plugged into a home or office socket. 

Volkswagen sends its electric press fleet cars inside a truck so the car was fully charged upon arrival. The next day, the low range light illuminated at the point where a claimed 31 miles remained. A strange number until you realise it has simply been converted from the 50km which it would be in VW's homeland. 

An overnight charge gave an indicated 157 miles but after driving the car as anyone used to a Golf GTD or GTI would, this plunged to 115 after 17 miles. That's not the full story though. Switch to the Eco setting and suddenly a readout shows you have a much improved range. Switch again, this time to Eco+ and things get better still. Or at least they are claimed to.

Eco+ seems to be the one to go for once you start to get into the fun of driving the e-Golf. This switches off the A/C or prevents it from working, while top speed is limited to 60mph. At first it feels restrictive but soon you see how little energy is being used and so it becomes addictive trying to keep the charge in the batteries and not 'spend' more than you need to.

The gear lever is the same as for Golfs with DSG but it also has a B setting for (engine) braking. This operates similarly to the system in the Prius but this one is even better: it has three levels called Recuperation 1, 2 and 3. The lowest number offers the least level of friction so in practice you tend to use it a lot. It would be much better to have recuperation as paddles so that you keep both hands on the wheel.

Push the lever to the left once, twice or three times depending on how steep a slope you're on. Want to ditch recuperation mode? No problem. Just flick to the right and hold it and a Recuperation Off message illuminates to the left of the speedometer, which is also where the level you had been in is shown.

Activating Eco+ brings up the warning 'Performance and comfort severely restricted' which seems a touch alarmist.

The three economy programmes; Normal, Eco and Eco+ are accessed via a MODE button on the central tunnel. Activating the last of the three brings up the warning 'Performance and comfort severely restricted' which seems a touch alarmist. Worried that you might not be suddenly able to accelerate out of trouble in an emergency? Don't be. A hard press on the right pedal unlocks a surge of torque. 

The interior is much the same as in mid-spec Golfs. The seats and door trims are covered in neoprene which is soft and shiny but not exactly luxurious, and the headliner is in the same material. The steering wheel has blue stitching for its leather cover - the same colour distinguishes the grille and headlamp trims of the e-Golf. The Volkswagen Digital Cockpit is part of the changes that came with the facelift. With this system, all instruments are virtually implemented on the colour screen.

Why can't it look as cool as a Tesla?

Due to the existence of the GTE, Volkswagen is restricted in its ability to use the hint of available raciness in the e-Golf, which is a shame. Instinct tells me there would be many more people wiling to park one of these in their garages if VW made it look less, well, tree-huggy. The big flush alloy wheels say 'sensible' whereas those on a GTD or GTI whisper 'fast'. Why not do as Tesla does and create higher-priced variants which offer extended range and better acceleration?

Summary

The e-Golf is a decent step forward for Volkswagen, now that a range of around 100 miles or more is realistic. The US will likely be its largest market, although certain European countries such as Norway, Germany, France, Sweden and Britain could also prove to be places where a relatively decent number of cars will be sold or leased.

Pricing in Britain starts at GBP32,190 (RRP OTR), or GBP27,690 after subtracting the government's Plug-in Car Grant. And while the NEDC rating might be 186 miles, VW UK is honest enough to instead quote 124 miles as a more realistic figure for range.

Second generation model expected in 2019

The next e-Golf should be one of the first vehicles for the Volkswagen Group's MEB battery-electric compact architecture, as announced in a 13 October 2015 media release:

"An MEB electric toolkit for future use in compact segment vehicles is to be developed based on the experience gained with existing vehicle architectures. This will be a multi-brand toolkit suitable for both passenger cars and light commercial vehicles and will thus leverage synergies from other electric vehicle projects in the Group. The standardized system will be designed for all body structures and vehicle types, thus allowing particularly emotional vehicle concepts, and will enable an all-electric range of 250 to 500 kilometers".

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