This series might be new, but it’s preceded by several previous articles (and future upcoming articles) all culminating with me picking a winner and driving it off the lot this coming May. Whose electric car will reign supreme? This week, Volkswagen takes a turn with the 2017 e-Golf.
VW was kind enough to let me take their electric vehicle for a week-long spin. I used it, abused it, and learned to love it for its quirks. But was it enough to beat out my favorite electric vehicle, the Chevy Bolt? Maybe, maybe not. Pros and Cons time!
- It’s fun (and FAST)
- Interior fit and finish is a cut above your average electric
- Infotainment system is logical, useful, and well executed
- Headlights have a host of unexpected and useful tricks
- You can laugh your way past every gas station everywhere
- Premium pricing still only gets you 165-mile max range
- Highway driving range estimates are unreliable
- Climate control eats up lots of battery life
- Using the pre-existing Golf body means interior space isn’t optimized
Who’s it for?
- Starting families
- Those with short commutes or who mostly drive in the city
- People who want to have fun and be environmentally conscious
- VW devotees
Sitting down in the e-Golf for the first time, I started to understand why VW fans are dedicated to their cars. The black leatherette wheel was smooth under my hands, with eye-catching stitched blue accents. The seats were firm without being too cushy. The backseat, though seemingly small at first, had a surprising amount of room. Buttons I needed were under my fingertips and, if they weren’t where I expected, ended up being in perfectly logical spots. Volkswagen has spent a considerable amount of time optimizing the cockpit for the driver and it shows.
Driving that night, I was delighted by the headlights, of all things. When you start up the e-Golf SEL Premium, the LED lights go through a complex little swoosh, almost like a greeting. Go to make a turn, and an extra spot of light stabs out, illuminating the way you’re turning. It’s the kind of detail that makes total sense after you see it in action, but you never thought you needed.
Nighttime driving also revealed a constellation of interior LED strips that were tastefully embedded in the driver and passenger doors (ambient lighting is part of the SEL Premium package). Not too ostentatious, but still stylish. The only problem? They’re not in the back as well, as my daughter loudly complained to me.
As I got comfortable with the e-Golf, it became apparent that it’s an electric car shoved into a Golf body, not designed from the ground up like the Chevy Bolt. There’s none of that “bigger on the inside” surprise. But then that can be beneficial. Not everyone wants or likes Chevy’s design. They want a Golf with batteries instead of an ICE. Well, then, here you are.
I poked around at the various driving modes—in addition to the standard, there are ECO and ECO+ modes that limit performance while maintaining battery life. With not a small bit of hubris, I ignored them and threw the car into Drive, then back to B so that I could one-pedal drive in “Recuperation Mode.” Like the Bolt, this mode would engage more aggressive engine braking, reclaiming more power for the batteries than Drive and its (practically perpetual) coasting.
If a car had a face, it would be the infotainment system. That ubiquitous slab of touchscreen that you poke, prod, and manipulate to make the VW software show you the status of the battery, how efficiently you’re driving, not to mention navigation, radio, and everything else.
I reached my hand towards the screen and emitted a gleeful yelp as extra controls sprung into life as my fingertips neared the screen. After admittedly spending far too long testing the boundaries of the spatial sensing of the head unit, I dismissed all of it and opened Apple CarPlay.
Fancy interface or not, nothing was getting between me and my year-long-binge of the Glass Cannon Podcast. To VW’s credit, this is the nicest implementation of CarPlay I’ve come across. Whereas my Avalon’s Pioneer stereo will occasionally freeze up or simply fail to launch, the e-Golf’s stereo reliably launched the third-party overlay, every finger press acknowledged with a satisfying click from the unit.
With 120 miles of range on the dash, I took the e-Golf at face value and headed up to my buddy’s house for game night. Round trip, it was around 110 miles so I’d be cutting it close, I thought, but should have more than enough to avoid range anxiety and Turtle mode. I reached Adam’s house with 74 miles of range left.
That’s what the Range Indicator said when I loaded Imperial Assault into the backseat of the e-Golf four hours later. I hadn’t gained as much back as I would have liked from being plugged in, but I was about 55 miles from my front door. More than enough.
Fast forward to 45 minutes later. It was a game of chicken, and I was the monkey in the middle. Navigation told me I had 5 miles to my house. The rapidly depleting Range Indicator said I had 10 miles left. But before I could say “I know my car” the e-Golf squawked at me and displayed the message “Battery drained. Speed restricted.” My speed dropped from 70 to 60. The A/C shut down. Interior LEDs all dimmed. A Turtle icon appeared in the Battery Performance gauge. The range dropped another 3 miles.
I paused the podcast and took a few deep, cleansing breaths.
Half a mile later, I was off the highway and feeling flowed into my fingertips as my fingers unclenched. The brakes poured power back into the battery pack and I rolled down the windows for some fresh air. Sitting in front of my house a few minutes later, the Range Indicator told me I had 5 miles left. But what kind of miles? Certainly not highway miles. Maybe “run to the store for some butter” miles. But even then I wasn’t sure. The e-Golf had lied to me. I wasn’t sure I could trust it again.
The next day, the relations between myself and the e-Golf were still prickly. It had managed to charge itself back up to around 47 miles of range in the 10 hours since I plugged it in. The dashboard read “22 hours” till it would reach full, daring me to unplug and drive it around town. But there were groceries to buy, errands to run. It was Sunday, after all.
The trip to the store was uneventful, except for my daughter laughing wildly every time I took a corner and accelerated as quickly as possible to get up to speed. It was no Ludicrous mode, but it was faster than anything in our garage. Heck, it was faster than the BMW at the light next to us that tried to keep up as we launched silently from the red light, his engine loudly straining as he threw gears trying to catch us. He didn’t.
Driving around town, the e-Golf was fun. The leatherette wrapped wheel was responsive under my fingertips, the regenerative braking stopping the car quickly (though never quite enough to let me truly one-pedal-drive like I did with the Bolt), the navigation occasionally chirping at me as I passed a charging station. As we pulled into the parking lot at Whole Foods, which looked more like a scene from Fury Road than anything civilized, I spied an oasis of empty spaces. “Charging only” was emblazoned on the ground. “Don’t mind if I do,” I thought, relishing the opportunity.
An hour later, the car had another six miles added to its range (much faster than charging at home) and a full retinue of groceries in the back. As we made it home and I plugged back in, I started to see, yet again, how short-range electric cars were perfect for the city. Silent, nimble, and never far from an open parking space with charging. It was a shame that I needed something that could handle the highway as well.
After a week of dutifully plugging in the e-Golf and settling into my regular commute, the e-Golf had forgiven me for draining the battery the weekend before. Even though I traveled about 50 miles per day on the highway, with judicious charging, I was greeted with a full charge of 160 miles of range every morning.
The SEL Premium comes with a plethora of driving technology, keeping me from smacking into obstacles while parking with ParkPilot and aware of my surroundings with the crystal clear backup camera. Sadly it does not come equipped with the upgraded automatic follow cruise control. That didn’t stop me from using it judiciously, though. I was thrilled that I could engage it at any speed, very helpful for those 15 MPH school zones.
Heading out for errands, I never again had that twinge of fear that I could end up stranded somewhere. Though I did note the air conditioning ate up ten miles of range every time I turned it on (a must in the 85-degree Florida February). That did get me thinking how much power it would use over the summer. Cooling a car from the 80s is one thing, cooling down the interior when it’s literally 100+ degrees outside is another.
Miles bled off every time I accelerated around slow-moving traffic on the highway as well, my morning commutes using up an extra 20 miles of range over the actual mileage. But knowing there was a waiting plug at the end of the journey made it tolerable. Besides, the alternative was to sit stuck behind tourists going 30 miles under the speed limit in the middle lane. If I have the power to squeeze around them, accelerate up to 80+ to get around the blockage in less than 10 seconds, then settle back into cruising speed to let the real lead foot drivers fly past, isn’t it my duty to the highway gods?
Alright, maybe not. But damn it’s fun.
Driving the family minivan to the gas station the night before the end of my media loan, my nose was curled, my lips twisted, my eyebrows meeting in the middle. What was this unwieldy hippo of a vehicle I had climbed into? Why was it so slow to respond? Why did it take so long to speed up? What had I done to deserve this kind of vehicular torture?
The Odyssey, which until now had been a perfectly fine, if not a little dull, transportation option, felt more like some sort of punishment. Filling up, I crinkled my nose at the $45 of gas the van sucked down. I knew there was a better way. I had it sitting in my garage.
On my last trip with the e-Golf, I had to brake hard as a woman wandered into the crosswalk, her head turned the other way to watch for traffic. She never heard me coming. So maybe there were some minor drawbacks. When the entire world is used to vehicles loudly announcing their presence, there’s some retraining that has to happen.
The next morning, I checked the charge and saw that the e-Golf was indicating a full range of 165 miles, five more than my previous best range. “See? I can do better,” it seemed to say. “You just have to be patient.” With a sigh, I unplugged the charging cable, coiled it up, and placed it under the false floor in the hatchback.
I enjoyed my time with the VW e-Golf, but I knew it ultimately wasn’t the car for me. I drive too often on the highway and rely too much on the AC. Plus, my family of four would only be able to tolerate the interior space for short drives. The Chevy Bolt still reigns supreme in range and space (even if my wife dislikes the styling). When they’re priced similarly (with the driver safety tech package, the model I drove was around $40,000), it’s hard to justify the VW over the Chevy unless you are dedicated to Volkswagen.
It was still hard to say goodbye. I watched as the driver backed the e-Golf silently out of my driveway and wished him well as he headed back towards Miami.
“Drive safe,” I thought. “And try to stay off the highway. She doesn’t like the highway.”
Thanks to VW for providing a media loan for review. Opinions and poor driving habits are my own.