VW e-Golf’s a good starter but struggles on the back 9 (review)

27 Nov 2014

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Volkswagen has released its latest attempt to enter the growing e-car market with the VW e-Golf, an electric-only model, but is it worth more than its petrol-powered siblings?

On looks alone, the e-Golf looks identical to its petrol, diesel and, for continental Europe at least, its natural gas-powered 2014 design siblings, but underneath is a whole different story.

Available in Ireland since September, the VW e-Golf is arguably the first e-car available in Ireland that actually looks like a normal car.

For example, BMW’s i3 which we reviewed last July was distinctly not one to stick with the pack with its futuristic design, while other cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, have the look of a car that just says it’s electrically powered.

There is however, one small difference with the e-Golf that might not be too noticeable to the average person, that being, the more-curved front bumper that supposedly adds more aerodynamics.

VW’s familiar, but appealing, surroundings

One of the first things you notice stepping into the car is the strong familiarity with any other VW car, particularly the Golf series that you would have come across before.

The standard black and grey trim runs throughout the car with no jarring or flimsy piece of plastic in sight, something which this reviewer is always pleased to see in a car.

The odometer and fuel gauge have thankfully stuck with traditional stylings rather than going down the route of a fighter jet’s cockpit view whose appeal tends to slide rather quickly after you swerve to avoid an obstacle that you had missed because you’re trying to figure out what your average speed was.

As the car is not designed for speed (Something we’ll come back to later), the left-hand side rev counter will be the focus of your attention as it shows the rate of energy you’re consuming or how much you are generating back into the battery.

The touchscreen interface has many interesting features and look nice, but is let down by a voice recognition that was beyond useless and navigation that regularly attempted to send me down one-way streets.

I have the power! … for a bit

While hardly unsurprising for an e-car, speed is not its greatest virtue. Sure, they will throw you back into your chair in a number of cases due to their impressive acceleration, but safe to say while they may beat their fossil-fuelled siblings in a 300m dash, they fall to the wayside in a marathon.

With a top speed of 140km/h and capable of reaching 0-100km/h in 10.4 seconds, you’re getting speeds that put it just above this country’s speed limit on motorways which, while not necessary to reach, hardly puts in the category of high-performance.

In comparison, the petrol-powered model of the Golf which comes in 1.8l turbo or a 2.0l turbo-diesel, has a top speed of just over 200km/h and can achieve 0-100km/h in 7.8secs.

Of course it’s hard to compare a technology that has had 100 years of development with one that’s only now entering the mainstream, but we still can.

The e-Golf eats through battery, and I mean eats. Having had three days with the car I couldn’t help notice that a few bursts here and there could see your estimated kilometre range left go down rather quickly with a consumption rate of 12.7kWh per 100km while its rated capacity coming just shy of double this at 24.2kWh.

However, there are ways of conserving energy by switching into ‘eco mode’ (limiting the car to 96bhp) or ‘eco mode +’ which limits the car to 74bhp and a top speed of 90km/h, and don’t even think about turning on air conditioning.

Less drastic methods meanwhile include the ‘B’ gear selection which creates a noticeable drag when coming up to stops as the brakes become tighter and engage earlier, feeding kinetic energy back into the car which can add up to an extra kilometre or two, depending on your driving.

Ride like the wind?

From my experience of driving electric cars, I’ve yet to hear the hum that one would associate with the electric cars we saw growing up in films set in the near-future, until the e-Golf that is.

Just when you put your foot on the ‘gas’, you hear that satisfying hum of the electric engine kicking into life, but then quietness descends on what is a rather quiet journey, just what I was hoping for.

Underneath your posterior though, the ride is not as smooth sailing with the car’s weighty 318kg battery causing the car to turn into corners like someone trying to dance after a five-course dinner.

The weight of the battery has also contributed to the car having a stiffer suspension to compensate for the extra weight but given the car is aimed at city driving, sharp corners at speed are unlikely to come up much.

Siliconrepublic Review | Volkswagen e-Golf

VW e-Golf fails to take charge

For those in suburban areas where this isn’t a problem, you still may find that the VW e-Golf likes to absorb energy like someone is meant to consume expensive wine, slow and through small sips.

On a standard AC 2.3kW charging point – your standard three-pin charger – it will take you an incredible 13 hours to charge the entire battery, that’s more than five hours over some of its competitors on the market!

This can be by-passed however with the addition of an adapted wall charger that will increase the flow of charge whereby it would bring it up to 8 hours to fill the battery, but this is still quite poor.

From my experience, a regular street charge point over a period of four hours added 100km in range which, if I was on a cross country journey, would not be much help.

Then there’s the issue of the fast charge points that are far less numerous than its regular street counter parts, but growing in number, according to the ESB.

Having attempted to test the car’s fast charge service, I was informed by the vendor that the e-Golf is not compatible with the fast charge point, which wouldn’t be good news for me should I be in a particular hurry and is reportedly across almost the entire country which is a serious issue for e-car enthusiasts to consider when buying the VW e-Golf.

Verdict

The VW e-Golf is easily the nicest looking e-car on the Irish market at the moment, mostly because it looks identical to its petrol siblings, but also because of VW’s general styling both outside and in the car.

However, compared with other available cars on the market, its rate of charge puts it towards the bottom of the list giving it somewhat of a negative mark.

Saying that, in urban driving at least, the car is more than capable of handling what is thrown at it, but on the open motorways you’d want to be careful of putting your foot down too often.

The VW e-Golf is available to place orders online at VW’s website or ask your local VW dealer for more information.

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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