Acceleration falls in line with that of every other electric car we've driven, providing an instant and nearly silent delivery of 199 lb-ft of torque off the line. The battery-life meter dipped more quickly than we expected, predicting a total range of only about 100 kilometers (60-ish miles) by the end, versus the promised 150 kilometers, but that reflects several short and aggressive journalist-helmed test drives in cold weather, the last factor being particularly important, since this car lacks the sort of liquid heating elements found in the Volt. Even with that caveat, if went on sale tomorrow at a price comparable to the Volt and the Leaf, it would instantly be our class favorite.
But therein lies the real problem. The electric Golf isn't going on sale tomorrow or any other day until 2014, when it will finally debut on the next-generation Golf platform. That renders the prototype we drove, which was apparently based on the current platform, a mere powertrain mule. To be perfectly frank, the ability for a car company to produce a few electric cars -- even very nice ones -- for journalists to drive just doesn't impress us like it used to.
Then there's a question of commitment. No doubt, VW has plenty of engineers fully devoted to developing an affordable electric vehicle, but is the company interested in marketing and selling it? Not really, according to Christian Klingler, VW Group's board member for sales and marketing.
"The electric car is not a request of the consumer but a request of the government," says Klingler.
He's welcome to his opinion. Time may even prove him correct, although we doubt it. But to trot out a very well-conceived electric prototype -- four years late -- and then douse cold water on its sales prospects demonstrates a troubling lack of focus from a company that has always been uniquely clear in stating and achieving goals. Again, this is the organization that decided it should revive Bugatti with the world's greatest supercar and then did so with little regard for cost or practicality. An electric car for the masses -- especially one as good as the prototype we drove -- deserves similar leadership and focus from Volkswagen, but so far we have not seen it.