What a difference a year makes. In May 2015, when we took delivery of a 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf for a yearlong test, it was but one of the lesser-known variants of the new Golf range. It was to be sold in just 11 eco-minded states and in quantities dwarfed by the gasoline and diesel models of VW’s one-time U.S. bestseller.
A little less than four months into the loan, however, Volkswagen confessed to one of the great cheats of the automotive regulatory age. You can’t help but wonder: What if VW had spent the money it’s going to pay in damages and lost reputation on promoting and developing its electric car program?
Having just finished our year with a the e-Golf, we can easily make the case for VW spending the billions a different way than the one it fatefully landed on. The e-Golf was excellent, quickly becoming the car that persuaded me, a dyed-in-the-wool internal-combustion fan, that I could learn to love electric cars.
I couldn’t take long trips in it, but I could use it almost every day. And I did, happily. Its range — 80 miles or so — proved adequate for my needs, which most days might take me south from Nyack, New York, to Manhattan, then on to Brooklyn, then maybe Queens or back to Manhattan and out to Nyack again.
Suburban-urban shuffling is what I do — and a lot of it. It explains the 14,972 miles I put on the Pacific Blue e-Golf, a hair’s breadth away from the 15,000 miles the average American motorist puts on a gasoline-powered ride each year. Its range won’t satisfy all, but if it works for you like it did for me, the e-Golf can seem highly convenient.
At $36,625 for the loaded SEL Premium package as tested, the e-Golf doesn’t sound like an economy car, though tax credits totaling as much as $7,500 blunt the pain. VW will lease you a base model for as low as $199 a month for 36 months. That’s cheap enough that I recommend securing one today, though I’ve squandered much of the credibility I once had by convincing dozens of my friends to buy diesel-powered VWs.
I was unable to meter electricity use precisely, so it quickly dawned on me that it would be impossible to track running costs. But Volkswagen spokesman Mark Gillies, a former editor of this magazine, offered guidance on cost per kilowatt-hour. “The EPA reckons the cost of electricity at 13 cents per kWh. So a full charge on the 24.2-kWh battery is $3.15 and gets you 83 [miles of driving range]. The cost per mile is thus 3.8 cents. If you take a Jetta that gets 33 mpg combined and the EPA’s cost of $2.01 for regular gasoline, then that comes to 6.1 cents per mile.”
Gas prices these days are higher in many places, which would increase savings, but for me VW’s formula worked out to $569.94 in electricity for my year in an e-Golf versus the $913.30 I would have paid for gas in a comparable car.
You can argue the numbers, but from a pure environmental perspective, there’s something inherently good about not burning gasoline. And there’s something even better about never having to go to the gas station. Indeed, I reckon the e-Golf saved me on the order of 50 visits, and there can be no question this made for a more satisfied and happier me.
Inside or out, only the most astute VW watchers will know they are looking at something electric. The charging plug goes into the socket behind the filler door where the fuel tank neck would have been. Once you’ve easily accessed the e-Golf’s familiar, crisp beige leatherette interior through its four wide-opening doors, there is almost nothing unconventional to tip you off. Though our premium model came with navigation, Bluetooth, and satellite radio, it is Car 101 basic; there are no particularly exotic tech features or Tokyo at Midnight/Reeperbahn on Acid displays to distract, confuse, or dismay. It may drive like the future, but it feels like now.
Volkswagen installed a 240-volt Bosch fast-charger in my garage, which usually costs around $2,000 for the unit and installation, and its four-hour full-charge time was a boon to the odometer. There was nothing difficult or unpleasant about the charging process. It was almost fun.
Its 24.2 kWh lithium ion battery feeds power to the 115-hp motor. Operation is smooth as you please, with regenerative braking aiding battery charge. Performance can seem downright brisk, with 100 percent of torque available immediately, even if the numbers show a 0-60 time of 9.5 seconds. At 2.7 seconds off the line to 30 mph, it is faster than a GTI on initial acceleration.
Despite about 370 pounds of extra weight versus conventional Golfs — attributable to the 701-pound battery load — the electric Volkswagen rode smoothly over New York City’s pocked roads, with no crashing sounds or thumps, and an immense sense of cosseting toughness.
With one gear, shifting isn’t an option in an e-Golf, but there are choices. Three programs dictate the amount of power you burn, limiting speed and features as you go. Normal offers a maximum top speed of 87 mph, the briskest acceleration plus full heat and air-conditioning. Eco blunts acceleration, loses max air-conditioning and other power burners. Eco+, which is what I used mostly, takes away heat and air-conditioning while limiting top speed to 60 mph.
As the posted speed limit on the Palisades Parkway, my personal on-ramp to New York City, is 50 mph, I usually made the decision to stay thrifty by choosing Eco+ and the more regenerative of two engine-braking modes. When it was hot I opened the windows. In winter, I reintroduced myself to the charms of hats and gloves. Whatever the season, Eco+ made for greater range and a more leisurely driving style.
You can hear a faint whir during acceleration, and a bit of tire noise creeps in once underway. Tire noise was amplified slightly when we re-shod the e-Golf with a set of Michelin X-Ice Xi3s for winter, supplied to us by Tire Rack, which recommended this model for the fuel-economy advantage it exhibited in tests. Though winter storms compromised the e-Golf’s range — I’d estimate by around 25 percent — by requiring serious heat and wipers, the car was up to the challenge.
Even with its snow tires, the sound inside the e-Golf remained mostly silent, which is the greatest luxury of all if you want to arrive somewhere relaxed. With its rear seats folded, our e-Golf was up to hauling bicycles or transporting big boxes of international rock-band merchandise to the post office.
It also remained as solid as a drum, with nary a rattle or squeak over its year of service. An official 10,000-mile first service was routine and free, though soon after we needed to replace the key-fob battery. That $6.95 is the only expense — save electricity and snow-tire mounting — we incurred. That’s if you don’t count a woman who backed into our electric car, at night, in the rain at the Tarrytown train station. No paint was required, but $1,237 was. Fortunately she was good for it.
There are other worthy electric cars out there: the Kia Soul EV, Fiat 500E, and the purpose-built Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 spring to mind. But I prefer the e-Golf; the underlying car on which it is based is better. It’s the best of the rest after Tesla’s Model S, which costs more than twice as much and is already starting to seem a little cliché.
So color me a convert. While the e-Golf may not get the sunshine it deserves today, electric cars are a big part of VW’s future, and the company knows it. By 2025, VW wants to sell 2 to 3 million hybrids and EVs a year worldwide. And e-Golfs with at least 200 miles of range will be here for the 2018 model year.
Having seen that I can live happily with electric cars, I’ve seen how a major shift to electric cars can — and probably will — happen. It better work, because there’s probably no better way for Volkswagen to renew its credibility and hipster mojo.
What a difference a year makes.
2015 Volkswagen e-Golf SEL Premium Specifications
|Price:||$36,265 (base/as tested)|
|Engine:||Permanent-magnet synchronous A/C electric motor, 115 hp, 199 lb-ft; 24.2-kWh lithium-ion battery pack|
|Transmission:||1-speed direct drive automatic|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-motor, hatchback|
|EPA Mileage:||126/105 mpge (city/hwy); 83-mile range|
|L x W x H:||168.1 x 70.8 x 57.1 in|
|0-60 MPH:||9.5 sec (est)|
|Top Speed:||87 mph|