Road Tests

First Drive: 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

Electric, but still Golf-y

MALIBU, California — Siblings are funny things. They share DNA and similar upbringings, but kids raised in the same household are typically distinct. Take the siblings of the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf family. They’re all born of VW’s brilliant MQB architecture and seem nearly identical at first glance, but look closer and they’re as different as spinach and ice cream.

The Golf R and GTI are the studs of their varsity squads, the rulers of the high school hallway. The base model Golf is the kid who’s liked by everyone who once took Mary Jane next door to a kegger and got to second base. Then there’s the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf, the freshman nerd that’s captain of the Model United Nations club and designated Dungeon Master of all Dungeons & Dragons tournaments. The funny thing about nerds, though, is that they tend to grow out of their awkward stage. After all, who would you rather be — the Al Bundy-esque captain of the high school football team reliving the faded glory days or Elon Musk?

For 2018 the e-Golf picks up additional power, and range improves to an EPA rating of 125 miles (up from 83 miles for the 2016 model), granting the e-Golf a 119-mpge city/highway rating. With this upgrade, the e-Golf’s range now bests that of two of its closest competitors, the 114-mile BMW i3 (118 mpge) and 107-mile Nissan Leaf (112 mpge). Interestingly, while the Volkswagen offers just a little more than half of the Chevy Bolt EV’s 238-mile range, the two receive the same 119-mpge rating.

Its impressive increase primarily comes courtesy of it’s lithium-ion battery pack, which has been increased in capacity from 24.2 kWh to 35.8 and now features improved chemistry. Horsepower and torque increase thanks to a 100-kW motor in place of the 2016 model’s 85-kW one, which sends 134 hp and 214 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels — an increase of 19 hp and 15 lb-ft

A 7.2-kW on-board charger now comes standard on all e-Golfs, which enables the battery to be fully charged in less than six hours at a 240-volt charging station. DC Fast Charge functionality is optional on the base SE trim and standard on both Limited Edition and SEL Premium trim levels; it can charge the battery to 80 percent within an hour. e-Golf owners have access to the ChargePoint network of public EV charging stations (the largest in the world), which boasts more than 34,000 ports across North America.

To see if the new bennies help make the e-Golf feel more like its big bros or not out on the open road, We set out on a leisurely drive from Los Angeles up the coast to Malibu. As expected, the e-Golf is solid for cruising through the city. It’s comfortable, easily maneuverable, and has the family’s good looks.

Out of the gate, the increased power is noticeable. It’s not launching like a Tesla Model S P100D, but it’s got nice acceleration thanks to all that instant torque. Then we hit 35 or 40 mph and, well, the asthma started kicking in. Its 0-to-60 mph time of 9.6 seconds is best described as leisurely. There are no fireworks here, but fireworks aren’t junior’s thing. Top speed is limited to 85 mph, so there’s not a lot of excitement happening on open straightaways. With the e-Golf being the responsible, straitlaced type, it suits.

If you want to make your e-Golf go even slower (and get more efficient), it has three modes that progressively dial back power in order to preserve energy: Normal, Eco, and Eco+. For example, power and top speed are limited to 74 hp, 129 lb-ft, and 56 mph in Eco+. There are also three different levels of regenerative braking (D1, D2, and D3/B) to choose from.

To get a better sense of how the e-Golf handles, we diverged from VW’s meticulously planned route and shot off into the tasty canyon roads above Malibu. It didn’t take many swooshing curves and tight bends to make the connection to the GTI and Golf R. The e-Golf’s instant torque partially made up for the battery’s extra battery heft, providing a bit of snap when exiting corners. Steering felt about as nimble and responsive as that of any other Golf we’ve driven, its anti-roll-bar-equipped strut-type front and multilink rear suspension doing its best to keep body roll to a minimum.

The e-Golf also comes with VW’s XDS Cross Differential System — one of those kick-ass hand-me-downs from its varsity Golf siblings. XDS is sort of an electronic substitute for a mechanical limited-slip differential that measures data from each wheel sensor; if it feels less pressure on one wheel than the other, the system applies braking to the driven inside wheel to reduce understeer. The result? Increased stability, pluckier handling, and improved cornering performance. Overall, our back road experience was decidedly Golf-y — that is, peppy and fun.

Aside from the mechanical goodies, the 2017 e-Golf is the first in the family to get a couple of new cosmetic upgrades that will be coming to the rest of its Golf bros for model year 2018. Restyled bumpers, grille, and front fenders, new color options, headlights, and revised interior trim, to name a few. Additionally, an 8-inch infotainment display replaces the 6.5-inch unit and Volkswagen’s Car-Net App Connect becomes standard.

The 2017 e-Golf will maintain the model’s signature C-shaped LED daytime running lights and can be had with optional LED headlights, which come standard on the SEL Premium trim. To make the kid feel like the rest of the gang, Volkswagen’s given the e-Golf a rear chrome trapezoidal “detail” element, which in you-and-me talk is a phony exhaust. This is about as purposeful in life as the dog-face Snapchat filter, but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t faked something on social media to make their life look more “normal,” so it’s hard to blame Volkswagen. Its goal was to create an EV that didn’t look like a spaceship or something out of the future, so we get the rationale.

For now, availability of the e-Golf will continue to be limited to just 10 coastal states, but Volkswagen is looking at the remaining 40 for future sales. For those who don’t feel comfortable driving an EV because they’re too “progressive,” remember, VW put that fake exhaust on there just for you so your neighbors will never know.

While we can’t tell you exactly how much of your allowance you’ll have to fork over to get your hands on a 2017 e-Golf because pricing isn’t available yet, expect it to run somewhere between $31,000 and $36,000, depending on trim level and before any tax incentives (the 2016 e-Golf starts at $29,815). That’s a fairly considerable premium over a base Golf, which can be had for a little over $20,000 (college is expensive these days), but the e-Golf’s EPA- estimated annual “fuel” cost of only $550 will leave enough in your pocket to occasionally splurge at the local comic book store.

With a total of eight All-Stars awards between them, Volkswagen GTI and Golf R have are clearly the star athletes of the family — at least for now. If the 2017 e-Golf is any indication, however, the Golf family’s parents will soon need to clear some space on the shelf as the nerdy sibling will only continue to grow as it matures.

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf Specifications

ON SALE Fall 2017
PRICE $31,000 (base, est)
MOTOR Permanent-magnet synchronous A/C electric motor/134 hp, 214 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION 1-speed direct drive automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-motor, hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 126/111 mpge (city/hwy)
L x W x H 168.1 x 70.8 x 57.2 in
WHEELBASE 103.5 in
WEIGHT 3,455 lb
0-60 MPH 9.6 sec
TOP SPEED 85 mph

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