We recently had a chance to drive the Volkswagen Golf Blue-E-Motion in plain sight around Volkswagen's hometown of Wolfsburg, and we can report that it is quite likely the most refined and best driving of affordable electric cars. Nonetheless, we're unimpressed, even disappointed.
To explain this seeming paradox, let's start with a fifty-second backgrounder on the state of the electric-car race: As you may have heard, Nissan and General Motors are ramping up production on (relatively) affordable and (relatively) practical electric vehicles. Suddenly, every automaker that isn't mass-producing an electric vehicle is behind the technology curve -- or at least is perceived as such. That includes the mighty Volkswagen Group. Sure, it builds the fastest production car on the planet and has previewed a few very appealing green sports car concepts in the Porsche 918 Spyder and the Audi E-tron. But can it and will it produce a rival to the Nissan Leaf?
If we're going purely by our driving experience, the answer would be an unqualified yes. The four-door Golf Blue-E-Motion takes the Chevy Volt's tagline, "more car than electric," and makes it reality. From the outside, the conversion to electric propulsion is invisible. The 114-kilowatt electric motor fits neatly in the engine bay, and the only hint of the thirty air-cooled lithium-ion battery modules residing under the center console, rear seats, and rear floor is a slight reduction in cargo capacity. Inside, one finds the familiar Golf switchgear subtly adapted to electric driving. The LCD touch screen that's standard in the GTI has been programmed to display battery range and other vital stats. The exterior likewise presents no overt green cues, although it does borrow a few high-end pieces from the GTI and the Golf R, including LED taillights. VW promises that the production car will be recognizable from "twenty meters" away as an EV but at the same time makes clear its aims to produce a refined compact car first, and an electric car second.
"Customers are accustomed to a certain level of quality. They'll expect that with cars that have different propulsion systems," said Dr. Rudolf Krebs, head of electric drivetrain development at Volkswagen.