I've said many times that, for the money, the Volkswagen Golf is the best car in the world. The TDI has always been a fan favorite for efficiency, while the GTI and Golf R are as fun to drive as cars costing twice as much. The base Golf is not only as efficient as ever, thanks to the new 1.8-liter turbo, but the interior is world-class as well. For 2015, VW is heading into the zero-emissions market with the all-electric e-Golf. It looks set to be the benchmark in that segment, too.
Stop with the eye rolling. It's really good, and electric cars have a real place in the market. Even for enthusiasts. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time talking to electric car owners while charging a long-term Tesla, I have a pretty good idea of what people expect from them. They are almost never the person's only car and seldom the owner's most expensive car. Even in the case of $90,000 Teslas. They are, however, the owner's daily driver and sometimes favorite toy.
Driving the e-Golf, the real stand-out feature is the shortage of anything that stands out. Aside from some energy readouts in place of a tachometer and the general lack of noise, there is little about the experience to differentiate it from a gas- or diesel-powered version.
The single electric motor is only rated at 115 hp, but with 199 lb-ft of torque available from the start, it pulls better than a TDI. Unlike other compact electrics, it even pulls well at highway speeds. The Nissan Leaf, for instance, feels downright fast off the line, but the show's over by 35 mph. The e-Golf keeps pulling long after.
Acceleration is smooth and quiet, as is highway cruising. Other electrics suffer from road and wind noise that would normally have been masked by powertrain sounds. The MQB-based Golf is quiet to begin with, but it seems as though extra time has been spent with this battery-powered variant. The whole experience can be relaxing. And as anyone who has driven a good electric vehicle will tell you, this is the future of luxury.
Volkswagen says the e-Golf is roughly 360 pounds heavier than a comparable four-door 1.8T Golf, even carrying around 700 pounds in lithium-ion battery pack. The 24.2 kWh battery is good for 70 to 90 miles of normal driving. Volkswagen is partnering with Charge Point, a nationwide charging station network, and says the e-Golf can be charged to 80 percent of capacity in just 30 minutes. Plugging into a standard 110-volt home socket will take 20 hours for the same charge, but we can't imagine buying or leasing one of these without having access to a charger either at home or work, if not both. In the event of not being able to quite make it to that charging station, VW offers free roadside assistance.
Even with the extra 360 pounds, the new MQB still feels nimble and maintains the normal solid-yet-compliant ride. The steering is great, surprisingly so, with no on-center dead spot. Resistance builds immediately and consistently as the wheel is turned. Road feel is on the low side. Some of that can be attributed to the 205/55 all-season tires, and I'm sure some is just tuning for the audience. Regardless, the handling is better than anything else in the class. Putting the battery pack in the center tunnel and under the rear seats has lowered the car's center of gravity and made it more centralized front to rear, which is always good for dynamics. It would be interesting to see how a good set of performance tires affects things in terms of both handling and economy.
The placement of the batteries has also allowed for the same trunk space as a regular Golf. And the rear seats are typical MkVII cavernous, with plenty of knee room and headroom, even when sitting behind a tall driver. The front seats are flat and certainly not as supportive as those in the GTI, but appropriate for the application. Maybe we will see the GTE in North America at some point.
The e-Golf hits dealerships in November 2014. Only the SEL Premium model will be available at launch. It's loaded with LED headlights and driving lights, touchscreen navigation, keyless access, front and rear park distance control and a rearview camera. Pricing is $36,265 with destination and includes the previously mentioned roadside assistance as well as a 100,000-mile warranty on the battery pack.
It only has half the range of a Tesla Model S, but keep in mind it's half the price. Again, this isn't going to be a household's only car, but it makes an ideal second or third. Like other cars carrying the Golf name, the e-Golf is a world-class vehicle.