Overall rating: 4/5
As the Volkswagen Golf gets set to celebrate its 40th birthday it adds an important, all-electric, model to the line-up. While unlikely to sell by the bucket load the e-Golf is impressive for the technology it features and the fact that it manages to wrap it all up in a shape so familiar. Looks like a Golf, feels like a Golf, drives like a Golf.
In the Metal:
Approach the e-Golf for the first time and you would be forgiven for mistaking it for a 2.0-litre TDI Highline model; there is little to mark this out as an electric car and you are unlikely to pick one out as it drives past you in traffic. Look a bit closer though and the tell-tale signs begin to appear. There is a closed off front grille like that fitted to the BlueMotion Golf, only this time with a unique chrome strip off set by a blue stripe, mimicking the red stripe of the GTI. Blue also highlights the VW logo on the grille and a badge on the wing. LED lights all around are standard fit, though a regular Golf can be ordered with them. It cannot be ordered with the unique C-shaped Daytime Running Lights in the front bumper, however.
And it is a similar story inside - it's a Golf, just with a few small changes. Chief amongst these is the dash instrumentation, with the rev-gauge replaced by a power meter. There's also an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen that has e-Golf unique features like a range monitor, energy flow indicator, 360-degree range (which shows the potential driving radius on a map based on how much electricity remains) and the ability to pre-programme charging and departure times. This latter feature is especially useful for those who wish to charge their car on the cheaper 'night rate' electricity as they can plug their car in when they come home having pre-set the car to begin charging once the cheaper tariff kicks in. They can also set the car to come up to a desired temperature at the time they will leave for work - handy in the winter.
Many manufacturers claim to have allowed for electrification when designing a new model, but this sometimes fails to ring true when you get to drive that car, such are the compromises. Volkswagen is no different, saying that from the outset the MQB platform was designed for electric applications. Having studied a mock-up of the e-Golf's chassis and powertrain we are somewhat inclined to believe the claim.
The batteries have been mounted below the floor and between the axles in the space usually occupied by the transmission and exhaust tunnel. This has the effect of lowering the centre of gravity of the car, meaning it remains assured as you push it through bends. It is not sporty exactly, but it does not feel compromised in the way the electric Ford Focus we drove last year did. It just feels like a Golf and considering the praise we have heaped on that car in the past, that is a good thing.
Three drive modes are available for the driver: default Comfort mode offers the full 115hp/270Nm of torque resulting in a 0-60km/h time of 4.2 seconds, 0-100km/h time of 10.4 and an electronically limited top speed of 140km/h. Select Eco mode and output is reduced to 95hp/220Nm and another 2.7 seconds added to the 0-100km/h time. The top speed is also reined in, topping out at 115km/h and the air conditioning system is 'optimised'.
Should you be running perilously low on power you can select Eco+, which kills the air conditioning completely, further knocks back output to 75hp/175Nm and drops the top speed to 90km/h. However, should you require the full power of the electric motor at any time while in either of the Eco modes it can be accessed by a 'kick-down' like function.
Around town the e-Golf is ideal for nipping in and out of traffic; its healthy 270Nm of torque (in Comfort mode) is more than enough for getting the jump on drivers at the lights, and being electric all that go is available instantaneously. With four settings for the regenerative braking power (D1, D2, D3 and B) you barely ever need to use the brakes. Volkswagen estimates that the car can do 90 per cent of a driver's regular braking in this way, meaning there is less need to dance around the pedals - perfect while sitting in stop-go traffic.
While it is obvious a lot of work has gone into the powertrain what is less obvious is the work done on the acoustics, primarily as you do not notice them. Chief amongst these are changes made to the suspension, the development of ultra-low-rolling resistance tyres by Michelin and the addition of sound absorbing material throughout the cabin - more so than found in a regular Golf. The result is golden silence. Even under hard acceleration there is little more than a distant whirr while at motorway speeds and wind noise is well suppressed.
What you get for your Money:
The Volkswagen e-Golf is set to arrive in Ireland in July. As yet prices are still to be nailed down but Volkswagen Ireland says it is hoping to offer the car for 'less than €30,000'. Quite how much less is anyone's guess but considering the standard equipment the price does not seem too high, especially for an electric car. The e-Golf, like the BlueMotion model, will be offered in its own unique trim level, which in the case of the electric model sits somewhere between Comfort and Highline.
Standard equipment includes the eight-inch Discover Pro navigation system (with features unique to the e-Golf), climate control, a heated windscreen, a leather multi-function steering wheel, unique upholstery for the seats (leather is available), LED lights front and rear and 16-inch alloy wheels.
In addition to the functions of the infotainment system the e-Golf also comes ready for remote access via the Car-Net e-Remote. Using this, drivers can check on the status of the car across a number of parameters (state of charge, whether the doors are locked or even find your car via GPS) and programme a departure time or charging time, all from their smartphone. So you can set the climate control for 20 degrees while watching Corrie, or ensure the e-Golf is locked as you head to bed.
Sales may be increasing but the market for pure electric cars in Ireland is still a small one, so small that no one from Volkswagen could be drawn on how many it expects to sell, but the e-Golf is nonetheless impressive. Impressive in its performance, impressive in its interior fit-out and impressive in that it just feels like a Golf. The BMW i3 has a serious rival on its hands in the premium electric car segment.