Review: 2015 Volkswagen eGolf

I’ve never really understood electric cars. To me, they represent a compromise that I’m unable and unwilling to embrace, severely limiting how far I can drive a car at one time in exchange for reducing my environmental impact. And fortunately (for me) I’m not alone in these feelings as a consumer or an enthusiast. Aside from cost, “range anxiety” is the largest hurdle electric mobility needs to climb before gaining widespread acceptance. It’s a fact that quite simply cannot be ignored on something that’s a major investment for so many.  With these things in mind, I began my week with Volkswagen’s eGolf with a bit of trepidation.

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The first thing that you’ll notice about the eGolf, is that it doesn’t really look that different from a standard Golf. Even the badging is quite conservative, and the minor aesthetic differences are done more for efficiency than individuality. Moving to the interior, aside from a few new transmission ‘modes’, blue interior accent lighting, a few badges, and an unusual tachometer, it’s much of what we’ve come to expect from the seventh generation Golf. In all honesty, it feels just like any other SEL-level Golf currently in the lineup in terms of fit, finish and quality.

Interestingly, the eGolf’s commonality and similarity to the rest of the Golf range is what frankly makes it quite unique amongst its electric car peers. When it comes to full electrics, consumers have mainly had two flavors – either quirky and cramped econodroplet in varying forms of luxury and build quality like the Nissan Leaf or BMW i3, or much more luxurious and expensive TESLA. Each of these scream “LOOK AT ME AND MY ELECTRIC CAR”, while the eGolf continues on with what the Golf has done for years. It packages upmarket tech and handling in a conservatively handsome but livable package. Its understated normalcy is a rarity in this segment.

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When it’s time to take the eGolf for a drive, press the starter button, wait, and then… nothing. No noise from the tailpipe. No shake from the engine turning over.  No movement from the tachometer. A slight sound of electricity flowing throughout the cabin is the only way to know it’s working. After a lifetime of very specific indicators telling you a vehicle is on, it’s all a bit bizarre and at first mentally taxing to overcome. Nevertheless, pull the gear lever to your desired setting, and the car moves without delay.

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Out on the road, the eGolf feels surprisingly eager. The immediacy of torque is enough to trigger traction control in certain situations, and ensures that the driving experience is an enjoyable one. Externally, the car makes a high-pitched wine as mandated by the government to alert blind pedestrians of its presence, but it’s just a faint whisper for those inside the cabin.  Find some corners, and the eGolf’s battery placement- low and inside the wheelbase- works to make the car downright impressive, even on the extremely low rolling resistance factory tires.  Ditching the stock rubber in favor of something with some grip would certainly prove to be a fun experiment, although it will come at the expense of range.

Speaking of range, Volkswagen claims that the eGolf will do more than 70 miles on a charge. And that’s fine, should you have a commute of less than 35 miles each way, or 70 miles one way and a place to charge it at work. If you drive more than this, take a lot of trips or are the type that forgets to charge your cell phone overnight from time to time, the eGolf may prove to be a challenge.  That’s not to say that the car couldn’t qualify just fine as commuter for  90% of us, but that sort of range doesn’t allow the eGolf to be the all-rounder that has made the Volkswagen Golf and its derivatives so popular for the past 40 years.

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And this is where the eGolf becomes a bit of a re-think in proposition. In comparing the eGolf to Volkswagen’s current lineup, potential buyers will quickly discover that the Golf TDI has an EPA rating of 45mpg highway with many on our own forums reporting over 50mpg in real-world situations.  Come to think of it, the 1.8 TSI ain’t exactly a thirsty car either. Both are available for quite a bit less money too, with the ability to be refueled at any station retailing 87 Octane or Diesel fuel. And, because humans are prone to making mistakes, it’s nice to have that safety net waiting for us every few miles.

To its credit, the eGolf offers up an estimation of range in real time. No, it doesn’t rid you of the dreaded electric car era term “range anxiety”, but it will keep  you incredibly informed about just how far you’ve left to travel before running out of juice. Even better, it quickly adapts to your driving style and mode in which the car is being driven.
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For those looking to get the most out of their eGolf, the car offers three modes: Eco, Eco Plus, and Normal.  Whereas Normal is exactly as described, Eco works to extend battery life by slowing throttle response, and Eco Plus goes one step further to limit the car’s top speed to 60mph.  While Eco can feel a bit like driving a slow car with the air conditioning turned on, Eco Plus felt downright lethargic, clearly not meant for highway or faster B road use.  Most of our time with the car was spent in Normal, where the car seemed to really be at it’s best.

Once you have finally run out of juice, charging is done via a supplied charge cable, which can either be used in a high voltage (240watt) or conventional (120watt) outlet, with the key difference being charge time.  This process can prove to be difficult for those without an outlet near to where you park though, as the cable is not to be used with an extension cord.  Either way, you can essentially treat the car much like your cell phone- just plug it in when you get home, and unplug it before you head out in the morning.

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In the end, the eGolf might be most akin to the first iPhone or Dylan plugging in at Newport Folk in ’65. Sure, the results weren’t exactly as expected, but it signified a change that I think we can all agree brought about something much greater. Without the original iPhone, we’d still be fat fingering our Blackberry keyboards and honestly believing that the ‘scroll ball’ is a good method of control. Without relying on a little help from Thomas Edison, Bob Dylan might be regulated to a few paragraphs about 1960s counterculture. And without the first eGolf, Volkswagen might just be stuck on the sidelines when e-mobility becomes a necessity rather than a novelty.

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If you’re a resident of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont or (duh) California, the eGolf SEL Premium is currently available for $35,445 before tax credits, or as the lower-spec Limited Edition for $33,450. Those living outside of these states will need to wait a bit longer, or cross state lines to get an eGolf of their own.

Check out additional images of the eGolf, right here.