2017 Volkswagen e-Golf Review: Getting There
– Malibu, California
Here in the U.S., the Volkswagen Golf was a favorite among environmentally mindful buyers, many of whom were seduced by the Golf TDI, with its dieselicious torque and jaw-dropping fuel economy and handy little cheat devices that secretly switched to an emissions-compliant driving mode for EPA tests but spewed up to 40 times more pollutants from their tailpipes most other times. When that little act of fraud blew up in in VW’s face, TDIs were banished and VW became a pariah in the eyes of crestfallen environmentalists. Fortunately for VW, exactly one year before, it had introduced a Golf model that made no emissions at all, the all-electric e-Golf.
Developed mainly as a “compliance car” to help VW meet governmental mandates for zero-emissions vehicles both here and abroad, the e-Golf was expected to represent no more than a tiny percentage of Golf sales. The original e-Golf was rather sluggish, weighed more than 400 pounds more than the standard Golf, and couldn’t travel more than 83 miles without sucking up to an electrical outlet for a few hours, but in all other respects, it was as winsome as any other Golf. Now, with the dust of Dieselgate settling (in courts) and the Golf TDI not expected to return any time soon, the e-Golf has a more prominent role, so I (and I imagine a few environmentalists who rather miss their old Golfs) welcome the refreshed and improved 2017 e-Golf, with its snappier styling, better performance, and a more livable driving range.
Goes a lot farther. The most significant change for 2017 is undoubtedly the massive 50-percent increase in driving range, now a respectable 125 miles. Credit its larger, more efficient 35.8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, up from 24.2 kWh in the 2016 model, as well as improved battery chemistry that raises fuel efficiency to 119 MPGe from 116 MPGe before. Furthermore, while most of my brief, 31-mile drive from Manhattan Beach, California to Malibu was on generally flat stretches of Pacific Coast Highway – not exactly Autobahn speeds or range-gobbling hills – I was nonetheless surprised that when I arrived, the indicated range had only dropped by 29.
Sprightlier acceleration. Like most electric cars, the last e-Golf launched with a firm, silent shove but petered out long before highway speeds were attained, which is what happens when a wimpy 116-hp electric motor is charged (pardon the pun) with getting a 3,400-pound hatchback up to speed. This year’s upgrade to a 134-hp motor helps cut the 0-60 time from almost 11 seconds to a more acceptable 9.6, all in that eerie silence for which electric cars are known. Keep the right foot planted and you can now hit 93 miles per hour, up from 87 before. When not on the gas, the car is stoic and obedient, with excellent high-speed stability and quick and precise, if numb, steering.
Good looks. The 2017 e-Golf adopts the handsome, refreshed styling that will make it to the rest of the Golf line for 2018, with certain model-specific cues – blue accents, aero wheels, C-shaped LED running lamps below the front bumper, and a unique rear bumper panel with what appear to be cutouts for tailpipes but aren’t. Inside, it’s as sensible as any other 2017 Golf; other than some blue stitching on the steering wheel and shifter boot, gauge clusters that depict battery state of charge rather than fuel level, and some unique menus in the infotainment system, there’s little to distinguish the e-Golf from non-e-Golfs.
125 miles is still not enough. While 125 miles is a lot further than 83 – I could have done the round trip from Hawthorne to Malibu twice without recharging – it’s still less than half the range of most gas-powered cars, and far short of the 238-mile EPA-rated range of that other new electric hatchback, the Chevy Bolt. As such, the e-Golf’s 125-mile range isn’t enough to eradicate range anxiety for every potential customer, it merely serves to downgrade it from a full-fledged disorder to mild, circumstantial stressor.
Charge times still too high. With the 7.2-kW onboard charger that comes standard on both the base SE and SEL Premium trim levels, complete battery charging takes less than six hours from a 240-volt power source. A DC fast charger, optional on SE and standard on SEL Premium models allows 80 percent of the battery to be juiced up within an hour at a DC fast charging station, though such facilities remain relatively sparse. That’s good among electric cars, but is still a tough sell to folks not already on board with the idea of such a lengthy “refueling” process. However, many electric vehicle drivers choose to look at the bright side of things: they enjoy the convenience of charging up at home rather than visiting dirty gas stations, and the price of electricity remains generally cheaper than the price of gasoline and diesel fuel.
High cost and limited availability. As before, the 2017 e-Golf will be available only in California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. VW won’t release final pricing of the 2017 e-Golf until closer to its on-sale date sometime this summer, but as an electric car, it will certainly cost considerably more than the standard model. So you don’t have to look it up, the 2016 model cost at least $6K more than a comparable gas-powered Golf, starting at $29,815 for the SE and $36,415 for the SEL Premium. With its larger battery, the new model will likely cost more than last year.
It’s worth noting that e-Golf buyers will qualify for the Federal tax credit of $7,500 that applies to all new electric cars (if the Trump administration lets that tax credit remain in place, that is) with various other incentives bringing that cost down even more, depending on where it was purchased. Those same tax credits also would apply to other EVs like the $37,495 Chevy Bolt with its 238-mile EPA-rated range, and the upcoming, all-new 2018 Nissan Leaf, which is also rumored to have a high-capacity battery and 200-plus miles of range. All things considered, don’t expect prices to rise too much.
Photos: Steve Siler / Motor1.com; Volkswagen