If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen

Mar 4, 2019   Features

So went the catchline of the 1987 Volkswagen ad featuring Princess Diana lookalike Paula Hamilton throwing away her engagement ring, pearls and fur coat but keeping her Golf as she walked out of her spurned fiancee’s mews house.

The VW Golf is the Apple product of automotive: well-designed, well-finished and the compact car of choice of the middle classes - and almost as classless as the original Mini says Simon Duval Smith.

As we move towards an increasingly electric car future, I thought it was time to see if the e-Golf was more, or at least as dependable as the other pure electric cars offered by the competition.
I charted a suitable test route: from Islington in North London to our New Mobility Live conference in Coventry, via Hertfordshire. The route was shown as 126 miles, well within the advertised 186-mile range of the e-Golf but this was on a very cold morning, which sapped the displayed range to 136 miles before I set off. Using the heating reduced this even further and deploying the very effective electrical windscreen heater immediately cut the distance to recharging by another 30 miles. After that shock, a gloved hand was used to maintain visibility…

Driving and charging - quick, find a socket!
The e-Golf is really much the same inside and out as the seventh-generation five-door petrol and diesel (i.c.) models and, apart from a bit of space hacked from the boot to help accommodate the underfloor lithium-ion batteries, it offers the same practical accommodation and luggage capacity.
The driving experience is very similar to a non-EV Golf, the battery weight is low in the chassis so ultimate cornering power is somewhat compromised but the e-Golf can be hustled through roundabouts and sharp bends with the usual Golf stability and feedback. The car rolls very little and steers with directness, precision and agility at low and medium speeds. The ride appears at first to be as good as the ‘normal’ Golfs that you may have driven but Volkswagen have lowered the car for better aerodynamics and this shows in a slightly lumpy ride over larger bumps and it is a bit ‘fidgety’ over broken road surfaces.

Acceleration is brisk, with the electric powertrain giving maximum power from zero revs, making it quicker to 30 mph than most i.c.-engined cars, and reaching 60 mph in a respectable 10.4 seconds. Top speed is 84 mph and 70 mph is a comfortable cruising speed, 55-60 mph will give a bit more range though. This muscular and smooth performance does make for a relaxing drive if a little eerie as even by the extra-quiet standards of the modern EV, it is whisper-quiet. So much so, that unlike some of its rivals, it does not feature a Vehicle Engine Sound System to project an artificial motor noise outside the car to warn pedestrians of its coming.

It takes 13 hours to recharge from a domestic 230-volt socket but if you have a special optional wall box installed at home, that can be reduced to about eight hours. On the road or at a local 40kW Combined Charging System dispensing DC point one can bring the e-Golf to 80% of full charge capacity within 30 minutes, making carefully-planned long journeys possible if a little fraught, as many of the charging stations at motorway services are over-subscribed. The e-Golf is equipped with sat-nav sited charge point destination information but these stations are still too few and far between for carefree and unplanned long rural journeys.

Cost and convenience
With a base price of £32,550, minus the PiCG vehicle government grant of £3500, giving an on the road price of £29,740, the e-Golf is good value but most buyers will add options from a surprisingly long list - our car came out at over £30,000 even with the discount, with its reversing camera, metallic paint and heated steering wheel with paddles to adjust the level of regenerative braking, a feature that does make it feel slightly more of a driver’s car.

Of course, charging costs are very low and EVs are exempt from the London congestion charge and vehicle excise duty (road tax).

Slightly more worrying is that residual value experts forecast low used values e-Golf. Golf owners will be used to healthy residual values of around 40% after four years, the experts tell me that the e-Golf is unlikely to be worth more than 25% of its new retail price after the same period.

Other EVs are available
As a Volkswagen Golf, the e-Golf is a quite acceptable EV but its use of the i.c. platform and body means it is essentially an adapted petrol or diesel car. Its competitors, such as the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, Hyundai Kona and particularly the BMW i3 feel much more like EVs designed from the wheels up. And this is where the BMW really scores. Its stylish, some might say quirky, looks are the result of engineers and designers starting with a clean sheet of paper and thus being able to utilise all the advantages of not using a body designed for a conventional powertrain. But of course, many e-Golf buyers will want a car a that looks, well, just like a Golf...

We got there - only just!
After a rather anxious journey, watching the battery capacity drop off rapidly while sitting in a freezing cabin to save energy, we rolled up to the charging point in the car park of the Coventry Transport Design Centre, a fitting destination for a car of tomorrow, with zero miles left in the battery. I had covered just 126 miles, a little under the car’s projected (very cold weather) range. Given the stop-start nature of some of the journey plus the very low temperatures, the e-Golf actually performed better than a BMW i3 or Nissan Leaf would have but still gave us considerable range anxiety and a rather cold journey. The rapid charger in Coventry topped the car right back up and a more straightforward route saw me arrive home with 3 miles to spare having driven the last 60 miles with no heating, to conserve energy. The conclusion must be that for some ‘extra-urban’ and longer journeys, while electric cars are likely the future, there is some way to go before one can actually go some way without anxiety and recharging...


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