Road Test: 2014 Volkswagen e-Golf

Road Test: 2014 Volkswagen e-Golf

VW Hits the Electric Car Market—Hard

Much debate always ensues when a major company brings a product to market after its competitors have already launched theirs. Does it have to be just a little bit better or must it break new ground and redefine the category? When you’re the 13th entry in a segment, how do you distinguish yourself?

Volkswagen’s answer to those marketing challenges for the e-Golf essentially comes down to the way it markets most of its cars. That is: “Hey consumer, it’s a German-engineered car you can

2014, VW, Volkswagen,e-golf

German engineering – das electric

afford.” The 2014 Volkswagen e-Golf is, first of all, a VW Golf—and that’s a good thing. The Golf is an efficient hatchback that’s now in its seventh generation and has evolved into a great road machine with enough creature comforts so it doesn’t feel like a stripped-down sports machine. It’s a real car that’s fun to drive. And the electric version carries that tradition into the zero tailpipe emissions world.

It’s not surprising the Golf is as well-tuned as it is. The model going back to Rabbit days has carved out a reputation for good road-handling as well as fuel efficiency. The strut-type front suspension for the driven wheels is augmented by coil springs, telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar. In the rear you have a multilink suspension with coil springs, telescopic dampers and an anti-roll bar. Add to that the almost 700 pounds of the 24.2 kWh Panasonic lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seat, and you’ve got a car that not only stays planted to the road, but has the ability to handle whatever curves are thrown its way. Even with the 16-inch low rolling resistance tires, the grip is impressive.

We mentioned that this is the seventh generation Golf. The model has been around for 40 years now, which would make it its ruby anniversary. Since rubies don’t necessarily look great on cars, the logical present for the e-Golf might be one of the Bosch home charger systems that VW offers along with the car. To close the loop on sustainable electricity, VW is working with SunPower to

2014, VW, Volkswagen, e-Golf

The “e” difference

allow e-Golf customers to install a solar system to supply clean power and set up an energy storage system.

Volkswagen is making its own anniversary present for e-Golf purchasers by investing $10 million into an express-charging corridor that ChargePoint has commited to build on the east and west coasts. When completed, that system will feature 100 DC fast-chargers spaced no more than 50 miles apart along major highways. VW will augment this additional fast-chargers at some dealer locations.

So that’s the evolving landscape of the electric car in 2015. Thinking back 40 years to when the Golf first appeared, the price of gasoline was 35 cents a gallon and stations were ubiquitous. Nobody other than thrifty college student who outgrew their Beetles were looking for the kind of fuel economy and utility offered by a compact hatchback. Fast forward to Clean Fleet Report testing the e-Golf; gas prices were at least six times the 1975 price and electric cars are starting to make sense, particularly as fast-charging helps make them into something other than a short commuter.

Real-World Range Anxiety

The 2014 Volkswagen e-Golf has an estimated range of 70-90 miles according to VW. We put that to a test with an 80-mile roundtrip down the coast that included a climb up and over an 1800-foot set up hills—twice. The e-Golf performed flawlessly, accelerating and holding its own on the freeways, but on the freeway and climbing the hill the range dropped precipitously. Those unfamiliar with electric cars might not realize that 90 miles of range does not necessarily mean 90 miles in the real world. Hills, freeway speeds and quick acceleration all drop that range quicker than the actual miles you may travel. The same phenomena occurs with a gasoline car, but given a typical 300-mile range for a gas-powered car, the effect is less noticeable.

In an electric that’s not the case. I had not nearly charging opportunity at the trip’s midpoint, so as headed back I climbed the hill and saw the range drop to very close to the distance I needed to

2014 VW e-Golf

Three modes of driving from one motor

travel to get home. A moment of panic set in as I calculated tow charges and potential lost time. I wondered what the Golf would do when it ran out of juice. Would it stop in the lane, or would I have the chance to pull over to the side?

Then something amazing happened. In the same way coasting down a hill ups a gas car’s fuel economy, the effect on an electric is even more dramatic. As I zipped down the hill, my range increased and regenerative braking added even more to the electric “tank.” I breezed home with miles to spare. The range estimate of the Golf turned out to be fairly accurate, even with two hill climbs and sustained freeway driving. I experienced in that short drive what many EV drivers report as they grow more accustomed to their cars; you quickly get a sense of exactly how far you can go and you adjust your drives to fit the range and recharging opportunities.

Three Driving Modes

That trip also gave me a chance to test out the three driving modes the e-Golf offers—normal, Eco and Eco+. The latter, which of course delivers the maximum range, was my default as I tried to make sure I could stretch the electrons to complete my trip. But—and it’s a big but—it’s not the way you want to travel if you’re on the freeway. Top speed is limited to roughly 60 mph and acceleration is stifled in a move to conserve battery juice, so using it around town or when truly stressed about getting to your next charge point (as I was), is the recommended use. On the other hand, the Eco mode delivered acceptable freeway and around-town performance and the car’s ability hold its own in traffic didn’t seem to be compromised severely. Another feature of the three modes is an increasingly aggressive regen action on the brakes.

2014, Fiat 500e, electric car

Toppled from the top of my list

Of course, normal mode is as it implies; maybe even more than it implies, since as I’ve said the e-Golf is in most ways a true Golf. It’s a fun-to-drive, functional car that transfers the driving performance of a GTI into an electric vehicle. In many ways it resembles what Fiat has done with the 500e, where it gave Abarth-like performance to its electric model. We think this is a good thing, something that will help electric cars gain their rightful place in the automotive world.

Mentioning the 500e brings us back to the bottom line with the e-Golf. It has displaced that fun little runabout as our favorite electric car. Chalk one up for functionality. The e-Golf loses none of its four-door, four-passenger (five in a pinch) capacity while adding the option of cargo space similar to a small SUV with the rear seat folded down (52.7 cubic feet). Unlike some of the models out there, no interior space was lost in the conversion of the traditional Golf to electric mode. It may not have the style of the little Fiat, but it tries with its unique C-shaped LED running lights. All-in-all, the e-Golf may be a little late to the party, but it looks like it’s ready to get-down and boogie with the best of them.

Here’s a look at some of the nuts and bolts of the e-Golf.

Powertrain

Providing the power in the 2014 Volkswagen e-Golf is an 85 kW (115 hp) synchronous AC permanent magnet electric motor that cranks out 199 lb-ft of torque. Juice comes from the 323-volt lithium-ion battery and is delivered to the wheels through a single speed transmission. As mentioned, the power can be delivered in three driving “styles.” The normal mode allows full use of the available horsepower and torque, enabling 0-60 acceleration of just over 10 seconds and a top speed of 87 mph. In “Eco” mode, power is limited to 94 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque and the air conditioning and accelerator pedal have different response curves. Top speed is 72 mph and it will do 0-60 in about 13 seconds. The “Eco+” mode responds to the conservator in everyone by limiting power to 74 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque, a top speed of 56 mph and less responsive accelerator pedals and no air. Not to worry, if you find the need to truly accelerate and mash the pedal, the car will shift back to “normal” mode and deliver the needed power. Regenerative braking also has three driver-selectable modes that recapture differing amounts of braking energy. A 7.2 kW onboard charger allows charging in three possible modes—11/120-volt wall socket (in 20 hours), a 240-volt wallbox (less than four hours) or a DC fast-charger using the Combined Charging System (CCS, 30 minutes).

Pricing

Pricing on the e-Golf is fairly similar to its competition. The list price is $35,445 and typically 36-month $299 leases are available in select states (with $2,349 down). Package deals with the Bosch

2014 VW e-golf

An upscale interior to go with its upscale price

home-charging system are available. The level of standard equipment is fairly high, including LED headlights and DRLs, the 7.2 kW onboard charger, 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, a heat pump, a touchscreen navigation and infotainment system, Sirius XM Satellite Radio, a Media Device Interface (MDI) with iPod integration, Bluetooth connectivity, VW Car-Net connected services, V-tex leatherette seating surfaces, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel and shifter knob, heated front seats, Climatronic dual-zone automatic climate control, front and rear Park Distance Control, rearview camera and rain-sensing wipers.

Safety

Like the gas and diesel Golfs, the e-Golf comes with a full complement of safety equipment, including six airbags and a variety of electronic and mechanical driver assistance and safety systems, such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC), four-wheel, three-channel anti-lock brakes and an Automatic Post-Collision Braking system that applies the brakes when a collision is detected by the airbag sensors.

Warranty

2014 e-Golf, VW, Volkswagen

Say ahh, how functional

The 2014 Volkswagen e-Golf comes with a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain limited warranty and 3-year, 36,000-mile new vehicle limited warranty. The battery’s limited warranty covers it to eight years or 100,000 miles. The car also comes with what should be a must for electric car owners—a 3-year/36,000-mile roadside assistance program and a 1-year/10,000-mile Carefree Maintenance Program that covers the car’s first scheduled maintenance at no charge.

Bottom Line

The e-Golf may be arriving late on the electric car scene, but it feels like it is worth the wait. The car delivers all of the fun of a gas/diesel Golf with no petroleum. It’s a great package and worth a look. It answers emphatically that an electric car can be virtually indistinguishable from its gas/diesel brothren, but still shine in its own merits. The 2014 Volkswagen e-Golf isn’t the first, but it’s got our vote as the best of the mainstream (i.e., affordable) electric cars.

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First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf

First Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Golf

Now Available Three Spiced-Up Versions–Gas, Diesel or Electric

If variety is the spice of life, anyone with a sensitivity for Sriracha sauce has better step away from the new 2015 Volkswagen Golf. VW is launching the seventh generation of its worldwide best-seller this year and it’s stepping up its game. The Golf has completely redone both gas and diesel engines as well as added a brand-new electric motor in the soon-to-be-on-the-market (finally) e-Golf.

The styling of the Mk 7 Golf is evolutionary, but those who follow the Euro hatchback will notice the changes–it’s bigger, lighter and more fuel-efficient. Golf aficionados might pick up on the two plus longer, ½-inch wider and one-inch

2015 Volkswagen,VW,e-Golf,electric car

Old and new blend in the e-Golf

lower stance, but the rest of us will just appreciate the lower coefficient of drag’s positive impact on its fuel economy.

The variety does mean the Golf buyer will need to make a choice and it is beyond just the different powertrains. However, let’s start with that foundational element, which will define the basic character of your Golf.

New And Different/e-Golf

The e-Golf represents a new foray for Volkswagen–a production pure battery electric car. The company has shown a variety of concepts, including the smaller e-Up!, and the ultra-efficient science project, the XL1. VW decided the Up! is too small for the U.S. market and the XL1 is a very limited production plug-in diesel-electric hybrid.

The e-Golf represents what VW considers the sweet spot of the EV market–a compact yet highly functional five-door hatchback that they’re already producing in large volume (so the basic tooling costs are covered). Clean Fleet Report has driven two previous iterations of the e-Golf, both of which appeared to be ready to enter production. This latest (still pre-production) version continued VW’s tradition of building electric cars that not only deliver zero emissions but some of the expected driving fun that defines the Golf. With real five-passenger seating and functional storage space behind the hatch, Golf ups the ante in the growing EV market.

The e-golf is set to arrive late in 2014 and will deliver 70-90 miles of real-world range (100+ in Eco+ mode) from its 24.2 kWh lithium-ion battery and electric motor with 115 hp/199 pound-feet of torque (which compares favorably with the gas and diesel models). VW claims the e-golf will deliver more interior volume and torque than either the Ford Focus Electric or Nissan Leaf. Its retail price of $36,265 (including destination charge) will place it between the segment sales leading Leaf and the just-introduced German rival BMW i3.

The Driver Gets to Choose

One unique feature of the e-Golf is driver-selected driving profiles and regenerative braking, with three settings for each. The driving profiles range from Normal through Eco to Eco+ with the Eco modes moderating the electric motor output, top speed, A/C output and throttle response to maximize efficiency. The three regen modes range from normal to “B,” which puts on the brake lights when engaged as it actively slows down the car whenever the throttle is lifted. Aggressive doesn’t do justice to describe the intensity of the top regen level, but it could get old if engaged during normal city driving.

2015 VW, volkswagen,Golf GTI

Looking the part-compact performance hatchback

The e-Golf will distinguish itself from its sister ICE Golfs by using LED headlights and low rolling-resistance tires on unique 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels. It also employs a lower coefficient of drag (.028 due to tricks such as reducing the volume of cooling air via a radiator shutter by using a partially enclosed radiator grille; new underbody paneling; a rear spoiler and C-pillar air vanes to better manage airflow at the tail of the car; and cleaning up the airflow around the wheels, largely by ensuring they are flush with the wheel arches).

Like many of its competitors, the e-Golf will only be available in select states (those offering California emissions credits). It will come in an up-level SEL trim, which include a good selection of features such as a touch-screen navigation system, VW’s Car-Net connected services, heated front seats, Bluetooth and a rearview camera.

Diesel Updated

Diesel engines have been a part of the VW repertoire for decades. At one point they had the dubious distinction of being known as the “diesel Rabbit” car company. That was then; this is now. The diesel engines are quieter and cleaner (the 2015 turbocharged 2.0-liter engine has 40 percent lower emissions than its predecessor, which still met California’s strict emissions standards). What remains constant is the combination of power from its low-end torque, fuel economy from its overall efficiency and the durability that comes from a compression ignition engine designed to endure constant explosions within.

For the first time, VW has redesigned its diesel engine to worldwide standards so one engine (in various states of tuning and emissions) will serve markets everywhere. The all-new TDI (for turbo diesel injection) gains in horsepower and fuel economy on its predecessor, albeit in barely noticeable numbers (+10 hp/_1 mpg). The gains flow to VW from the economies of scale derived from a world engine.

Driving the TDI provided no revelations. We tested last year’s engine in the Jetta and came away impressed. What’s not to be impressed when you’ve got all the power you need off-the-line and for passing on the freeway, when it’s accompanied by better-than-EPA fuel economy. For those of us who spend a good portion of our time traversing the Interstate, a TDI is a godsend. The new version just ups the ante.

The Old Standby–Gasoline (With a Boost)

The trick is no sleight-of-hand; in its seventh generation (dating from the Gen I Rabbit in 1974) the Golf boasts that it’s bigger yet lighter and more fuel-efficient. Of course the electric version highlighted earlier is truly groundbreaking.

2015 Volkswagen, VW, Golf TSI, Golf TDI,e-Golf

For 2015 Golf offers fun in three varieties

The diesel is better, but builds incrementally on its past. The gasoline version is somewhere in between, but still not joining the 40 MPG Club.

The gasoline-powered Golf comes in two versions–the basic Golf TSI and the performance-oriented GTI. Life the diesel, its engine received a complete revision. The new turbocharged direct-injected 1.8-liter four-cylinder delivers 6 mpg (20 percent) more on the highway than last year’s 2.5-liter version. Manual transmissions as well as automatics are available, something that is becoming more and more rare.

The more powerful (and very popular) GTI model bumps up the power to 210 hp while losing only a few (3-4 mpg) miles per gallon.

Golf Pricing & Fuel Economy

VW has juggled Golf prices this year, dropping them and setting up a clean stair-step for the different models. Here (including an $820 destination charge) are the entry prices for the different models. With optional trim levels and equipment they can easily move up $8-10,000, a common characteristic for German models.

Golf TSI  $18,815 – 2-door, manual transmission

25 mpg city/37 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined

Golf TDI  $22,815 – 4-door, manual transmission

30 mpg city/45 mpg hwy/36 mpg combined

Golf GTI  $25,215 – 2-door manual transmission

25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined

e-Golf   $36,265 – EPA fuel economy not yet set

More Models Coming

In addition to the TSI, TDI and e-Folks, VW will later be bringing a wagon (formerly the Jetta Sportwagen, which will now be known as the Golf Sportwagen in TSI and TDI versions), a hot with 290 horsepower and all-wheel drive known as the Golf R and finally a hybrid, no doubt piggybacking on the Jetta hybrid technology already on the market.

The choices mean you, the consumer, have to figure out how you intend to drive your Golf. Short bursts around town suite the e-Golf, longer commutes point you toward the TSI or TDI. The TSI has a significantly lower purchase price and

2015 VW,Volkswagen,Golf,Golf GTI

Red means go

good fuel economy. The TDI costs more at the outset, but will save you money every mile even if the per gallon cost of diesel Is a few cents higher than gas. Both are run to drive.

If fuel economy is not your main focus, the GTI extracts a maximum amount of fun out of the Golf platform–and doesn’t suffer too much at the pump.

If you need more room, wait for the wagon. If you want the true maximum performance, wait for the the R. The hybrid, may trail the others into the market, should offer TDI-like fuel economy, but at a similar or potentially even higher MSRP.

2015 Volkswagen,VW,e-Golf,Golf TDI,Golf TSI,Golf GTI

Chose your pleasure-no poison pill here

All the Golf variants deliver similar, sporty performance. Road handling in our test drives showed it to be superior to competitive models in this class and price range. Body lean is minimal and the available manual transmission gives the driver the ability to enhance control of the vehicle. Inaide, VW appears to have upped its game, getting back to higher quality materials that look and feel like they come from a more expensive car. Then there’s that German engineering thing. As an example, an engineer shared with Clean Fleet Report that all VW engines are reported in with specifications on the conservative side rather than at the maximum allowable from testing. It may seem like a minor thing, but we see that as a philosophy the means the company will under-promise and over-deliver with its vehicle’s performance. That’s a trait we’ve experienced in our previous testing and one we welcome.

For 2015 Volkswagen has clearly positioned the Golf to be more competitive across the board by lowering prices, boosting performance (both horsepower and fuel economy) and adding content. It’s part of a strategy to push the VW brand into America’s mainstream. Our estimation after some short but vigorous test drives of the new Golf leads us to quote their new marketing mantra–they do define the compact hatchback segment. It’s up to the competition to come up with something to compete, but until then the Golf is our first choice.

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