EV Drive: Behind the Wheel of the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf

exterior silverOn Monday, I headed out to scenic Middleburg, Virginia for the 2015 Volkswagen Full-Line Drive.

As the name implies, the event showcased Volkswagen‘s full vehicle portfolio, from the sporty Passat to the classic Jetta, but one thing in particular got me excited: Our group of journalists and bloggers was the first in the world to hop behind the wheel of the 2015 e-Golf, Volkswagen’s first fully-electric vehicle for the U.S. market.

As the morning sun basked across the Virginia countryside, I couldn’t wait to hit the road. Read on for an up-close look at the e-Golf, which is set to hit the market in November.

e-Golf at a glance

Priced at around $35,000 (or a $299 per month lease), the e-Golf is not only cost-competitive with models like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, but also with more buzz-worthy rides such as the new BMW 3 series or forthcoming Tesla Model 3. Its range is nothing to shake a stick at either. It’s officially set at 70 to 90 miles but has achieved over 100 miles in road tests, depending on driving style, Volkswagen’s product strategy team said. For comparison, the Volt’s range is around 38 miles, while BMW officially sets an 80- to 100-mile range for the i3.

At first glance, the car doesn’t look much different from the original Golf hatchback, which has been in VW’s portfolio for 40 years. (The similarity is a plus for some who complain that electric vehicles often resemble the Jetson family spaceship but may be a knock for others who enjoy the futuristic look of their EV.) A few differentiating factors: The e-Golf’s front and rear bumpers were redesigned for improved aerodynamics; it features LED headlights in a unique C-shape; and, if you look closely, you’ll notice it doesn’t have a tailpipe.

After a few quick looks (and moment or two to snap pictures, of course), it was finally time to drive.

e golf exterior blue

Behind the wheel

After a brief scuffle trying to get the motor running, my test ride partner and I were ready to roll. (As a fellow tester over at Clean Tecnica reported, this was a common occurrence; pro tip: press the button and hold.) I had dibs on the first leg of the trip, and within a few minutes, I was pleasantly surprised by the smooth ride.

I’ve had the chance to test drive a few EVs in recent years, and ‘smooth’ isn’t always the operative word when it came to driving experience. In some cases, the ride can be downright jerky, especially for a first-time driver, as regenerative braking systems kick on and the vehicle abruptly downshifts to send energy back into the battery. The e-Golf, however, provides a fairly seamless experience, hugging the curves of Middleburg’s country roads and slowing down gradually as I lift my foot from the accelerator — saving energy without sending us jolting toward the dashboard.

The e-Golf has a fairly modest 115 horsepower, but its best-in-class torque of 199 foot-pounds really revs up the fun. As I punch the accelerator, the peppy e-Golf takes off and pushes us back in our seats. While it’s by no means a racing car (it takes about 10 seconds to go from zero-to-60), it’s noticeably quicker than the average hatchback or mid-size sedan — which is probably enough for the average driver, myself included.

2015 e-Golf Interior 2

For battery optimization, the e-Golf offers “Normal,” “Eco” and “Eco+” modes. Eco mode decreases the output of the air conditioner, which we didn’t even notice on this pleasant summer day, and limits power by about 15 to 20 percent while increasing battery range. Eco+ is a bit more extreme: It caps speed at 55 miles-per-hour and deactivates most of the air conditioner compressor functions. Depending on your driving style, you can gain 10 to 20 miles of range in these modes, which can also help you get out of a jam if battery power is running low.

Drivers can also choose from three regenerative braking modes, meaning you can almost drive without using the brake pedal. These settings can take some getting used to — and may send you into that jerky territory — but they can also increase battery range by up to 20 miles, especially in the stop-and-go driving environment of the city.

While we had the pleasure of cruising around in 75-degree temperatures, some testers still had questions about winter driving — a common concern with EVs. But VW’s team was ready with the answers: To help ensure optimal performance in cold weather, a newly developed heat pump system uses both ambient air and heat from the drive system components to warm the cabin rather than relying solely on the high-voltage heater, which can help to reduce on-board electrical consumption, especially in winter driving.

2015 e-Golf Engine

The raw numbers

For the left-brainers among you, here are the need-to-know specs:

  • Horsepower: 115
  • Torque: 199 foot-pounds
  • Battery: 24-kilowatt lithium-ion (made by Volkswagen in-house)
  • Range: 70 to 90 miles
  • Charging time: Roughly 20 hours for a full charge on a standard 120-volt outlet; less than 4 hours for an 80 percent charge on a 240-volt outlet; or about 30 minutes for an 80 percent charge on a DC fast-charge outlet
  • MPG: 105 MPG equivalent
  • Seating capacity: 5
  • Cargo volume (trunk): 22.8 cubic feet
  • Cargo volume (seats down): 52.7 cubic feet
  • Total price: $35,445 for the fully equipped SEL Premium model; a home charging unit from VW partner Bosch Automotive Service Solutions costs around $550 extra, plus installation costs
The e-Golf features AC and DC charging ports that use the Society of Automotive Engineers standard for charging.
The e-Golf features AC and DC charging ports that use the Society of Automotive Engineers standard for charging.

The bottom line

Compared to other mass-market EVs that tap out at around 40 miles of battery range, the e-Golf is much more realistic for the average driver. When asked if the company plans to release an extended-range model, Volkswagen’s product strategy team said yes — but not for a while.

“That’s part of our planning but that’s obviously many years out as the technology and the price of the cells gets to where we need it to be,” said Wade Harris, e-Mobility program specialist for Volkswagen of America. “The Volkswagen customer expects a really nice car at a certain price point, so we have to be able to meet those demands.”

That said, if you’re driving in the city, a 70- to 90-mile range is more than sufficient — especially when you factor in the regenerative braking. However, as is always the case for city-dwellers considering an EV, it really only makes sense if you have the ability to charge up at home or work.

Volkswagen also offers a holistic package for folks experiencing range anxiety. In addition to the partnership with Bosch for home chargers, e-Golf drivers will have access to more than 18,000 ChargePoint stations around the U.S. The e-Golf will also have its own dedicated app, called VW Car-Net e-Golf. In addition to monitoring things like miles driven, journey time and estimated electric motor power consumption, the app allows users to plan out their days based on where charging stations are available. If that’s not enough, a complimentary roadside assistance program will pick a driver up if he or she runs out of juice.

Those particularly interested in environmental impact will be pleased to know that VW’s partnership with 3Degrees offsets greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the e-Golf’s production and distribution, as well as those from battery charging for up to 36,000 miles of driving. The automaker also linked up with SunPower to to offer e-Golf owners “premier access” to SunPower’s upcoming home solar energy storage solution.

As with basically every electric vehicle on the market today, the e-Golf may not be right for everyone. But after testing it out for myself, I’d say it’s worth going for a spin at your local dealership. You may just fall in love like I did.

Image credit: Interior and engine images courtesy of Volkswagen; Additional images by Mary Mazzoni

Editor’s Note: Hotel accommodations for the two-day event were provided by Volkswagen of America.

Mary Mazzoni

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a senior editor at TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist with a passion for storytelling and sustainability. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, Earth911, the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands and the Daily Meal.

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian with an interest in climate resilience, clean tech and food justice. You can contact her at mary@triplepundit.com or @mary_mazzoni on Twitter.