Smarter, but just a stepping stone
Volkswagen aims to become the global market leader in electrification by 2025 with sales of one million EVs per year. It’s an ambitious goal for a brand that currently offers one all-electric vehicle in the U.S. and just two around the globe. For now, VW is taking baby steps toward its target with a more sophisticated version of the e-Golf.
Unlike other EVs on the market, the e-Golf was designed to fit in rather than stand out. It looks like a regular Golf, down to the rear exhaust inlets that obviously have no business being on an electric vehicle. With new bumpers and available LED headlights, the new e-Golf shares many visual updates we’ll see on the other vehicles, which arrive later this year as 2018 models. Blue exterior lighting, EV badging, and specially designed 16-inch wheels are among the few visual cues that distinguish the electrified Golf from its siblings.
Perhaps the most important update is better range. The 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf is rated by the EPA to achieve 125 miles (201 km) on a single charge, up from 83 miles (134 km). You can thank the e-Golf’s upgraded lithium-ion battery, which now has an energy capacity of 35.8 kilowatt-hours. A 7.2 kilowatt on-board charger is now standard across the lineup, allowing the e-Golf to juice up in less than six hours from a 240V unit, while DC fast charging is optional on the base model and standard on higher trims. Meanwhile, an upgraded electric motor adds 19 hp and 15 lb-ft of torque. That means the model delivers 134 hp and 214 lb-ft, just enough pep for this small car.
To accommodate their otherworldly looks, many EVs have at least one driving quality that feels a bit alien, whether it’s spongy brakes or detached handling. It’s safe to say the e-Golf is one of the more natural driving EVs available today. With responsive braking, quick handling, and a quiet and stable ride even on blemished roads, the e-Golf performs quite like a standard gasoline-powered Golf. It moves quickly and effortlessly off the line, but the automaker estimates it will take 9.6 seconds to hit 60 mph. We suspect it’s actually quicker, given that we tested a 2015 e-Golf hitting 60 mph in 9.1 seconds, ahead of the manufacturer’s then-estimate of over 10 seconds.
But if you’re yearning for that EV feel, switch from Normal mode to Eco mode. VW says it can help you achieve greater range, although the 0-60 time goes up to a whopping 13 seconds. Eco+ mode exhibits an even more conservative demeanor and requires a significant amount of effort on the accelerator to get the car running from a stop. In this mode, the e-Golf is limited to 74 hp and a top speed of 56 mph (90 km/h). Once again reminding us that the e-Golf is built for efficiency and not performance, you won’t find a sport mode. Most drivers will find Normal mode spirited enough, though I can’t help but wish the e-Golf had such a feature, especially considering it’s offered on other EVs such as the Chevrolet Bolt and Toyota Mirai fuel cell.
The e-Golf will be available in three trim levels: SE, Limited Edition, and SEL Premium. All e-Golfs come standard with a bigger 8.0-inch touchscreen, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and LED daytime running lights and LED taillights. We drove the top SEL Premium model, which brings energy efficient headlights and navigation with one-shot voice destination entry as well as an energy efficient auxiliary climate control heat pump for better performance in cold weather. These top models will also offer a driver assistance package that boasts a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, and other features. The metallic accents, the careful arrangement of leather with less premium materials, the contrast stitching, and the overall setup of the cabin makes the interior of the e-Golf SEL Premium feel a bit nicer than the many competitors—for example, it’s nicer than Chevrolet Bolt’s plastic-laden top trim, in my opinion.
VW sold 3,937 copies of the e-Golf last year across the U.S. With total Golf sales reaching 61,687, the e-Golf was the slowest-selling model in the Golf family, behind even the niche Golf R. The updated e-Golf goes on sale later this year, and though VW is evaluating a 50-state rollout, the current plan is to stick with offering it across 10 states in addition to Washington, D.C.
Enjoy the e-Golf while you can, because its future prospects remain unclear. Volkswagen assures us the e-Golf will remain in its lineup for the immediate future, but eventually the automaker will build a dedicated architecture for future EVs like the I.D., which made its debut in concept form last year.