The electric-vehicle (EV) market has just added yet another new contender. It's called the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf, and as the name suggests, it's a fully electric version of Volkswagen's standard Golf hatchback, which remains one of the most popular cars in the world. How does it stack up against electric-car rivals? We spent some time behind the wheel to find out.
Like a Golf
Starting from the first time you see the new e-Golf in person, you're quickly struck by one simple reality: It's just like a Golf. In fact, few exterior details distinguish the e-Golf from its gas-powered brethren. Sure, there's a new grille and new wheels -- and yes, the e-Golf is VW's first model with LED headlights -- but if you're looking to stand out from the gas-guzzling crowd like you would in, say, a Nissan Leaf, then the e-Golf isn't the way to do it: You'll just blend in.
The same is true inside the e-Golf. There are a few subtle differences from the standard Golf model -- including a gauge that takes the place of the tachometer and shows power usage instead of rpm -- but in large part, sitting inside the e-Golf feels like sitting inside any other car, right down to its large cargo area, which doesn't seem to be robbed of any space by batteries.
The second you turn on the e-Golf, you quickly remember that this hatchback is no ordinary Volkswagen. Obviously, one reason is the engine noise: There isn't any. But the e-Golf also trades a gasoline-powered driving style for a more traditional EV experience, offering lots of torque at low speeds and mediocre power as things progress.
And when we say mediocre power, we really mean it. Volkswagen is quick to point out that the e-Golf offers 115 horsepower and a class-leading 199 lb-ft of torque, which is eight more horses than the Nissan Leaf and 12 more lb-ft, but the e-Golf hardly feels spry, likely owing to its 3,100-lb curb weight -- comprised in part by 700 pounds of batteries.
Admittedly, part of the reason for the e-Golf's lackluster performance is that we spent most of our time in the car's Eco+ mode, which limits hp to 74 and torque to just 129 lb-ft, but we suspect that's exactly how many drivers will want to enjoy their e-Golf, as Volkswagen says the battery-saving mode has a dramatic effect on the hatchback's range.
Just how dramatic? According to VW, an e-Golf in normal mode will travel somewhere in the range of 70-90 miles between charges -- not bad considering the Leaf's 84-mile range. In Eco+ mode, though, VW says that some drivers are seeing over 100 miles between charges -- a huge figure that suddenly makes Eco+ mode's 74 hp (and its accompanying lack of air conditioning, another Eco+ feature) a little more tolerable.
As for charge times, the e-Golf happens to stand out here, too. Spurred by a standard 7.2-kW on-board charger (the Leaf offers only 3.6 kW as standard or 6.6 kW as an option), the e-Golf can be fully charged in just 4 hours -- and if you can find a quick charger, prepare for an 80 percent recharge in just 30 minutes. Combine that with a possible 100-mile range, and the e-Golf takes a lot of the anxiety out of EV ownership.
Unfortunately, we have to spoil our otherwise positive impression of the e-Golf with a discussion of price and availability. We say "spoil" because the e-Golf, like many VWs, is hampered by a high price tag: one that starts at a costly $36,300 with shipping. That makes it more than $6,000 pricier than a Leaf and even more expensive than rivals such as the Ford Focus Electric and FIAT 500e. In fact, the e-Golf is only a few thousand dollars less than the new BMW i3 -- an electric car that we suspect most shoppers will prefer due to its futuristic styling and high-end nameplate.
It isn't just price that has us reconsidering the e-Golf, though: Availability is a problem, too. According to Volkswagen, the model will only be sold in so-called "CARB" states, which are the 14 U.S. states that have adopted California's strict emissions standards. That means the e-Golf won't be available to drivers in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Houston or Miami.
In other words, the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf comes across as something of a halfhearted attempt at an electric vehicle. Yes, it performs well, and we're impressed with its range, its cargo capacity, its driving experience and its excellent standard 7.2-kW charger. But given the e-Golf's limited availability, its high price tag and its ho-hum styling, we suspect that Volkswagen's electric vehicle won't offer much of a challenge to established EV players such as the Nissan Leaf.