(Pocket-lint) - Take one perfectly normal 5-door Volkswagen Golf. Ditch the engine and regular transmission. Install a 36kWh electric battery and single axle electric motor. Et voila. You've got the recipe for the e-Golf, pronounced 'ee-Golf'. It's the fully electric version of VW's most popular small car.
The e-Golf's battery isn't supplemented by a petrol motor (you'd want a Golf GTE for that), offering an official range of 186 miles. That's impressive, although VW sensibly suggests you'll get a more true-to-reality figure of 124 miles from each charge. There's been an e-Golf since 2014, of course, it just had a smaller battery and could go less far on a single charge than this new one.
Visually the new e-Golf doesn't have the stand-out looks of a BMW i3 or Nissan Leaf. Unlike those cars, the VW isn't a stand-alone model, it's just a Golf like any other. Which, for many people, will be either its best feature or its greatest fault...
Everything about the e-Golf feels like it's been designed to make it as easy as possible for people to choose an electric vehicle (EV). It opens with a regular key – just like a Golf. There's the same five seats, nice dashboard and decent sized boot – just like a Golf. There's an interface that initially looks just the same as in any regular, high-spec Golf, too. There's even a traditional automatic gear-shifter: push forward for park and move back to put into drive. It's all perfectly normal and dead easy to use.
So where is the e-Golf different? Design-wise, there are e-Golf specific wheels, lighting at the front, blue detailing inside, and a more limited colour palette (but don't worry – you don't have to have one painted white). Our test e-Golf is keyless (a £375 option), so you just jump in, put your foot on the brake like a regular automatic, then hit the Start button. All of this is a good thing, because – as you might be grasping – it's like a regular Golf, which means if you're nervous about getting an electric car, this might be the one for you.
Easy-peasy driving squeasy
It's when you set off down the road that the differences between this and a regular Golf become apparent. As it's electric, the e-Golf starts and sets off in silence. This might sound obvious, but if you're not used to an electric car, it feels very strange at first. But you'll quickly get used to it, and even start to enjoy it.
The e-Golf really is extremely quiet on the move too. The regular Golf is well insulated and refined, so when you take things like the petrol or diesel engine and changing gears out of the equation, it gets better still. You don't really have to do much as the driver – no gears to change, no clutch to engage – which makes it a very easy car to drive indeed.
But just because it's easy doesn't mean it's not fun. The e-Golf brings power and performance at low speeds thanks to its electric motor. It's so punchy that it's easy to spin the front wheels when the road is wet or cold. But it's also easy to pull away from the lights in a hurry, beating other – apparently more powerful – cars. At lower speeds the Golf feels a lot quicker than its official 0-62mph time of 9.6 seconds suggests. It's just like the Nissan Leaf in this regard.
A break from braking
If you're driving an electric car for the first time then you'll need to get used to how the brakes work. This is true in the e-Golf as much as any other EV. Well, we say 'can' get used to – because the e-Golf gives you options here, unlike some others. Pull the regular auto transmission shifter back to select 'D' (for drive) and it drives like a normal combustion-engine car. Lift of the accelerator and it coasts, like a normal car. Want to stop? Hit the big left-side pedal.
However, pop the gearshifter into the 'B' (for braking) setting and when you lift off the accelerator the car immediately starts to slow down, because the regenerative brakes are recuperating energy back into the battery, while slowing you down in the process. You can even see how you're doing in terms of energy in a special dashboard display.
Volkswagen also lets you play with how much force you want this regeneration or recuperation to provide by offering what it calls D2 and D3 settings. We couldn't really see the point of these intermediate settings, though, as it's simple to engage the B function when you want it, then dis-engage it when you don't. In this respect, the e-Golf is a bit more like the Nissan Leaf or Jaguar i-Pace in giving you options, rather than the BMW i3 or Tesla Model S which just do the braking/recuperation thing as standard.
Even so, the maximum braking function of the e-Golf never feels as strong as it does in the BMW i3, so we didn't get that same sensation that you could drive it with one pedal, by simply coming on and off the accelerator. You do actually have to still hit the brakes if you want to stop, which makes the VW the better option for beginners. But the BMW is better once you get the hang of regenerative braking, as it allows you to maximise your energy recovery into the battery, and it's also more fun if you want to drive that little bit more assertively.
Overall, the e-Golf is good to drive. It's easy, responsive and quiet. It feels heavier than a regular Golf given the 300+kg of battery below the floor, but it rides well on 16-inch wheels, despite some added understeering when pushed hard. It's never fun, like an i3 or Tesla, but you're probably not buying an electric car to hoon, so no great loss. This is a Golf after all.
e-Golf specs and equipment
It's a common belief that, compared to its competitor cars, the Golf is not that well equipped. Volkswagen has been busy addressing that in the latest model line-up. But you'll still have to pay extra for the really fancy premium-car stuff and the best tech, unless you pick a high-level Golf GTi, GTD or R… or, as it turns out, the e-Golf.
Priced at £32,075 before you apply the UK Government's £4.5k plug-in cars grant discount, the e-Golf is on the pricey side for a family hatchback car. In the electric car game, it's more expensive than the smaller Kia Soul EV, Renault Zoe or similar-sized Nissan Leaf. But notably, it still undercuts the BMW i3, Teslas and Jag i-Pace.
However, to cushion the blow of the spend you're being asked to make to get the latest electric battery technology, VW has thrown all the kit at the e-Golf as standard. So unlike regular Golf models, it comes with the larger 9.2-inch version of VW's two touchscreen systems with gesture control and 3D Navigation maps, a 12-inch digital cockpit display, wireless connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and an app which allows you to remotely heat, cool and unlock the car from your phone.
Full of tech goodies
In addition to the above, you get goodies like heated seats, fully LED headlamps and tail lamps (which are brighter than normal lights but also use less power) – and features which aren't standard on a regular Golf. And of course, the e-Golf is technically an automatic – a gearbox choice you'll have to pay extra for on other Golf models.
You also get adaptive cruise control, an electric-heated front windscreen, a three-year subscription to connected services (live fuel prices, weather, traffic and also on-board emergency-call and response functionality), and the usual Bluetooth, USB ports, DAB radio. Oh, and the warranty on the battery is eight years.
What the e-Golf perhaps lacks is the very latest in assistive technology systems. Our car came with a £1225 pack which includes lane-keep assistance, rear traffic alert and traffic jam assist (which allows the car to drive semi-autonomously) – but it's not as advanced as the systems you'll find in a Tesla, BMW, Volvo, or the Nissan Leaf. Nor is there a head-up display (HUD), and you don't get leather seats either (they're not very eco, you see).
e-Golf charging and range
With its new 36 kWh battery, this latest e-Golf has a greater range than the original 2014 e-Golf, and its battery is more capacious than the current BMW i3 (which is 33kWh). However, it's less capacious than the new Nissan Leaf (40kWh).
Officially, the current European (NEDC) test puts the e-Golf's range at 186 miles from a full charge. VW says 124 miles. Our test car arrived with a full battery displaying 136 miles of range, and the most we went on one charge was 101 miles. Bear in mind, however, that it was quite cold when we had the car and we ran the heater and heated seats liberally, which affects the battery range.
If you're careful with your driving style – and the e-Golf offers Eco and Eco+ drive modes to help you out – we think that 125 miles on a charge feels quite an achievable real-world range. In the high summer, when higher temperatures help the battery longevity, you might even manage 150 miles.
Our biggest gripe is a usability one: the e-Golf's digital dashboard display, while bright and flashy, feels like it's been designed for petrol and diesel cars, and the battery charge state and range are often hard to see at a quick glance, because they're amongst so much information.You can customise this display, but it remains busy, and we prefer the simpler displays of BMW, Kia and Nissan – all of which prioritise showing you how much charge/range there is left in the battery as their number one feature.
Charging-wise, the Golf can be charged from your home 3-pin plug – where it'll take 17 hours to fully charge. Or you can charge it from a dedicated 3.6 or 7.2kW wall box (you can get a government grant to install one of these if you buy a car like the e-Golf, and they then cost you about £300). We've got a 7.2kW unit at home and found it took the Golf in the region of five-to-six hours to fully charge. The e-Golf is also compatible with fast and rapid-charge public chargers. On the motorway spec rapid-charge CCS chargers, VW says it will take just 45 minutes to go from 0 to 80 per cent charged.
The VW e-Golf is an electric version of the hugely popular regular car. That could have meant the EV version felt compromised – but it doesn't. It operates, drives and functions as well as any electric car built from the ground up, while the electric bits don't compromise the original Golf design either.
Being part of the Golf family, however, means the EV Golf feels almost invisible. Only geeks will know you're driving an electric Golf; everyone else will think you've just got a Golf. By comparison, a Nissan Leaf, Tesla or BMW i3 are all great statement cars that people have come to know as the electric cars. The e-Golf just feels kind of normal.
However, if electric cars are going to make the step into the mainstream, they're going to have to start to feel normal. They need to be easy to use and not look downright weird. Which is where the e-Golf really comes into its own: right now it's probably the easiest way to slip into the electric car groove. After all, it's a Golf – probably the best family hatchback on the market – that just happens to be electric, with all the benefit that brings.
Alternatives to consider
On paper, the Leaf makes mincemeat of the Golf. It's cheaper, it's got a more capacious battery which (in theory) gives it more range. And it's almost got the Golf trumped on specs and tech, too. So why the same score? Well, the Leaf is great, but it's a purpose-built electric car, it still looks a little odd, the battery is only air cooled (which is throwing up some charging issues), and it feels distinctly more plasticky and less premium than the VW.
- Read the review: Nissan Leaf
Kia Soul EV
Like the Golf, the Soul EV is based on the regular Soul – which is a fun, fresh, different looking little cross-over. The Soul's range isn't the highest, but we found it useful, fun, nippy and enjoyed the drive.
- Read the review: Kia Soul EV
The Zoe continues to be the EV bargain of this limited group of cars. It's the cheapest to buy, costing almost half as much as the e-Golf, and it looks decent too. You can get the Zoe in a couple of specifications – the higher-capacity battery has a bigger range than the Golf, but it feels much more flimsy and is a smaller, less premium car.
- Read the review: Renault Zoe