This is the VW e-Golf: a fully electric, production ready Golf that you can now buy in 24 specialist VW dealers dotted about the UK. Until now, the Nissan Leaf has had the C-segment EV market to itself, but now there’s a seriously competent, newer alternative.
Is it as expensive as the Leaf?
There's only a couple of hundred quid in it. The new e-Golf has a starting price of £30,845, but apply the UK government’s handy £5000 subsidy and its Golf R-topping price tag drops to a comparable level with a Golf 2.0 TDI DSG.
A like-for-like spec Nissan Leaf Tekna costs a slightly cheaper £25,490 (with government helping-hand included), while the cheapest basic Leaf starts at £20,990. There's no doubt the EV sales war is hotting up.
You’ll spot the eco-Golf by its LED headlamps – it’s the first production VW with full LED headlamps as standard – and its C-shaped lower daytime running lamps. There’s also no exhaust poking out the back… Yet most won’t tell it apart from the raft of Golfs already on the road. For many, that'll be a real boon: it's not a 'look-at-me' EV.
The lighter Mk7 VW Golf is no doubt weighed down by a huge battery pack here?
Yes, but it’s not an abomination: the 264-cell lithium-ion battery pack that sits in the floor weighs a substantial 318kg, but the 1510kg overall weight is a slightly more acceptable 205kg more than a similarly-potent 1.6-litre diesel Golf, and 36kg heftier than the Leaf.
As heavy as EVs are, their instant torque means few feel truly tardy, and the obese e-Golf is no exception. In its regular driving mode, its under-bonnet motor offers up 113bhp and 199lb ft – slotting neatly between the outputs of VW’s 1.6 TDI and 2.0 TDI Golfs.
What do you mean ‘regular driving mode’?
VW isn’t about to let you get hold of its shiny new EV and decimate the 118-mile range by punting it along like you would a torquey Golf GTD. So, in the zeitgeist fashion, the e-Golf has various selectable moods, which vary the performance of the car to help eke out extra range.
The default setting offers 0-62mph in a middling 10.4sec, and an 87mph top speed – making this the slowest Golf since the 1970s when flat out. You also won’t pay any road tax for this one – just like a Seventies classic, in fact.
Tap a button on the centre console and the e-Golf enters ‘Eco’ mode. It turns the electric motor’s 113bhp wick down to 93bhp, softens the throttle response, and backs off the climate control. Torque is also pegged, but you still get what twist there is at 1rpm, thanks to the wonders of electric mobility.
Another press on the anti-fun button unlocks Eco Plus mode. Here, you’re at the mercy of VW Up city cars, if not quite mobility scooters: power’s watered down to 73bhp, and no climate control is allowed whatsoever.
Sounds a bit S&M to me…
It’s not as unpleasant as you might imagine. The e-Golf still keeps up with city traffic in Eco Plus mode, and the benefits to range are clear. We managed a 20-mile jaunt without the range meter dropping one jot, mainly thanks to Eco Plus’s severe regenerative braking. Once you’ve acclimatised to the level of deceleration created by the charging system while coasting, it’s easy to drive the e-Golf as a ‘one-pedal’ car, like the similarly priced BMW i3.
If that sounds a bit too Green Party-pooping for you, the e-Golf does allow you to choose from three different levels of regenerative braking. So, have maximum charging when you’re stuttering through The City (congestion charge exempt, natch), then dial it back for easy coasting once clear of the M25.
Is the spec a hair-shirt special?
No – unlike the Golf Bluemotion TDI we drove last year, which felt awfully spartan in its eat-you-greens trim. The e-Golf, available as five-door hatchback only, wears SE trim from the fuel-burning Golf family. That means it comes with adaptive cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, DAB radio and emergency city brake-assist as per the SE, but e-Golfs also have dual-zone climate control, an 8in touchscreen and all-round parking sensors thrown in. It’s well equipped, and so it should be, given we’re talking Golf GTI money here.
Could I live with it every day?
As long as you’re not expecting TDI levels of reliability, yes. The e-Golf is the only electric car this side of a Tesla which has the same premium air as the much-lauded BMW i3, and its eerily quiet progress and smooth drivetrain delivery make this the most refined Mk7 Golf to drive.
The 13-hour domestic socket recharge time is a hurdle, but as with all electric car offerings, VW says a public fast-charger will juice 80% of the battery in a bearable 35 minutes.
The best thing about the e-Golf is that it just feels so darn normal. Get over the uncannily silent getaway from rest and it may as well be any automatic gearbox-equipped Golf. Sure, it won’t be elbowing its way into company fleet markets – the range is still to restrictive – but if your Golf is an about-town workhorse, it’s proof that electric cars are becoming less (if still) compromised. It looks like the Nissan Leaf (the world's best-selling EV to date) has a serious fight in its hands.