Things are moving fast in the world of electric vehicles (EVs), and with the promise of affordable 200-mile EVs right around the corner—Chevrolet’s Bolt goes on sale next year—it’s difficult to decide when to jump on the electric bandwagon. If you’re ready to go, we suggest a look at Volkswagen’s e-Golf, which silently slips into 2016 with a new low-price model and a more efficient powertrain.
2016 Volkswagen e-Golf Road Test and Review
Electric Cars Are Similar—And Similarly Wonderful
Writing about electric vehicles isn’t easy, because what few models are on the market are so similar. Gearheads will say that the soul of a car lives in its engine, and if that’s the case, electric cars have no soul, substituting it with an electric motor that is smooth, strong, silent, and salubrious (I apologize for the $10 word, but “clean” doesn’t start with an S). An electric motor does away with all of the foibles of the internal combustion engine, and as a result, most electric cars are very similar to drive—similarly wonderful, that is. Electric cars deliver a wave of whisper-quiet torque that catapults you like a muscle car toward the horizon, but without the noise and drama. It’s an experience that will paste a smile on even the most cynical gearhead’s face, but since most electric cars deliver a similar experience, we at Autobytel have to differentiate them based on mundane aspects such as range, efficiency, and utility. As it happens, the 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf scores well on all fronts.
How far can you go in an E-Golf?
The 2016 Volkswagene-Golf has an EPA range of 83 miles, which is just okay—it’s on par with the BMW i3 (81 miles) and entry-level Nissan LEAF (84 miles), but it trails the Kia Soul Electric (93 miles) and Leaf with optional 30 kW-hr battery pack (107 miles). Of course, the electric VW pales when compared to any of the Tesla models or Chevy’s just-around-the-corner Bolt. But when considering range, one must also look at driving habits. How many miles do you usually drive each day? Most EV owners install home chargers, so their cars typically start every morning with a full “tank.” The average American drives around 33 miles per day, so the e-Golf’s range provides plenty of margin for unforeseen emergencies, if not for impulsive trips to Las Vegas.
The Efficient E-Golf
One factor buyers are less likely to consider is energy efficiency—the electric-car version of fuel economy. Because electricity is cheap and ethereal, few people think about how much their cars are using, but some EVs are more efficient than others—and as of 2016, the e-Golf is one of the best. The EPA rates EV efficiency in MPGe—Miles Per Gallon equivalent—and the 2016 e-Golf is rated at 126 MPGe in the city, 105 MPGe on the highway, and 116 MPGe combined. That makes the 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf one of the most electrically efficient EVs you can buy, trailing only the smaller Chevrolet Spark (119 MPGe combined) and BMW i3 (124 MPGe), and beating out the Nissan Leaf (112-114 MPGe) and Kia Soul Electric (105 MPGe). By comparison, the Tesla Model S—which ranges from 103 MPGe down to 89 MPGe—seems downright gluttonous.
What about charge times? Ah, there’s a catch.
Another consideration is charging time. Though most EVs can charge from a 110-volt wall outlet, doing so is slow and impractical—20 hours for the e-Golf. If you buy an electric car, you’re going to want to install a 240-volt EV charger (which, technically, is not a charger at all; it’s a glorified plug. The charging gear is carried in the vehicle.) The higher-priced e-Golf SEL has a 7.2-kW onboard charger that fills the battery in less than four hours. New for 2016 is a lower-priced model, the VW e-Golf SE. It has a 3.6-kW charger that increases charge times to nearly eight hours. The 7.2-kW fast charger is a $1675 option in the lower-spec e-Golf; if you plan on regularly using most of your e-Golf’s range, or if you plan to make use of the public charging network, we’d advise paying for the upgraded charger.
Fast Charging with the E-Golf
E-Golfs with the 7.2-kW charger have the option for fast charging using an SAE Combo plug. (Unfortunately, while 240V chargers use a standard plug, fast chargers do not. Asian EVs like the Nissan Leaf and Kia Soul use the ChaDeMo plug; European and American EVs such as the BMW i3 and Chevrolet Spark use the SAE Combo plug; and Tesla has its own proprietary system called the Supercharger.) Under ideal conditions, a fast charger can charge the e-Golf from empty to 80 percent in about half an hour. (Charging slows down as the battery fills, so topping off to 100 percent takes an additional half hour or so.) Fast charging is handy when you are out driving and need a quick range boost; unfortunately, of the three fast-charging types, SAE Combo is the least common. (There are 2.5 times as many SAE Combo stations as Tesla Supercharger stations, but Tesla offers more total charging outlets.)
Enough electric talk! What about the rest of the car?
The Volkswagen Golf is one of the most popular cars in the world (though not in the United States, which prefers sedans like the Jetta), and while there’s a trend among some automakers to make their electric cars look completely different than their gasoline counterparts, Volkswagen hasn’t done much differentiation. Aside from the flat-disk wheels—designed, we assume, to improve aerodynamics—and the lack of a tailpipe, the e-Golf looks a lot like the standard Golf on the outside, and on the inside as well. There are slight differences in trim, and the tachometer is replaced by a power/charge meter (like other EVs and hybrids, the e-Golf uses regenerative braking, which charges the battery as you slow down), but the look, feel, and layout is the same as the regular Golf (and just about every other Volkswagen on the market). That’s a good thing: We’ve long admired Volkswagen’s dash designs, which are simple and intuitive.
Is the E-Golf as practical as the gasoline Golf?
One reason for the Golf’s popularity (especially in countries with crowded cities and narrow roads) is the space-efficiency of its hatchback design. The electric version makes very few compromises: The floor is slightly higher in the back seat owing to the location of the battery, but the displacement doesn’t greatly harm back-seat comfort. And cargo capacity is unchanged from the regular Golf, at 22.8 cubic feet.
One common shortcoming of electric cars is carrying capacity; the chassis can only carry so much, and batteries add a lot of weight (700 lb. for the e-Golf’s 25 kW-hr lithium-ion battery, though the loss of the engine, transmission and fuel tank saves around 330 lb.). Total carrying capacity for the 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf is 930 lb., enough for four 170-lb. adults and 250 lb. of luggage or cargo.
Volkswagen Cuts the E-Golf’s Price for 2016
As we mentioned earlier in this Autobytel review of the VW e-Golf, 2016 sees the arrival of a new entry-level model, the e-Golf SE, priced at $29,815 including destination charge. Keep in mind that most buyers will qualify for a $7500 Federal tax credit, which brings the final price down to just over $22k—about the same as a nicely equipped gas-powered Golf. (Your home state may have incentives that will lower the price further.) The SE comes with dual-zone climate control, heated front seats with cloth upholstery, Bluetooth, and satellite radio; one major omission is cruise control. The only option is the $1675 fast-charging package, which provides DC fast-charging capability and halves the charge time on a 240V Level 2 charger. We can’t see much reason to buy an e-Golf SE without it. The SEL Premium model, at $36,415 (less incentives), includes the fast charger as well as V-Tex (fake leather) upholstery, navigation, parking assistance, and cruise control. A collision warning system with automatic braking and a self-parking system is an inexpenive $395 option. VW's durable and easy-to-clean V-Tex is nice to have if you have children or pets, but with so many phones having voice-programmable navigation, we’re not sure the SEL is worth the $5000 price jump over an SE with the fast-charge package.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
E-Golf: A practical choice if you’re ready to go electric.
The VW e-Golf faces lots of competition; one of our Autobytel favorites is the Kia Soul EV, which has greater range but less interior space, and a steep base price of $32,800 that makes the new e-Golf SE the better buy. If you’re not quite sure if an electric car is for you, we recommend the Chevrolet Volt, which provides about 50 miles of all-electric range with a gasoline engine to keep the vehicle moving should the battery run low. That said, the coming of affordable EVs with 200 miles of range should give any potential consumer pause.
We’re most interested in the upcoming Chevrolet Bolt, which will offer similar space to the Golf—but it has anticipated price of $37,000. We think the 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf SE is an appealing buy for those who don’t need the extra range. We’re intrigued by Tesla’s Model 3, which is supposed to come to market in late 2017 or early 2018 with a $35,000 price tag, but as with all things Tesla, a lot can change between now and then, and we won’t consider it a serious option until the Model 3 is in dealerships and ready for delivery.
Meanwhile, the Volkswagen e-Golf (particularly the new SE model) provides a good electric solution: A practical electric car with usable range, excellent efficiency, and a reasonable price tag. If you’re ready to go electric, we recommend a test drive.