2019 Volkswagen e-Golf review

I’ve reviewed the Volkswagen e-Golf before and almost ran out of charge on a deliberately long trip, but that was the old one. This is the new one, and it looks the same, right down to the body colour. Apart, of course for the extreme cringe induced by the artwork on the bonnet.

Visually the only update to the car is on the inside, where the digital dashboard can now show the navigation map on the instrument panel itself.

Whatever, I’m a fan of electric vehicles so I’ll drive this one on a long trip again.

The NZ$68,490 e-Golf is one of the last old school EVs, where the manufacturer takes a normal everyday car and shoehorns an electric drivetrain into it. This obviously results in a series of compromises. The first is where to put the batteries, while staying away from chopping up the chassis or intruding into the cabin and boot space of the car.

The next relates more to enthusiastic drivers in that while purpose built EVs often have rear wheel drive in the base model (because you can put the compact electric motor at either end of the car) the e-Golf retains front wheel drive. Of course, Volkswagen is well known for good handling front wheel drive cars.

So, I packed the family into the e-Golf and headed off to the same destination I had before, Tauranga, in the Bay of Plenty (197km away). I started out on the drive with a family of four, luggage and all the weight that implies (about 350kg). To move more weight, you need to use more power, which didn’t bode well for the trip. But this time, instead of driving on fast roads, where wind resistance eats into your range, we drove a much slower but slightly shorter route.

This route also happened to have a charging station about two thirds of the way. I’m willing to be stranded on the side of the road but I’m pretty sure my family would not entirely be happy having to wait for a tow truck, so a mid-range charge was in order.

In any case we made it to the charger with more than enough distance remaining on the readout to reach Tauranga. Not being an idiot, I recharged the e Golf back to 80 percent capacity.

In hindsight I should have recharged it to 100 percent.

I’m beginning to think that e-Golf distance to empty readouts are a touch too optimistic. We left Tauranga with 79km on the readout, 21km more than the distance to the next charger. But that readout gradually ran down faster than the distance to the next charger in a rather depressing manner. Yes, range anxiety was haunting me that day.

Possibly the readout doesn’t consider that the route went through some major elevation changes, which really cuts into any car’s efficiency. In any case we were now probably going to run out of charge completely before we got there. And there was another annoyance to deal with.

At 50km to go the car limits it’s speed to 95km/h, which isn’t too bad on roads where people normally drive at speeds between 80 and 90km/h. But at 30km to go the speed was limited to 80km/h and 80 percent power availability, which was a bit of an issue, as traffic started building up behind us.

At 15km to go I only had access to about 50 percent of the power, so we spent the last few kilometres into the next town crawling largely on the side of the road and letting traffic we had overtaken on the last passing lane past.

And the amount of charge when we limped into town and pulled up to the charger? Five kilometres to go.

Luckily if you know the next charger is only 5km away and you can override the restrictions on performance by changing the drive mode manually. We couldn’t do that of course because our distance margins were thinner than a page in the Gideon bible.

Slightly suspect range prediction aside, the e-Golf tackles bends in the road in a very accomplished manner. The heavy batteries are in the bottom of the car, which gives it a nice low centre of gravity. This results in reduced body roll while leaving the suspension settings relatively soft. The e-Golf still rides like an average European hatchback (read “almost too firm for rough roads”)

The hill holder function gets confused if you only just momentarily stop and won’t kick in so the car can lurch backwards a touch while the accelerator kicks in. That acceleration does kick in awkwardly and slowly which makes the car feel sluggish initially, but after that acceleration is brisk although not as good as a vehicle as something like a Hyundai Kona Electric.

While the e-Golf could do with stronger regenerative braking to make it more of a single pedal EV, the switch between regenerative braking and physical braking is smoother than most other EVs on the market. The only EV that I have driven that has a better transfer is the Tesla Model 3 (although I have not driven the Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes EQC).

The e-Golf is a decent EV, but it represents a breed of EV that has already become obsolete. Instead of basing their EVs on conventional internal combustion engined cars virtually all new EVs are based on standalone platforms. This includes Volkswagen itself, with the introduction of the ID3.

And of course, all those vehicles have more than the 200km claimed range of the e-Golf, which means far fewer times you have to limp into a charging station. And that’s a very good thing.

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