First drive: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf

Volkswagen’s first fully electric vehicle for the U.S., the e-Golf, is stylish, practical and loaded with desirable features, but availability is limited and the price is steep.

Blue is Volkswagen’s color of choice, to symbolize environmental responsibility.

Not surprisingly, on the morning of the inaugural test drive event, vee-dub arranged for us journalists a fleet of e-Golfs, its first EV for the U.S. market, slathered in electric blue paint.

Aside from the cloudless Virginia sky and the fleet of electric blue electric cars, however, green was the theme. The hilly landscape set the scene, its grass-covered horse pastures dotted with sprawling hardwoods and patches of forest.

Opulent estates lined the day’s all-electric drive route, each surrounded by stacked-stone walls. These walls suggested residents of the area – just like the e-Golf – suffered from no shortage of green.

The e-Golf felt rich, too; which is a good thing given its $35,455 price tag.

Driving dynamics

The driving dynamics of each Golf model – gasoline, TDI, and electric – vary slightly, but all are fun to drive. While the e-Golf is not tremendously powerful, acceleration is acceptable from a stand-still and at higher speeds. In the corners, the electric version feels heavier than either of the conventionally powered Golf models, but handling and braking are still commendable. In traffic, the stillness and silence of the idle electric motor relieve some of the stress of driving.

In traffic, the stillness and silence of the idle electric motor relieve some of the stress of driving.

With its 24-kWh lithium-ion batteries fully charged, the e-Golf has a range of 70 to 90 miles. The Eco+ drive mode, which reduces the responsiveness from the 115-horsepower electric motor, boosts range to 100 miles or more, according to the automaker. VW even has a solution for the range anxiety than can plague EV drivers: free roadside assistance in the event of being stranded with a depleted battery.

VW has also partnered with ChargePoint, a network of 18,000 EV charging stations, to provide e-Golf drivers with access to a charge while away from home. And because the electric car comes standard with a combined charger, every e-Golf driver can take advantage of DC fast chargers at commercial charging stations. A DC fast charger can provide 80 percent charge in 30 minutes. Using AC power at home, a full recharge requires four hours at 240 volts or eight hours at 120 volts.

Features

Aside from the electric drivetrain and plugging in instead of filling up, the e-Golf is exactly what you’d expect from the venerable VW hatchback. It gives up no passenger or cargo space to accommodate its batteries, so it is as practical and comfortable as the conventional Golf.

Inside, the e-Golf looks and feels more upscale than most mainstream vehicles, thanks to quality materials and a clean, modern design. Because only the SEL Premium trim is available, every e-Golf driver gets features like touchscreen navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, a proximity key with push-button start, heated front seats, a backup camera and parking sensors.

The controls are straightforward and simple, with none of the quirky futurism of some EV competitors. A few distinctive styling details differentiate it from gas- and diesel-powered models, but overall, the e-Golf looks like the regular Golf.

The most obvious styling difference is at the front fascia. The e-Golf has a unique grille and a pair of C-shaped LED daytime running lights found on no other VW model. Badges on the grille, front fenders and hatch give it away, too, as do the flat, aero wheels.

Charging at the competition

Among e-Golf’s competitors are other EVs as well as other models from the VW Golf range. The price of the e-Golf is nearly double that of the most affordable gasoline-powered Golf and thousands more than the best-selling EV competitor, the Nissan LEAF. But the e-Golf includes a long list of desirable features.

The e-Golf is nearly double that of the most affordable gas-powered Golf.

The top-trim LEAF is similarly priced, and compared to even a fuel-sipping Golf TDI, the electric version will almost certainly prove cheaper to operate.

Even as it goes electric with the e-Golf, Volkswagen certainly remains committed to its diesel technology. Representatives of VW presented a detailed look at the latest improvements to its four-cylinder TDI engine that make it cleaner and more efficient. The TDI-powered Golf remains the long-distance choice, but only the e-Golf offers zero-tailpipe-emissions driving for those with shorter range needs.

Conclusion

Electric vehicle buyers shouldn’t have to justify the premium they pay over a conventional vehicle, but they often do. The same goes for buyers of diesels and hybrids who calculate break-even points where fuel savings match the price premium. Electric cars are very inexpensive to operate, but that’s not the only reason to buy one. The value of going green can be just as appealing as saving green, especially in a car as nice as this one.

The 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf arrives later this year, with availability limited to Pacific coast and Northeastern states. VW says that the area includes 80% of EV buyers and announced no plans to expand availability.

Highs

  • Clean and modern styling
  • No sacrifice in passenger or cargo space
  • Economical, zero-emissions operation

Lows

  • Relatively pricey
  • Limited availability
  • Limited range
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