The 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf, the all-electric version of the long-running Golf hatchback, serves up a taste of German engineering without burning a drop of fossil fuel. The current Golf was designed from the start to accommodate electric power, so it comes as no surprise that the e-Golf looks and feels nearly identical to the rest of the line. You get the same packaging, versatility, and driving dynamics that give the other versions their appeal.
Under the hood is a 115-horsepower electric motor that delivers 83 miles of range and 126/105 MPGe City/Highway. (MPGe is the EPA’s measurement of how far an EV can travel on the amount of energy in a gallon of gas.) A single-speed automatic transmission delivers power to the front wheels, and a lithium-ion battery pack is mounted under the passenger floor. The e-Golf offers quick-charge technology that can restore a depleted battery to 80 percent capacity in just 30 minutes.
The e-Golf debuted last year as part of the latest generation of Golf models. For 2016, e-Golf gets a revised infotainment system with Apple Car Play and Android Auto capability. The newly available Driver Assistance package features a front collision mitigation system. For now, the e-Golf is sold in 10 states covering the Northeast and West Coast, which is actually decent availability for an EV. VW has stated it plans to expand into other markets in the near future.
The e-Golf competes with mainstream electric hatchbacks such as the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric, and Kia Soul EV. When fully equipped, it’s also a cost-conscious alternative to the upscale BMWi3 and Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive.
The SE ($28,995) comes with features like a rearview camera, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic wipers, and an eight-speaker sound system with HD and satellite radio.
The SEL Premium ($35,595) carries an upgraded interior with leatherette upholstery, navigation, cruise control, and parking sensors. Quick-charge capability is standard on the SEL Premium and optional on the SE.
Like its siblings, the e-Golf is conservatively styled, but that doesn’t mean dowdy in this case. The hatchback body looks crisp and mature. Some might even call it classic. If you’re looking for an EV that doesn’t look like one, this is it. The only clues are the shuttered grille and lack of a tailpipe, which actually result in a sleeker appearance. The e-Golf also gets unique LED lighting in front and a special wheel design.
The no-nonsense theme carries over to the inside, which features clean, angular shapes and well-defined controls. Most surfaces are covered in soft, nicely grained materials. The 6.5-inch touchscreen found on the SE is informative and easy enough to use, but visibility is much better with the 8-inch unit used in the SEL Premium. The e-Golf gets some blue accents and an electric power display, but is otherwise identical to other Golfs inside.
The upright, relatively boxy body provides impressive head and shoulder room for this class. Front passengers will be plenty comfortable on long trips, and the back feels spacious enough for a pair of full-size adults. Surprisingly, the battery pack doesn’t interfere with cargo space at all. You get a 22.8 cubic feet of it behind the rear seat, and an exceptional 52.7 cubic feet with it folded. That’s more than some small crossovers.
With its electric power and shiftless transmission, the e-Golf is remarkably smooth and quiet on the road. The motor is tuned to deliver maximum torque at takeoff, so the e-Golf feels surprisingly peppy in city driving. Acceleration ebbs as you reach cruising speeds, but not to the point where you feel deprived of power. Getting up to 60 mph from a standstill takes about 9.1 seconds, which is slightly above average for an EV in this price class.
The e-Golf features Eco and Eco+ driving modes that reduce horsepower from 115 to 94 and 74, respectively. These settings are designed to extend your driving range, although performance drops off considerably. They are best used when you’re already cruising at a comfortable speed.
You can also extend your range by selecting how much braking energy is used to charge the battery pack. There are three regenerative braking modes that control how fast the car slows down on its own using a grabbing action applied by the motor. The faster the car slows by itself, the more braking energy is routed to the battery. In maximum regeneration mode, you seldom need to hit the brake pedal to slow down. It can take some type to get used to this driving style, which is probably why VW offers three modes progressive modes (you can also turn off regeneration completely). A driving range of 100 miles or more is possible once you get the hang of the available driving and braking modes.
Although the battery pack adds weight, it’s positioned at the lowest point on the body and the suspension is specially tuned to compensate for it. As a result, the e-Golf handles with the same precision and athleticism as the regular Golf. Ride quality is actually better, and there’s an overall sense of stability that you usually don’t find in cars this size. The hushed operation only enhances this feeling. The only thing you might hear is the gentle siren that sounds at low speeds to alert pedestrians that the e-Golf is approaching.
Aside from reduced driving range, the e-Golf requires no sacrifices or attitude adjustments for buyers making the switch to electric power. Everything there is to like about the regular Golf is here, along with seemingly effortless operation. It’s an indication that life will go on after fossil fuels.