2016, Nov - Dec

WATTS OF FUN . . . . . . Meet the new e-Golf 

By Cliff Leppke

Going electric: New e-Golf is affordable and willing, and it’s a gas to drive

VW’s award-winning Golf family includes one member that doesn’t have an engine under its hood. No, this isn’t an old Bug joke. Instead, it’s the e-Golf powered by lithium ion 323-volt battery pack developed with Panasonic that supplies 24.2 kWh to a VW-built 115-hp (85 kW) AC motor that drives a single-speed transmission. An electronics module converts the battery’s DC to AC. The liquid-cooled motor’s max rpm: 12,000. 

One plugs this machine into an electrical outlet. Fully charged, 246 individual prismatic cells provide a maximum of 115 miles before a recharge. Based on my test drive, the actual range is closer to 80 miles; VW claims 70-90 miles; the EPA says 83 miles. Range varies due to driving conditions. It will go farther, for example, if you don’t use the air conditioner. Expect VW to increase range to 124 miles in the 2017 model, when an expected 35.8 kWh battery slips under the car’s center tunnel and rear seat. VWoA will not confirm this upgrade, but German executives say it’s likely. 

When VW designed the Golf’s modular toolkit, an electrified version was part of the mix. The e-Golf, therefore, looks like other Golfs. It dons several aerodynamic upgrades, including radiator shutters and special wheels. Wide 205/55X16 low-rolling resistance tires help the Golf eke out a few more miles, yet offer spirited handling. Special C-shaped LED running lights and blue-themed badges set this model apart. The spacious compact has as much passenger and cargo space as any other Golf. VW, however, deleted the spare tire and its stowage spot. Instead, there’s an inflator kit. 

At 3,391 pounds the e-Golf weighs 368 pounds more than the gas TSI version. The battery weighs 701 pounds. Instead of a tachometer, you get a meter for recuperative braking, amount of power used and whether the motor is ready; the fuel gauge in now a charge indicator, and the temperature gauge morphs into an available power indicator. An 8-inch infotainment touchscreen lets you view where the power goes, plus power consumption and range. The necessary info is available, but it requires riffling through menus. The instrument panel’s turtle icon warns you of a drained battery. When you’ve hit 20 miles to depletion, the electrical system’s last rights invoke a multi-step shutdown process. 

How does the E-Golf drive? It’s a gas. The front-drive electric motor, which has three propulsion profiles (Normal, 115 hp, 87 mph tops; Eco, 94 hp, 72 mph; Eco +, 74 hp, 60 mph), instantly responds to your right foot. From about 10 mph to 60 mph the thing is a hoot—torque is a healthy 199 lb.-ft. When floored, the nearly silent drive system—VW adds a whirring sound to help you know it’s running at low speeds—chirps its front tires, pins you back in the seats and charges toward expressway speeds with a giddy gallop. It’s not Tesla Ludicrous. Nonetheless, this relatively affordable electric car is eager, ready for everyday driving. If you select Eco +, the go pedal requires more effort. Press that pedal to the floor and an override switch lets you summon all 115 ponies. Zero to 62: 10.4 seconds. 

Because the sound of an internal combustion engine is missing, you’ll want to hold back on spirited romps; the thing goes faster than it feels. Also, exploring all if its go potential rapidly reduces battery charge. 

I gingerly approached my weeklong test of VW’s electric Golf. It’s not like the gas Golf; the infrastructure for it isn’t fully developed. It’s sold only in states that have zero emission vehicle rules—California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont (but an e-Golf can be purchased in one of those states and serviced by VW???in all 50); and the battery charge needle moves quickly to “empty.” A fill-up isn’t easily found in the Milwaukee metro area despite the region’s history of making batteries, motors and their controllers. 

Furthermore, recharging takes hours. One can eke out more miles between charges via recuperative braking. This VW defaults in a non-recuperative mode—brakes feel like a gas car. By tapping the shift lever sideways you can pick one of three regenerative braking rates that slow the car by redirecting energy into the battery. When deployed, they generate the same sensation you get when you remove your foot from a 1200cc Bug’s vertical pedal. Pulling the stout shifter rearward also enables full recuperation. One can deftly manipulate coasting and slowing via the shifter. 

Going electric is viable for many commuters. I managed to trek 354 miles without a weeklong hitch. The navigation system’s trip computer helped me determine where I could travel before recharging. The EPA estimates that this e-machine gets 116 MPGe—a figure that gives you an idea of how much less the zero tailpipe emissions Golf costs to “fuel.” 

The car’s combined charging system accepts three charging levels and comes with a Level 1 portable charging adapter that plugs into a 120 VAC outlet. This Delphi-supplied device automatically selects charge rate, which at my home means 8-12 amps. My nearly 70 miles going to work and other errands each day required a 17-hour recharge—too long to fully replenish the battery before my next shift. Happily, the going- to-work part is eight miles. Therefore, I completed charging by plugging in at work. 

A Level 2 charger plugs into a 230 VAC outlet. This cuts charge time to four hours. Bosch offers these for home use; most “public” charging stations have this level. A Level 3 DC quick-charging station takes less than an hour for an 80 percent charge. This can be used intermittently, as regular use will damage the battery. 

To wend my way via electrical current, VW provided a ChargePoint card. It’s a ticket to a nationwide network of 18,000 charging stations. The e-Golf’s navigation system lists charging points, locates nearby stations and offers details such as charge type and price—some are free. After picking one, just touch the screen and you’ll be directed toward the charger. VW offers free out-of-charge 100-mile towing to your home, VW E Mobility dealer or an SAEJ1772 plug/combination charger. Taxi service is also available.

This all sounds wonderful in theory. In practice, I ran into several glitches even though I checked ChargePoint’s website. Several charge points were inside parking garages or behind locked fences. Some were not open 24 hours. Two wouldn’t accept the ChargePoint pass and worse, the sole Level 3 charger I found (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) had a paper note that said it was out of service. Also, that device’s connecter didn’t match VW’s socket. Hosed! One must verify whether a charger is compatible—the Golf’s navigation system may send you to an incompatible charging station. 

Calls to ChargePoint were not returned. A virtual voice that answered the phone directed me to voicemail. Often ChargePoint’s phone system dropped my calls. One tip from Wayne Gerdes of Clean MPG: Nissan dealers have 24/7 chargers that support its Leaf and other EVs. 

On the flip side, ChargePoint announced improved charging station infrastructure on the East and West coasts. Furthermore, VW will likely fund the EV charging station system with money pledged from its diesel settlement. ChargePoint’s lawyers argue that VW’s big money must be carefully used lest VW use it to establish an electric vehicle charging system that leans toward its own corporate interests. VW, however, says its pollution offset funds are administered by an independent agency.

Charging mimics refueling. You plug a nozzle-like connector into a socket that’s placed behind a gas Golf’s fuel door. Given this car’s LED headlights and complete array of interior convenience LEDs, including one behind the front door grip, you’d expect socket illumination. No such luck. Next to that socket are LEDs. They indicate whether you’re plugged in and charging. A nearby sticker explains LED colors and their blink codes. To unplug, you must unlock the car. At one charge spot, the wall charger’s blue light indicated that it was charging, but the Golf’s two amber charge-door LEDs meant connected, not charging. When charging, one LED will blink green. 

The car’s instrument panel charging icon was on and the info screen’s pictograph showed estimated charge time. Great! These things talk to each other, but the indicator next to the socket was correct. No juice. 

When that didn’t work, I headed to Milwaukee Area Technical College’s Downtown campus. There, I found a ChargePoint behind an open gate. I backed in, plugged in and charged for free. BMW dealers, Nissan dealers and some Kohl’s department stores offer free charging. But Kohl’s didn’t work after 10 p.m. The former Concours BMW’s ChargePoint (Glendale, Wis.) offers free 24/7 charging. It worked. International BMW’s charger (West Allis, Wis.) didn’t.  

Finding ChargePoints is challenging. You’ll develop an extra sense for where they’re hidden. A website supplies pictures — useful — but not always clear. The vehicle’s nav system sends you to a street address, not the charge station itself. In some cases, you’ll have to weave your way through parking lots, alleys even several blocks from the navigation system’s posted destination. 

So far, I’ve focused on how one “juices” the Golf and then monitors energy consumption. This skips the best part: the Golf’s good driving manners. As with all new Golfs, the interior is well trimmed. Steering is accurate with some road feedback—the same good man-machine interface that makes all other Golfs so delicious. Handling is very good. The Bridgestone Ecopia tires offer adequate grip. Despite the extra weight, the e-Golf has alert steering. It comes with the GTI’s cross-differential feature that sharpens turn-in. VW added sound absorbing materials to further diminish wind and road noise to match the nearly silent power train. 

The e-Golf has quirks: one is the automatic climate control. It’s programmed to reduce the energy consumption. Untweaked, A/C output is barely adequate on hot, humid days. A heat-pump system assists the interior electric heating system — not tried. 

Compared with the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the e-Golf is bigger, sportier and more comfortable. And it drives like a car, not a motorized appliance. You might say it’s watts of fun. It lists for $36,415 in SEL Premium trim. A lower-priced model with fewer amenities is available. Either is eligible for a federal $7,500 tax credit. State tax credits are available, too. 

Currently, the e-Golf is viable. Nonetheless, a robust nationwide charging infrastructure and greater range would win more converts. Unlike the Leaf, which nearly all Nissan dealers sell and service, only select VW dealers handle the e-Golf.  VWCA

Cliff Leppke | leppke.cliff@gmail.com 


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