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Volkswagen e-Golf

A Prelude to e-Life |

The Volkswagen e-Golf is history. After the production of 145,561 units, the last vehicle rolled off the production line in December last year, but even so, we recently experienced a belated prelude to e-life – part of an electric vehicle pilot project of VW South Africa involving local motoring and lifestyle media.

The e-Golf project saw six fully electric vehicles being evaluated by the media, selected dealers, and Volkswagen employees to gain valuable consumer insights into the varying experiences of driving and living with an electric car in this country.

It also seeks to drive customer awareness and education regarding electric vehicles as the first step of a three-phase approach to pave the way for Volkswagen to include electric cars in its future product portfolio in South Africa. The second phase will consist of a fleet of fully electric Volkswagen ID.3 vehicles, and the third phase will see the first full-electric Volkswagens (ID.4) available for sale to customers from next year.

The History

First, some context: The current e-Golf was launched in 2014 and updated in 2017. During its production life of more than seven years, it became one of the most popular e-cars in Europe, especially with customers in Norway and the German home market. However, it is not the first e-Golf model; the Elektro Golf I of 1976 was the original electric Golf. 

Built in response to the oil crisis, the first e-Golf was simply built, with a 20 kW DC electric motor in place of the 56 kW petrol engine coupled to a four-speed manual gearbox. An onboard charger made it possible to charge the 16.6-volt lead batteries via a standard 220-volt plug socket, which took around 12 hours. Only a few units were built, but in 1981 the Golf I CityStromer, based on the Elektro Golf I, was produced. Around 25 were made and trialled in a fleet test. With a range of 60 km, it was considered one of the first electric vehicles suitable for everyday use.

Living with e-Golf

By comparison, the 100 kW electric motor in the final e-Golf model (delivered from 3,300 r/min to a heady 12,000 r/min) receives its power from a lithium-ion battery with an energy content of 35.8 kWh (32 kWh usable) – enough for a range of up to 230 km in real driving situations, although in the short period I lived with it, I did not see more than 190 km indicated.

Besides its smaller 16” Astana alloy wheels with 205/55R16 tyres, blue trim and badging, the e-Golf doesn’t look much different from a normal Golf 7 Highline. It has a high level of standard equipment, including the 9.2” Discover Pro flagship infotainment system, a multi-function steering wheel, Air Care Climatronic two-zone automatic aircon system and a heated windscreen.

The digital instrumentation and other interior appointments are also familiar (including the gear lever for the single-speed reduction gear transmission with D and B regenerative modes and three driving modes – Normal, Eco and Eco+), except for the lack of sound when the ignition button is pressed. However, once on the move, the linear urge of the electric drivetrain (delivering 290 Nm of torque) is exhilarating.

It is quick off the line, dashing from 0-100 km/h in 9.6 seconds and reaching a (limited) top speed of 150 km/h. However, its performance drops significantly in Eco mode (0-100 km/h in 13 seconds, top speed limited to 115 km/h) and becomes utterly lethargic in Eco+ (19 seconds to 100 km/h with a top speed of 90 km/h). 

The Eco and Eco+ modes also restrict aircon, but in all other respects (ride and handling, braking, and general driving traits), the e-Golf behaves like a regular petrol model. The trick is to drive the EV as efficiently as possible as its (already limited) range drops significantly when you consistently use full power for acceleration. 

Regeneration Levels

With three levels of regeneration (D1, D2 and D3), when you lift your foot off the accelerator or brake, it was possible to recuperate quite some energy, but it also restricted your momentum to a varying degree, the most in B mode for maximum regeneration. I found keeping it to D1 worked best as a compromise between energy consumption and regeneration in typical city driving situations.

However, it is not always clear which mode you are in, as it is not indicated on the instrument cluster (except if you toggle and find the correct page). Still, range anxiety isn’t a real issue as long as you keep your trips short and city-bound and your energy usage around 180 Wh/km.

Obviously, battery charging times vary depending on the power supply used. According to VW, a complete charge from a wall box with an output of 3.6 kW will take 10 hours and 50 minutes (a charge to 80% from a quick-charging DC station with an output of 40 kW takes 45 minutes) but using the home charger cable with three-pin plug on a regular household 220V outlet took over 14 hours.

It wasn’t a significant problem, though, as I charged it overnight with a range of at least 60 km still available. At current electricity rates, this means I was able to charge the e-Golf to full capacity for about R70, which is less than half what one now pays for the same mileage at a fuel station.

Last Word

While my experience with the e-Golf was a pleasant one (my son also commented on how smoothly and quietly it drives), a substantial educational drive is still needed to change the mindset of South African consumers. The prices of EVs (even more expensive here due to higher import taxes) also need to come down dramatically before they will sell in significant numbers. 

The e-Golf proved to be impressive in terms of power, efficiency, and adaptability, and while not available anymore, it provided valuable insights into the pros and cons of future EV ownership. Now we wait for the ID.4.

Report by Ferdi de Vos | Images © VWSA/VW AG

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