by Jared Rosenholtz
The VW e-Golf stands apart from more traditional electric vehicles thanks to its deep roots in the standard Golf it is based on. For this reason, it looks and drives far more like a conventional gasoline car, although equipped with an electric motor that develops a respectable 134 horsepower and 214 lb-ft of torque. With impressive handling characteristics and more attitude than is the norm, the e-Golf is fun to drive, but this focus on engagement and performance adversely affects efficiency. The max range of the electric hatchback is only 125 miles compared to rivals like the Chevrolet Bolt EV, which gets an impressive 238 miles to a full charge. On the plus side, the Volkswagen is about $5k cheaper than class-leaders at entry level, with an MSRP of only $31,895. The e-Golf seems to be more about making an eco-friendly statement without totally abandoning the driving thrill offered by traditional combustion engines.
For 2019, the e-Golf remains mechanically unchanged. However, the base SE trim gets some improvements in the form of the DC fast charger as well as access to the Driver Assistance Package, which outfits the model with most of the advanced features previously reserved for the SEL Premium.
Riding quite low on 16-inch alloy wheels, the VW e-Golf maintains the toned-down athletic appeal of its heritage. Automatic headlights come equipped as standard, with LED variants available on the upper trim. The regular Golf grille is replaced by a solid black plate that sports the VW logo, while the bumper maintains its low, aggressive stance. The rear fascia keeps its traditional hatchback styling.
With a diminutive footprint to mirror its eco-friendly nature, the e-Golf is only 168.1 inches long and 70.8 inches wide. Its height is a bit more standard at 57.2 inches, with a five-inch ground clearance that lets you know it can handle a bit of fun on the road. Curb weight is standard between the two trims at 3,459 lbs, which makes it around 500 pounds heavier than the standard Golf.
Only a single engine is available for the e-Golf. The 100 kW electric motor under the hood delivers 134 hp and 214 lb-ft to the front wheels, and comes paired with a one-speed direct drive transmission. The hatchback makes the 0 to 60 mph sprint in a modest mid-eight seconds, which is par the course for the electric segment, but well below the class leaders like the Hyundai Kona and Chevy Bolt. It has typical electric car characteristics, however, with a powerful initial surge in acceleration that quickly tapers off at higher speeds. For this reason, it is definitely better suited to town driving.
More car-like driving dynamics are the hallmark of the e-Golf. The vehicle is remarkably well-balanced, showing its heritage and drawing inspiration from more performance-oriented models like the GTI. It might not have the power and quick acceleration of its prime rivals, but the VW is more refined on the road. It has a low center of gravity, which results in more composed turns, especially at higher speeds.
The steering is responsive and light at low speeds, which is where you will be spending most of your time in and around town. But, as you pick up the pace, the steering gets progressively heavier, although it never offers the level of engagement that you can expect from a traditional Golf.
Ride comfort is a highlight, with a silent and smooth engine and a well-tuned suspension that absorbs road abrasions with ease while still offering a respectable degree of feedback through the wheels. The seats are comfortable, with plenty of room all-round.
Fuel efficiency is perhaps the Volkswagen's greatest weak point. Equipped with a 35.8 kWh battery pack, the hatchback has an EPA-estimated combined consumption of 119 MPGe. With a full charge, you can expect to cover approximately 125 miles before you run out of power, figuratively and literally. Charging on a regular 120-volt household power outlet will take around 26 hours to fill up the battery, but using the 240-volt wall-box cuts this down to six hours, although it does require the wall box to be purchased separately. The DC fast charger that comes standard with the e-Golf can get you to 80% in just one hour.
The interior is quite plush for a vehicle in this price range, with a lot of high-grade materials used throughout the cabin. The boxy design of the chassis results in an abundance of space inside, with both front and back seats offering head and legroom for passengers of any size. You could easily fit five people on the seats, which come upholstered in cloth as standard, with available faux leather. The front seats are heated even in the base model, and feature partial power-adjustability, meaning that finding an ideal driving position isn't too difficult. Visibility is excellent, and ingress and egress are a breeze thanks to large, square door frames and well-positioned seats.
Trunk space is identical to that in the regular Golf, with 22.8 cubic feet available behind the rear seats. This is enough for several reasonably sized suitcases, and definitely enough for your weekly groceries - and then some. If you need to store items of larger dimensions, then you can fold down the rear seats for a maximum of 52.7 cubes. In terms of cargo capacity, the VW e-Golf bests top rivals like the Hyundai and Chevrolet by several cubic feet.
Not a lot of space is spared for knick-knacks around the cabin, given the hatchback's compact nature, but the door pockets are spacious and the glove compartment is adequate. The bin hidden above the shifter is a pleasant surprise, and the cup holders and center console tray supply space for smaller items.
The basic list of features includes everything you would expect to be standard on a small town car, and even some features you would expect to be reserved for higher trims. The standard fare comprises cruise control, automatic dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, six-way partial-power heated front seats with lumbar, cloth upholstery, fold-down rear seats and a rearview camera. When you upgrade trim levels, you also get adaptive cruise control, V-Tex leatherette upholstery, and a 12.3-inch VW Digital Cockpit. The safety suite is enhanced with blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking and parking assist.
The infotainment suite is modern if a bit scant. Standard fare includes an eight-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, VW Car-Net App-Connect, and an eight-speaker sound system with AM/FM/CD/MP3 playback and SiriusXM. The touchscreen is upgraded to a 9.25-inch version on the SEL Premium. The vehicle is not very customizable beyond the standard tech offerings.
As a low-volume seller, the e-Golf has not been extensively evaluated for reliability, but it has received less than a handful of complaints over its four-year lifespan and has not been subjected to any recalls. Volkswagen offers a 36,000-mile/36-month limited warranty, 60,000-mile/60-month powertrain warranty, and a 100,000-mile/96-month warranty for the electric components.
While the e-Golf hasn't been rated individually, the Volkswagen Golf gets excellent safety ratings from the NHTSA and IIHS, at five-stars and an overall rating of Good, respectively. Standard safety features on the e-Golf comprise ABS, EBD, stability control, traction control, an electronic differential lock, a rearview camera and six airbags: front, front side and side curtain. Available features to add on include parking assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot alert, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking.
The electric car segment is a small, albeit burgeoning market. As such, there aren't all that many options when it comes to which manufacturer you should go with. But that doesn't mean you have to settle for just any old car. The e-Golf certainly has the pedigree to get it onto the finalists' podium, with impressive handling, a stylish and well-appointed interior, an abundance of cargo space, and a lot more attitude than your average electric vehicle.
However, the VW fails to meet the new benchmarks being set by more modern rivals like the Hyundai Kona, which is dominating the segment. These competitors offer excellent range between charges, nearly doubling what the e-Golf has to offer. They also present buyers with better-equipped interiors, though their styling is vastly different from the spunky Volkswagen.
Electric vehicles are still largely restricted to being purely town cars due to their limited range, and the VW electric hatch definitely falls into that category. But, as more adventurous manufacturers depart from this tradition, the e-Golf could see itself pushed out of the market by far more capable cars. But until that time, the Volkswagen e-Golf is certainly worth consideration as it still manages to do some things better than even top rivals.
The base SE trim has a pretty competitive starting MSRP of $31,895, but loading it up with the newly available Driver Assistance Package will knock this up to $32,545. However, this is still quite a bit below the SEL Premium, which comes standard with the features from that package, at $38,895. These prices exclude tax, registration, licensing, and Volkswagen's $895 destination charge.
Now that the Driver Assistance Package has been made available to the SE, there isn't really a need to go for the more expensive SEL Premium unless you really want the leatherette seats and larger touchscreen display. The SE has exactly the same performance and enjoyable handling dynamics and now gets the DC fast charger as standard, so there's really no need to shell out an additional $7k.
Staying within the $30k price range of the e-Golf, the Nissan Leaf manages to compete quite closely with the sporty-ish Volkswagen. It certainly accelerates well, with a punchy 147 hp electric engine on its base trim, electric engine that leaves the e-Golf struggling to catch up, but once you throw in a few curves, the nimbler VW quickly takes the lead. Neither car has a particularly impressive range, even for an electric, but the Leaf will run out of power about 20 miles after its rival. The Nissan looks and feels boring compared to the hip Volkswagen, but is that really why you want an electric car? With slightly better performance and overall range, the Nissan Leaf seems like the better choice, but we won't fault you for falling for the sporty charms of the e-Golf.
Right off the bat, the BMW i3 will catch eyes and turn heads with its funky design that sets it apart from just about any mainstream electric car out there. By comparison, the e-Golf looks utterly unremarkable, but looks aren't everything. The i3 presents drivers with up to 181 hp in the i3s and a significantly lighter chassis that gives it an edge over the VW from a dead pull-off. But once up to speed, the BMW loses some of its composure while the e-Gold remains nimble and engaging. Each car sports a spacious interior, though the BMW lives up to its badge by feeling that little bit more refined; still, it really comes down to personal taste to determine which style suits you. Overall, with its surprisingly superior ride quality, the Volkswagen e-Golf seems to be the winner here, and it is quite a bit cheaper to boot. The only true failing against the VW is the i3's higher range.