You Can’t Buy One, But VW’s e-Golf Taught Us a Few Electric Lessons

The first of VWSAs three steps toward selling electric cars in South Africa, you cannot buy this Volkswagen e-Golf. It’s a pilot model handed to media, dealers and others to grow the electric vehicle brand ahead of VW’s fully electric range going on sale in here later this year. Nothing new, e-Golf is based on the Golf 7.5 and has been available overseas since 2018. It was never designed be electrified, so there won’t be an electric Golf 8. VW has instead progressed straight to its fast growing and dedicated family of ID. EVs.

Packing a 35.8 kWh H-shaped lithium-ion battery into the otherwise latent space under the front and rear seats and stretching forward towards the e-motor, it offers decent energy density and promises a range of up to 230 km. That 100 kW 290 Nm single permanent magnet electric motor stumps up a decent dollop of usable power to the front wheels via single-speed transmission. Electric motors produce sufficient torque from one rev per minute. So they don’t need the several ratios a combustion engine has in a conventional gearbox.

Nimble despite extra heft

Comfortable yet nimble, you do sense that increased 1615 kg weight. But it’s cleverly distributed. So e-Golf doesn’t wallow and lacks the leaden feel that often comes the with the acid once typical of batteries. The car is well damped, steering is surprisingly responsive and it follows through bends well. In spite of that extra electric heft. So in every other way, it’s still very much a compelling, classy everyday Volkswagen Golf.

You can adjust the level of regenerative braking to a level where you can drive single-pedal and stretch out that range. The e-Golf flashes a lamp suggesting you back off, if you drive it too hard. Economical drivers should know that! It has three drive modes, which don’t make much of a difference. Unless you’re struggling to get home on the remaining battery. Then Eco+ may get you there. Albeit at much reduced pace. Without air-conditioning.

Talking about getting home, how far you travel on an electric car’s charge is directly proportional to how you drive it. Your route and ambient temperatures have an effect too. Driven normally every day, rather rely on 170 km as a real world range. The range meter is optimistic too. Don’t set off on a 200 km drive, for instance, even if it tells you it will travel 200 km. That distance may seem inadequate versus three times the range of a tank of diesel. But not too bad when compared to electric rivals like the Mini Cooper SE we drove a month or two back.

Quicker than its petrol kin

Looking at performance, we strapped our VBox to it and e-Golf delivered a handy 9 seconds dead, funnily enough, to 100 km/h. It took 16.5 seconds to burst quite silently through 400 metres at 136 km/h and pulled from 80 to 120 km/h in 6.5 seconds. By way of comparison, a Golf 1.0 TSI took 10.39 seconds to get to 100 on the same stretch in similar conditions when tested back in 2017. It stopped the clocks in 17 seconds at 131 km/h at 400 metres and went 80-120 in 7.3 seconds. So the electric car is quicker. But it tops out at 150 km/h.

One aspect one must remember when driving an electric car, is that it makes almost no noise. That’s especially pertinent when approaching pedestrians and even animals that would normally react to the sound of a combustion car. They tend to step into your path far more readily when you approach in a stealthy e-car, which is an issue. So you need to be more careful, and patient as other road users simply cannot har you coming.

Back at home, charging times depend on the charger you use. We were limited to the car’s 3 kW 3 point granny charger in the garage. SA’s gradually growing charging network still needs to find our little backwater. So en main, we used the car’s supplied cable, plugged into the wall. It needed between 12 and 18 hours to fully charge. And if, like it was when we had it, de Ruyter needs to shed some load, you can add four hours more to accommodate a couple of Eskom pauses! In short, eight hours of charging gave us 50 km range off our regular garage socket.

The challenges of charging

If you had to live with e-Golf, a decent 7 kWh wall-mounted charger will do the job in six hours. Eight if there’s load shedding as you’d only likely catch one failure, not two or three! And should you have a convenient 50 kW fast charger on the grid close enough to your home or office, then it slashes e-Golf’s zero to 80% charging time to just 40-minutes. All of which may leave you scratching your head. But wait, this is probably the clincher…

Were we to achieve a similar Golf 7.5 TDI’s claimed 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres at the more or less R20 per litre that diesel now costs us in sunny SA, our fuel cost will be 98 South African cents per kilometre. Charging the e-Golf on our home socket costs a little less. A quarter less, to be precise, at R0,24 per kilometre. Taking that a step further, if you happen to be off the grid at home, then you can effectively achieve a zero fuel cost for your driving. Of course that considers your solar or wind power to be amortised. Ponder that one for a second…

Slashed energy costs are not an electric car’s only cost advantage, by the way. You can add far reduced servicing and running costs to that, too. With a tiny fraction of the reciprocating parts, no heat and various other advantages, electric cars are basically service free beyond tyre and brake costs. And electric car’s tyre and brake wear will be a tad higher than its compatible combustion kin, however. Simply because electric cars are by nature heavier and that takes its toll on those bits.

E-Golf costs a quarter to run

In summary then, this electrified Golf is just as easy to drive and to operate, and as practical as its petrol or diesel kin. In fact, it’s exactly as you’d expect, with a beautifully finished cockpit and superb interior quality and all the necessary infotainment, and the rest. The e-Golf also lacks any of those fanciful futuristic frills thus far associated with newfangled electric cars. It does not wear a daft electric party hat to make everyone inside look like a fool.

So, if you need to drive long distance, city to city and across the Kalahari and Karoo, then forget about the e-Golf. Or any other electric car, for that matter for now. But if you only drive 150 km a week, which so may people do, and you’re armed with a decent charging point in your garage, or a fast charger conveniently close by, then it can be an excellent choice. The e-Golf is a great car for the average daily commute or trip to work and back.

It costs a quarter, at least, versus it’s combustion rivals do to run. It’s quicker too. And just as stylish, practical and is easy to live with. Bar a touch of range anxiety and the need to know that people cannot hear that you are coming. But for the rest, it’s just a Volkswagen Golf with an electric drivetrain — nothing more, nothing less. Slowly but surely, we are starting to better appreciate this electric thing. We must – its coming like tomorrow morning’s sun… – Michele Lupini

Testing & images: Giordano Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Volkswagen e-Golf
Engine: 100 kW 290 Nm electric
Battery: 35.8 kWh lithium-ion
Drive: Direct FWD
0-60 km/h:        4.01 sec
0-100 km/h:       9.00 sec
0-120 km/h:       12.68 sec
400m:             16.5 sec @ 136 km/h
80-120 km/h:      6.53 sec
VMax:             150 km/h
Energy Cost:      R0.24/km
RATED:            7
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