Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

The Volkswagen e-Golf has been available in the US for almost two years, but Volkswagen Canada wisely held off on selling the German-built electric version of its class-defining hatchback until it saw its first refresh, the most important component of which being a new, more powerful 35.8 kWh battery pack that extends range by fifty percent to a comfortable 201 km (EPA rating). A stronger motor making 136 horsepower and 214 lb-ft goes hand-in-hand with this extra juice, and a pair of upgraded interfaces and a newly available 12.3-inch digital gauge screen ramp up the interior experience.

Darned if it doesn’t drive very much like a… Golf.

Thomas Tetzlaff, head of VW public relations for Canada, said they weren’t prepared to offer customers a significantly updated version of the e-Golf only 18 months after its launch.

Driving the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf for a couple of days over hill and dale in sunny Mallorca proves this EV to be ready for prime time. Like it or not, diesel seems to be in the past for Volkswagen and electrical motivation is the future. The well-equipped 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf arrives in Canada in June with a starting MSRP of $35,995.

Currently, the award-winning Chevy Bolt is stealing the affordable EV limelight with its 383 kilometer range, but the e-Golf is $6,900 cheaper, and darned if it doesn’t drive very much like a… Golf. Duh. That obvious pearl of wisdom could go a long way in making this premium EV hatch more than just a darling of the early adopters. It’s a great drive and highly functional.

If you’ve driven a Golf, then the e-Golf’s road manners will be familiar. It carries itself with a sense of composure, solidity and refinement. On this drive, it flows from corner to corner on a wave of smooth torque, and front fabric bucket hugs in that Volkswagen way.

About the only thing missing is the sound of an internal combustion engine. Like all EVs, it’s eerily quiet, with only a bit of road and wind noise invading the cabin. Granted, the e-Golf’s extra 300-plus kilos, 16-inch low rolling resistance tires and slightly vague steering put the damper on any real GTI-like maneuvers, but it still shows fine poise and a creamy ride.

And that shove of electric torque is available from a crawl to highway speeds. No waiting an eternity for turbos to spool up or a multi-gear transmission to find a lower ratio. The e-Golf surges forth the instant the right loafer is flexed. Pulling the shift lever back into the “B” position cranks up the regenerative braking. It turns the accelerator into a volume control of sorts – lift off and the car slows dramatically. With a little practice, you rarely have to touch the brake pedal in normal driving (yes, the brake lights do come on).

Volkswagen’s MQB modular platform, which underpins many current VW/Audi group vehicles, was designed from the outset to handle electrification. So while the e-Golf might not be a stand-alone EV like the Chevy Bolt, it’s more than just a “regular” car converted to electric duty. The 35.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack sits under the floor in an “H” pattern. It starts under the front passenger seats, runs back through the centre of the car and spreads out again under the hatch floor. Cargo space is unaffected – the only real giveaway is a floor hump that makes middle rear seat passengers splay their legs.

The base e-Golf gets a new 8-inch touchscreen interface with proximity sensor, voice control, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, CD player, eight-speaker audio, USB and one SD card slot. This is a harbinger of things to come, as all 2018 Volkswagen Golfs will see this upgrade. Also standard are proximity key with push button start, auto-dimming interior mirror, dual-zone climate control, heated fabric seats and heated windshield, full LED headlights, LED taillights, rearview camera and rain-sensing wipers.

As is the case with most new car launches, the testers at this event were pretty much fully loaded. The $2,305 Technology Package adds a high-res 9.2-inch touchscreen with gesture control, wireless hot spot, navigation, and VW Media Control (wireless phone and tablet integration). Taking a page from Honda, this interface does away with the volume knob. Arg.

Leatherette seating surfaces cost $360, but I would think hard about that one – the standard fabric looks classy and durable. The $2,305 Driver Assistant Package (this requires the Tech Package) bestows blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise with stop-and-go, collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane assist, park assist, light assist and a multi-configurable 12.3-inch Digital Cockpit that replaces the analogue gauge cluster – very similar in look and function to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit. The Digital Cockpit will be available on the 2018 Golf R but not the GTI.

The cabin is everything we’ve come to appreciate in this seventh-generation Golf, showing obsessive build quality, fine materials and logical controls. The contoured leather-wrapped wheel is a thing of beauty, and signature “electric” blue stitching adds some interest.

New on the menu is a special-order colour palette of over 30 hues, although this visual whimsy will set you back $2,995. Those buying the 2018 Golf R will also be able to play with these crayons – Burnt Orange or Electric Lime Green anyone?

If you need to charge the e-Golf from a 110 volt plug, you’re looking at 26 hours from empty to full. Expect four to five hours on a home or public AC charging station, while with a public DC Fast Charger you’re waiting about 30 to 45 minutes for an 80 percent charge. Fueling up at home does have its advantages – a remote app can have the car defrosted, preheated and the heated seats toasty (or the car cooled) in time for your commute.

The e-Golf’s predicted EPA range of 201 km seems totally realistic. On this warm Mediterranean island, the fully charged hatch showed a range of 277 km. Interestingly, in Europe this “Volts-wagen” is given a 300 km range, so yes, on a good day you can probably exceed the North American rating.

At launch, the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf will be available only in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec. At this point, dealers in the other provinces are holding back to see how this electric V-Dub is received. Ontario is the sweet spot – the provincial EV rebate of $14,000 makes the e-Golf cheaper than a base Golf TSI with automatic. British Columbia residents can expect $5,000, while those in La Belle Province see a $8,000 incentive.

Currently, electrified vehicles grab less than two percent of the market share in North America. As long as gas is cheap and the charging infrastructure spotty, that scenario isn’t going to change a whole lot in the near future. That said, the 2017 e-Golf effectively bolsters the EV argument in a big way with its drivability, function and comfort. EVs also require almost no maintenance and have very low running costs. If it fits your lifestyle, this future-looking Volkswagen hatchback is worth a look. Especially in Ontario.