Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

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The shock was palpable, even through the email. A colleague had decided on purchasing an e-Golf in July 2017, installed a charger to accompany it in his garage and all, and then got the bad news: the colour he wanted wouldn’t be available until the 2018 e-Golf arrived – in March 2018!

Once you actually find an e-Golf to drive, the difference between it and a normal Golf are shocking.

So yes, the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf is still the only e-Golf available (if you can find one) in Canada until mid-to-late spring 2018. Even then, it’s not available at VW dealers in all provinces, and supply at the dealers that do offer it looks to be tight at least for the first half of the year, given that VW’s planned doubling of e-Golf production in Germany to help meet unexpected demand won’t come on stream until spring 2018.

Volkswagen Canada offers a handy – and arguably necessary – map that lists all dealers that offer the e-Golf, to avoid the situation of e-Golf intenders walking into a VW dealer that doesn’t sell it. Most of them are unsurprisingly located in the three provinces that provide electric vehicle rebates – Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia, in that order of dollar incentive – and largely in and around major urban markets.

Plus one dealer in Manitoba, according to the current map. Kudos to Auto Haus Volkswagen in Winnipeg!

Once you actually find an e-Golf to drive, the difference between it and a normal Golf are shocking. Especially if you haven’t driven a battery electric vehicle before, the e-Golf feels more eerily smooth and futuristic to drive than its minimally changed looks suggest.

Sticker shock subsides when optioned out the same

But first, let’s address that price. At $35,995, the base 2017 e-Golf seems to cost perturbingly more than a base Golf, which starts at just under $20K. But if you option out that base Golf to the well-equipped level of an e-Golf, the difference comes out to roughly $5,000, with the e-Golf offering a plethora of interior goodies not available on the garden-variety Golf. And that’s on top of its distinct driving feel and zero gas costs – here’s a rough guide of what differences you can expect on your electricity bill in every province to charge it.

Then there are the available provincial incentives. Though they can change periodically (hello, June 2018 Ontario election), the rebates for the e-Golf are currently set at the max levels: $14,000 in Ontario, $8,000 in Quebec, and $5,000 in BC. Plus there’s another $750–$1,000 available in these provinces for the purchase and installation of a faster 240-volt (Level 2) charging station for your garage or driveway.

Consider this L2 charger a necessary cost with any battery electric vehicle (BEV) such as the e-Golf, and any of its full BEV rivals – it drops recharge time on a fully depleted e-Golf from about 27 hours(!) to roughly five hours. Although the thought of having to bring in an electrician, and having to use your garage for your EV every day may put off some folks, it’s really your best option, unless you work or live within walking distance of an L2 or an even faster Level 3 CCS charger – a larger firehose of electrons which can ram enough juice into an e-Golf to fill it to 80 percent in roughly 30 minutes.

With our tester’s host of options, most of them rolled into a pricey $2,305 Technology package, this Peacock Green e-Golf topped out at $40,765 after freight and fees. Here in Ontario, after adding our 13 percent HST and then subtracting the hefty provincial rebate, this fully loaded e-Golf would cost $32,064 – less than a similarly optioned gas Golf, after freight and taxes.

Thus that initial sticker shock now turns to lack of stock, as noted above, with VW Canada reporting wait times of 12 to 18 months for the e-Golf around the country. For EV enthusiasts and environmental types, the continuing hope is that some form of federal incentive will arrive to balance out the widely varying provincial rebates, as with the US government’s federal $7,500 tax deduction.

If Trump can do it – or at least avoid killing it for now – you’d think it’d be low-hanging fruit for Trudeau. Especially since the federal government has already announced millions towards clean vehicle infrastructure and EV chargers in particular.

Little luxury car, for better and worse

Sadly, it’s much too easy for EV chatter to turn political, so let’s get back to the car. To some VW fan eyes, a body differentiated largely by the wind-cheating 16-inch rims and C-shaped LEDs in place of fog lights is a positive; while to others, this e-Golf may look too similar to an entry-level Golf. Either way, the wheels and revised front end do add a mild dash of “robot chic” to the car.

Slide in to the e-Golf’s (optional) leatherette seats after it automatically opens for you, and this car’s upscale personality starts to peek through. A flat-bottomed steering wheel greets you, with the regular Golf’s tachometer replaced by a power meter that tells you if you’re burning electrons or regenerating them.

One gripe: the placement of the USB port for your phone is very awkward. One plaudit: the reverse camera that slides out from underneath the VW logo at the rear is still brilliant, even if not unique to this model.

The aforementioned Tech package adds LED accents – up high in the doorframes to match accents in the shift knob – parking sensors, and a wireless hotspot; though surprisingly advanced features such as gesture controls for the volume and a voice amplification system for rear seat passengers seem more gimmicky than useful here.

But the worst thing this Tech package does is delete the volume and menu knobs. Sometimes less is more.

Once into gear – only one, with its single-gear transmission – the e-Golf doesn’t creep forward, so it feels a little unnatural at first. There’s even some rollback in almost tiny hills. But put some weight in your foot, and the e-Golf feels much quicker of the line than its 9.6-second 0–100 km/h acceleration time suggests.

Its 134 hp is not what provides that instant kick, it’s the 214 lb-ft of torque available at 0 rpm from this car’s 100 kW electric motor that makes it feel like a super-silent GTI off the line, though that acceleration burst quickly fades in favour of the GTI. The e-Golf’s unique low-rolling resistance tires also won’t provide nearly the amount of stick as a GTI in the corners, or as flat a stance when cornering.

What those tires will do is help you make it up to this car’s 201 km official range, which seemed surprisingly realistic and possibly even pessimistic in real-world driving, as the dash showed 254 km after one particular full charge. That’s a huge improvement over the 2016 e-Golf, which could officially only muster 133 km on a full charge.

If driving fun’s what you’re after, you’ll want to avoid Eco or especially Eco+ mode, as there’s little to no power in either one. Strangely, changing from Normal to Eco+ produces little to no change in the available range, so it seems rather pointless to have an “extra Eco” mode on a zero-emissions car.

To help bolster your range, or to make it feel like a Tiptronic shifter, there are three levels of regeneration controlled by moving the transmission lever left and right. Or you can push it all the way down and get some semblance of one-pedal driving. It’s not strong enough to bring it all the way to a stop, but it is strong enough to brake you from highway speeds down to 40 km/h with no issues.

Practicality just as impressive as gas Golf inside, but not on long trips

Many gas cars converted to BEVs (or sometimes hybrids) suffer a major loss of practicality when it comes to cargo room, but not the e-Golf. Its three rear seats fold flat, and there’s no intrusion into the cargo space, which is an issue with rivals like the Ford Focus. There’s even a ski pass through for long objects for increased versatility. In short, there’s no cargo compromise as there are on some pure EV rivals (such as the Focus EV).

Where the e-Golf is not so practical is on long trips, where highway driving eats quickly into that rated range, especially in wintertime, where heating the interior also sucks up much more power compared to venting in waste heat from a traditional combustion engine. Owners in serious winter locales such as Ottawa have reported real-world ranges of roughly 100 km in –20-degree weather – yes, this is the real litmus test for whether the e-Golf will work for you.

With such a limited range in the dead of winter, it’s also when public charging stations become a real benefit to one’s comfort, be it physical or mental. As a former Leaf owner, I can relate.

That comfort could also be improved on the e-Golf if it had offered a heated steering wheel, cooled seats or maybe even a sunroof – which can help warm up the interior on sunny winter days.

Overall, however, the e-Golf is one of the most reasonably priced BEVs on the market, while offering as much or more interior practicality than its all-electric rivals. The smaller Chevrolet Bolt may have a larger battery and go farther, but the Volkswagen e-Golf provides a luxuriously comfortable and practical BEV that obviously has struck a chord with many (patient) Canadians.

Engine Displacement 100 kW electric motor
Engine Cylinders N/A
Peak Horsepower 134 hp
Peak Torque 214 lb-ft @ 1,600–4,500 rpm
Fuel Economy 1.9/2.1/2.0 Le/100 km city/hwy/cmb; 16.8/18.6/17.4 kWh/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 645 / 1,492 L seats down
Model Tested 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf Comfortline
Base Price $35,995
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,645
Price as Tested $40,405 (less provincial incentives in ON, BC and QC)
Optional Equipment
$2,665 – Technology Package (Discover Pro – 9.2" touchscreen radio with proximity sensor, CD/DVD player, satellite navigation, and 2 SD card slots, Gesture control, solid-state hard drive, Voice Enhancer, Wireless Hotspot, Park Distance Control) $2,305; Leatherette Package $360