The Volkswagen E-Golf may not be the best-selling eco-friendly compact car on the market—or even the top-selling compact all-electric vehicle. But in terms of what makes a small car great and green, according to AAA, the E-Golf is the best overall compact green car on the market. With a total score of 87.09 out of 100, the e-Golf SEL Premium beat out the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron (83.49) and Kia Soul EV (81.16) to earn top honors in a crowded category that includes the Nissan LEAF, Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt.
The Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center rated six segments of green vehicles in 13 different performance and emissions categories. The E-Golf received excellent scores in emissions, fuel economy, slalom handling, interior noise and visibility. It only received a poor score in one category: cargo capacity.
The base model E-Golf starts just below $29,000 and leases can be had for as low as $199/month—although AAA’s high rating specifically relates to the SEL Premium trim, which starts at $35,595 before tax credits. The compact has the best energy efficiency rating in its class (116 MPGe,) and a respectable EPA-rated range of 83 miles.
Critics praise the E-Golf’s handling, which helps to make it one of the best sub-$40,000 plug-in driving experiences on the market. But perhaps the most compelling thing about the all-electric compact is its styling, which is faithful to other popular Golf models, save for a few flourishes on the front fascia. For some drivers, this is preferable to the futuristic aerodynamically fine-tuned look of cars like the LEAF, Volt and Prius—each of which conveys an unmistakable message of green or high-tech, rather than sporty and fun to drive.
Introduced in late 2014, the E-Golf sold just 612 units in the United States in the first three months of 2016, and was just the fifth best-selling battery electric in 2015, with 4,232 sales. It is a limited-production vehicle available in 10 states and Washington, DC. Volkswagen denies that the E-Golf is a so-called compliance car, an epithet used to describe cars produced and sold in low volume strictly to satisfy regulators. Yet, Volkswagen hasn’t shared any plans to expand its market throughout the United States.
Volkswagen is currently dealing with the fallout from its massive diesel emissions cheating scheme that came to light last year. In February, it was revealed that US regulators had asked VW to build and sell more plug-in vehicles, and to create a nationwide network of charging stations as penance. The MQB platform allows for drivetrains to be interchanged on different models, giving it the flexibility to comply with the regulators’ request, though its unknown whether those plans would involve the Golf.
Volkswagen wasn’t the only plug-in carmaker to receive top marks from AAA. Battery-electric offerings won in three of the six segments. Best Subcompact went to the BMW i3, which won its category easily with an excellent 88.47 rating. Best Large Sedan predictably went to the Tesla Model S 70D, with a 92.49 rating. Both of those models were winners last year as well.
It should be noted that neither value nor styling were considered in the weighted ratings, though separate awards were given to the Model S and i3 in the “over $50,000” and “$30,000 - $50,000” price ranges. In vehicle segments where electric cars remain limited—midsize, SUV and pickup—incumbent internal combustion vehicles took AAA green awards, including the diesel-powered vehicle Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC 4matic, and the gas-powered Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium SUV and Ford F-150 Supercab Lariat truck.