First Spin in 2017 VW E-Golf: What We Learned

By · May 05, 2017

2017 Volkswagen E-Golf

Volkswagen announced in March that the upcoming new 2017 Volkswagen E-Golf will increase its driving range by 50 percent compared to the outgoing 2016 model. That’s a big and important jump in range from 83 to 125 miles—by virtue of a 35.8 kilowatt-hour battery replacing the current 24.2 kWh pack. The E-Golf’s bigger battery means the VW electric car is in second place for range among affordable electric models, way behind the 238-mile Chevy Bolt but in a dead heat with the 124-mile Hyundai Ioniq Electric.

We had a chance yesterday to take a pre-production E-Golf on a roundtrip 90-mile spin from Sonnen Volkswagen in San Rafael, Calif., to Half Moon Bay. It’s that length of trip that would be questionable in the 2016 E-Golf but was a no-brainer in the 2017 model. The experience behind the wheel—and via information provided by Megan Garbis, product manager of the entire Golf product line—provided new insight into the only electric car VW sells in the United States.

VW Positioned the E-Golf As Very Normal

There are primarily two distinct camps in terms of EV design and marketing—one that wants its EVs to be high-tech and iconoclastic (like the BMW i3 or Nissan LEAF) and another that wants consumers to see an EV as just another type of powertrain. VW fits into the second camp. “The E-Golf is a beautiful package because it looks and drives like a Golf,” said Garbis. “The dynamics of the vehicle are very predictable.” She pointed out that the car’s 700-pound lithium-battery is packaged below the car, so there is no compromise in interior space or handling.

In our drive, the acceleration was smoother than many competing EVs that push the limits of torque from the electric motor. The E-Golf’s 134 horsepower motor is by no means slow, but engineers opted for the familiarity of gaining speed you find in a gas-powered vehicle—rather than doling out a burst of acceleration from the electric motor.

2017 Volkswagen E-Golf

The dashboard is refined and reserved rather than high-tech. And the gauges are conventional. Yet, the steering wheel had more play than we would expect from a Golf.

The new design treatment of the rear bumper adds a sleek chrome accent with an element that mimics what you would see in a car with exhaust tips. “Some people call it a fauxhaust or faux exhaust,” said Garbis. That’s a subtle design feature. You’re more likely to notice the model’s C-shaped daytime running lights, which are a signature trait for the E-Golf.

Multiple Modes, Regen Levels and a Kick-Down

Like the outgoing model, the E-Golf allows drivers to use a set of driving modes and levels of regenerative braking. Slap the gear shifter to the left—once, twice or three times—to progressively increase the amount of regenerative braking applied, ranging from a no-regeneration (or “coast”) mode to heavy braking. You can also slap the shifter down as a shortcut directly into B mode, the highest level of what the dashboard screen calls “recuperation.”

Don’t expect a total one-pedal driving experience. Even in B mode, you’ll need quite a bit of runway ahead to allow the E-Golf to slow down before coming to a complete stop. Even then, the car will still slightly “creep” forward when the driver has both feet off the pedals.

2017 Volkswagen E-Golf

There are three levels of performance: Normal, Eco and Eco-plus—providing increasing levels of energy frugality. If you want to push the limits of range, you could put the car into Eco-plus and B mode. But given the lack of clear distinction between each level of regen, we suspect most drivers will leave the car in Normal and only reserve B mode for long downhill stretches or when the battery is getting low. Alternatively, EV geeks might keep the car in Normal (to reserve a modicum of fun) and in B—for an approximation of one-pedal driving.

One cool feature is a kickdown, which is also employed in the Mercedes B-Class Electric. When you need a quick burst of power—for highway passing, an evasive maneuver or a cheap thrill—put your foot on the accelerator all the way down to the floor to release an extra dose of electrons for a few seconds of boost.

It’s Not Available Until Late in the Year

We were previously under the impression that the new E-Golf would go on sale in the spring. After all, it’s a 2017 model. But we learned that Volkswagen will be “shooting for the summer.” We suspect that some locations might not see deliver until the fall. To that point, sales of the VW E-Golf will be limited to the 10 so-called zero-emissions states: California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Prepare to wait even longer if you’re interested in an E-Golf with a full suite of the latest driver-assistance features. That’s targeted for release no earlier than the third quarter of this year. VW will continue to sell the 2017 model throughout 2018.

2017 Volkswagen E-Golf

Other tidbits of new information include color selection—white-silver, gray, blue and a new green. A 7.2-kW onboard charger—slightly faster than the 6.6-kW unit—is standard. A DC Quick-Charge is optional on the base SE trim, but standard on the Limited Edition and the top-of-the-line SEL Premium (that we drove yesterday.)

The E-Golf’s boost in range to 125 miles—combined with its accessible handling and looks—could elevate the stature of VW’s only EV. The biggest question still outstanding is price. That’s the factor that will determine how serious Volkswagen is about selling the E-Golf and the company’s stated goal of becoming a leader in the EV world.

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