Electric vehicles have made landfall in Mzansi and although the local arrival of the much-vaunted BMW i3 has been delayed, Nissan has made its World Car of the Year-winning Leaf available through selected local dealers. The E-Golf, launched at Berlin’s historic Tempelhof Airport, is likely to arrive in South Africa near the end of next year, and when it does, it will offer a strong drawcard – the appeal of a superbly packaged series production vehicle – and, should VWSA take it’s cue from its German parent company, an innovative solution for when owners want to undertake journeys longer than 190 km (the E-Golf’s optimal battery range).
Whereas BMW and Nissan opted to market their EV products encased in bespoke bodyshells, the Volkswagen Group’s MQB modular transverse platform was conceived to incorporate EV and plug-in hybrid powertrains. As a result, the E-Golf’s battery packs are housed under the car, where a fuel tank and exhaust system would have been placed, so that there are no compromises in terms of interior space or luggage capacity. And, as is the case with its BlueEfficiency-branded brethren, the (visible) aerodynamic updates endow the E-Golf with a sleekness that’s tastefully appended by the blue (GTI-like) striping, the ornate C-shaped LED foglamps and, of course, the sci-fi (and resistance-reducing) rims.
As a daily driver, the E-Golf is somewhat underwhelming for the complete lack of mechanical noise and it’s unlikely that users will ever run the risk of blowing the speakers of the Volkswagen’s audio system. However, whereas the silent on-road progress should have been an eerie experience, the E-Golf feels altogether familiar to pilot thanks to its intuitive controls, comfortable/user-friendly cabin and the ride quality is simply sublime. Instead of just having a Drive mode for the single-speed gearbox, the E-Golf has D1, D2, D3 and B, which represent increasing degrees of braking retardation (and therefore kinetic energy recovery) on throttle lift-off. In effect, one can operate the E-Golf in B mode without having to brush the brake pedal with much regularity at all. Peak torque of 270 N.m is merely adequate, but at least it is always instantly available.
Furthermore, the E-Golf can be operated in three driving modes – Normal, Eco and Eco+, each of which limit the engine outputs and top speeds, as well as the extent of the climate control operation, to maximize the Volkswagen’s operating range in between charge-ups. In effect, an E-Golf driver could eek out the available range of their car by selecting B on the drive selector and Eco+ on the centre console to maximise the circular range as shown on the facia display.
A range of between 130 and 190 km may not seem liberal, but Volkswagen’s research (in the German market) suggests most users drive their cars for less than 50 km a day. Should E-Golf owners need to make longer excursions, there is no need for them to push their households’ second vehicles into action. For the first three years of ownership, Volkswagen (at least in Europe) will avail an E-Golf owner a conventionally powered car for 30 days per annum to use within certain limitations, such as distance. It’s certainly a simple solution to remedy the so-called range anxiety many new EV owners will occasionally suffer from and it would be brilliant if, upon the E-Golf’s introduction to the South African market, Volkswagen South Africa could avail the same opportunity to local owners.
There are four ways to charge the E-Golf: If you plug the standard charging cable into a 230V electric socket, the Volkswagen’s lithium-ion battery will take a maximum of 13 hours to be fully charged from flat. As an option, Volkswagen offers a wallbox for an owner’s garage, which would fully charge the battery in about eight hours. In addition, certain European cities have recently unveiled public charging stations for “charge-and-dash” daily motoring and the E-Golf can be charged by direct current (DC) through a CCS (Combined Charging System). In this alternative case, the car can be charged at up to 40 kW of power that revitalise the battery to 80 per cent capacity in just around 30 minutes.
What’s more, ownership of the E-Golf is made easier by the introduction of a Car-Net e-Remote smartphone app. The app operates functions based on a programmed departure, so that the Volkswagen’s cabin can be pre-heated or cooled by the climate control system depending on the outdoor temperature and when its driver wants to begin a journey. It also monitors and manages the battery charging process (indicates charger connection status, charge progress and level, as well as remaining driving range), summarises vehicle data (displays information such as kilometres driven, trip time, power consumption by the electric motor and other components, use of regenerative braking etc) as well as displaying general vehicle data (such as locking status of doors and boot, lights (on/off), charging cable plugged in) and, if you’re particularly absent-minded, the position where the E-Golf was last parked.
The E-Golf is the first series production EV I’ve driven. As a package, I have no problem in recommending the E-Golf to those whose lifestyles it would suit, because the ideal of carbon-neutral motoring, even if it seems far-fetched today, is praiseworthy. Keeping your EV charged up should not be more bothersome than the task of plugging in your smartphone when get home after work or go to bed at night. However, Volkswagen South Africa hopes to bring the E-Golf to market just under half a million rand and that asking price would be a major impediment for many would-be buyers. Also, I believe that manufacturers that sell/intend to sell EVs in Mzansi should lobby government in earnest to secure duty and taxation relief for the purposes of importing plug-in vehicles – there are limits to what motorists would be willing to sacrifice to be benefit of the environment. Ironically, it all comes down to green stuff.
Model: Volkswagen E-Golf
Motor: Permanent synchronous electic motor
Power: 85 kW from 0 r/min
Torque: 270 N.m from 0 r/min
0-100 km/h: 10,4 seconds
Top speed: 140 km/h (limited)
Power consumption: 12,7 kWh/100 km
CO2: 0 g/km
Price: R500 000 (indicative)
ETA: Late 2015
* According to Volkswagen