The 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf is an accomplished new contender for the best, relatively-affordable electric vehicle without a Tesla badge.

2015 Volkswagen e-Golf

2015 Volkswagen e-Golf in Pure White

If I didn’t know this was a compliance and engineering exercise for VW, I might think that the e-Golf could be a true mass-market EV like the Nissan Leaf.

The e-Golf looks like pretty much any other 2015 Golf, and that’s a good thing.  This 7th generation Golf wears an evolutionary, more mature, handsome sheet metal with sharper creases and more angular front and rear lights.

Every inch of sheet metal seems tightly stretched over the frame. Note the angular taillights that replace the more rounded ones from the Golf Mk6.

Every inch of sheet metal seems tightly stretched over the frame. Note the angular taillights that replace the more rounded ones from the Golf Mk6.

Detail of the grille and headlight.  VW used LEDs for all front lighting.

Detail of the grille and headlight. VW used LEDs for all front lighting.

This new generation Golf is built on VW’s corporate multi-billion euro MQB platform that will underpin dozens of new front- and all-wheel drive vehicles spanning several brands (VW, Audi, Škoda, SEAT). From the beginning, MQB was engineered to accept all types of drivetrains, including hybrid, battery-electric and fuel cell.

The e-Golf is VW’s first EV in the US market and for a freshman, it must have done some advanced placement studies to put it at the top of small, but growing list of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). I’m told that it is targeted just below the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric and the BMW i3 but above offerings like the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric and Kia Soul EV.

The instrument panel of the e-Golf looks nearly the same as the standard Golf except the analog gauges show the battery charge rather than fuel.

The instrument panel of the e-Golf looks nearly the same as the standard Golf except the analog gauges show the battery charge rather than fuel level.

It’s kind of a lofty goal to take on BMW and Mercedes in the BEV arena, but the e-Golf is convincing, in a very conventional way.  In every way, it’s a familiar Golf.  It looks like a Golf, has the same interior as any other Golf and the same cargo space.

So what’s it like to drive? Get in, press start and the dash lights up. Silence, of course.

The 85 kW AC motor is good for 115 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque.  As you’d expect, acceleration from a standstill is brisk with all the torque instantly available. As with other Golfs, the dreaded torque steer from a front drive car has been abolished. Power delivery is smooth and linear, but you won’t beat most cars in a drag race. Zero to 60 is a leisurely, but acceptable 10.4 seconds.  Top speed is limited to a rather conservative 87 mph.

The electric power steering is excellent, if numb. I’ve come to expect it these days with everyone going to electric (rather than hydraulic) power steering.   It tracked dead on-center and the electric power assist was a Goldilocks “just right” – not too heavy, not too light.

Quietness is also a virtue of the e-Golf. You don’t hear any electric motor moaning and VW packed extra soundproofing materials for a very hushed cabin.  The suspension easily soaked up most road roughness and the extra battery weight keeps the car planted. Road noise – which is always more noticeable in a quiet EV – was present, but distant.

Volkswagen opted for a 24.2 kWh liquid cooled lithium-ion batter pack, mostly under the seats, and rear hatch area in place of a spare tire and gas tank.  While not a huge battery, it is surprisingly efficient, as the e-Golf earned a very respectable 116 MPGe. Range, however, is only rated at 83 miles, which is only slightly better than average for anything that’s not a Tesla.

This transparent view of the e-Golf shows the placement of the battery along the floor, under the rear seats and in the cargo area. The weight is spread out very well making the e-Golf well-balanced with a low center of gravity.

This transparent view of the e-Golf shows the placement of the battery along the floor, under the rear seats and in the cargo area. The weight is spread out very well making the e-Golf well-balanced with a low center of gravity.

As with other EVs, the weight of the battery on the floor, mostly in the center/rear of the car lowers the center of gravity and more evenly balances the weight between all four wheels. With a beefed up suspension and excellent tuning, the e-Golf handles better than any Golf not wearing an R badge.

Cockpit of the 2015 e-Golf. Note the electronic parking brake in the center area and the covered cup holders.

Cockpit of the 2015 e-Golf. Note the electronic parking brake in the center area and the covered cup holders.

The e-Golf operates in one of three driving modes selected from the center touch screen: Normal, Eco and Eco+.

In Normal mode, the car drives in a very conventional manner – If it wasn’t silent,  you might think you were driving a conventional Golf. The climate control functions normally and the electric motor operates at full power for maximum driving fun.

Select Eco and the HVAC system gets dialed back (fine when it’s 72 outside, but not so much when it’s 95) and power is dialed back to 94 hp and torque to 162 lb-ft and the top speed drops to 72 mph.  Eco mode is fine for normal daily slogs in traffic, but not spirited sprints or LA freeway driving when you can go from a standstill to 80 mph at any given time.

Select Eco+ and you lose AC all together and the motor is hobbled to 74 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque with a top speed of 56 mph.  Driving the car in Eco+ mode all the time will likely stretch the range past 100 miles, but I know myself, and I’d not be happy slogging along without AC and with only barely passable power for a car weighing 3,391 pounds.

However all is not lost if you’re driving in one of the Eco modes. If you mash the accelerator to floor, the car reads your mind and reverts to Normal mode for maximum power usage. This is a smart, fail-safe plan.

Regenerative braking is also an area in which the e-Golf excels. One of the geeky things EV owners love is playing around with regenerative brakes to slow or almost stop the car. You can drive the e-Golf in the B mode (just below D) which provides the heaviest amount of regen-braking.  Yes, geek out in B and, with some practice, perform one-pedal driving – the car will coast itself to a full stop, with pronounced braking as soon as you lift off the go-pedal.

The other two modes are D2 and D3, accessed by tapping the shifter to the left when in Drive. Each mode provides additional regenerative braking. A clever safety trick that other EVs don’t offer is that when driving in any mode other than D1/Drive, as soon as you let up on the accelerator, your brake lights go on, warning drivers behind you that you are braking even though your’re not pushing the brake pedal.

Plenty of cargo space in the e-Golf, same as the regular 4-door Golf hatchback.

Plenty of cargo space in the e-Golf, same as the regular 4-door Golf hatchback.

I drove the car in all modes and liked each one for different reasons. I did wish that VW had put paddle shifters on the steering wheel to activate regenerative braking, but that’s a small ding.  I’d probably end up driving it B mode all the time and pat myself on the back for barely touching the mechanical brakes – after all, I am a car geek.

The Good:

  • All the goodness of the excellent Golf Mk7
  • Refined electric powertrain
  • Three levels of regenerative braking – from mild “normal” to near 1-pedal operation
  • Obligatory smartphone app to monitor
  • First rate interior for a non-luxury car
  • Precise, well-weighted steering
  • Made in Germany, not Mexico
  • Impressive fit of body panels
  • Slick aerodynamic aluminum alloy wheels – not cheap plastic covers over steel wheels
  • Two SD memory card slots in chilled glove box – but who uses SD memory cards for their music?
  • Automatic headlights and rain sensing wipers
  • Keyless entry and start
  • Aced its crash tests with top ratings

The Not So Good:

  • Smallish 5.8″ touchscreen
  • No USB ports – Really?
  • Short-leash, complicated media cable to tether your smartphone
  • No sunroof – but it does save weight
  • No HomeLink
  • Annoying delay in rear view camera operation due to placement of cam under large rear VW badge
  • Antique,unnecessarily large switchblade key fob that the VW group has been using for more than a decade. Time for a change.
  • Some cheap hard plastics on lower fascia panels
  • No leather seat option – only perforated “leatherette”
  • DC fast charging system uses CCS (Combined Charging System) and there aren’t many locations for this yet
  • No Driver Assistant package available as with other Golfs (forward collision warning and front/rear parking sensors)

The e-Golf comes in only one trim level – SEL Premium – for $36,245. No option packages are available (yet). VW doesn’t have any lease deals, so with around $2,000 down, I was quoted a 36 month lease price of around $420/month (including tax). That’s significantly more than the Soul EV and on par with a similarly-equipped Nissan Leaf. As more inventory becomes available, I think VW Credit will come up with a good lease incentive, but only time will tell.

To summarize, the 2015 e-Golf is a very satisfying, capable electric car. It’s refinement and every-day utility puts it at the top of my list, along side the 2015 Kia Soul EV.

2015 VW e-Golf in Pacific Blue

2015 VW e-Golf in Pacific Blue

Chat  —  Posted: November 14, 2014 in Automobile Manufacturers, Electrics and other "Green" Technology, Volkswagen
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While the 2015 Kia Soul EV is another Compliance Car (thank you, California Air Resources Board), it’s one of the best electric cars currently available.

2015 Kia Soul EV in Black with Inferno Red trim. Sharp!

2015 Kia Soul EV in Black with Inferno Red trim. Sharp!

A few years ago, when I drove the Nissan Leaf for the first time, I was struck by just how ordinary the Leaf was.  If you set aside the electric powertrain, the Leaf drove like any other compact car. It all seemed familiar until you realized that the road noise was so pronounced because you couldn’t hear the the engine humming and the transmission spooling up and shifting. There was no exhaust note. Nothing but annoying road noise that would have gone unnoticed if it were a conventional car.

One observation is clear: The Korean Twins – Hyundai and Kia – learn fast.  Their products bristle with fresh design, great drivetrains, tons of tech and best-in-class-warranties. They are no longer a generation or two behind the Japanese. These days, the Japanese scramble to keep up with them.  The 2015 Kia Soul EV is a prime example of how well the engineers and designers studied the competition and went the extra mile. Kia’s first EV is instantly top of the class.

The 2015 Kia Soul EV looks sharp and cheeky from any angle. What's not to love here?

The 2015 Kia Soul EV looks sharp and cheeky from any angle. What’s not to love here?

Originally introduced for the 2008 model year, the Kia Soul was an odd duck. The designer, supposedly inspired by a documentary on wild boars, “sketched a caricature of (a boar) and, for practicality, put a backpack on it.”

It’s a little 2-box rectangular wagon with a sloping roof that’s too tall to be called a sports wagon and not high enough off the ground to be a crossover.  Hell, it’s not even available with all-wheel drive. But its cheeky face, fresh styling and utilitarian format made it a smashing success (115,579 units for the first three quarters of 2014 alone) not just with the coveted “hip urban youth” demographic, but a very wide base of buyers.

Who doesn't love the Kia Hamsters? This fetching lass is showing you how to charge your Soul EV.

Who doesn’t love the Kia Hamsters? This fetching lass is showing you how to charge your Soul EV.

The 2nd generation Soul was introduced for the 2014 model year. Subtle styling changes were made to the exterior and the interior received a thorough refresh. But Kia was careful not to mess too much with the original formula. That wild boar still dares you to love it.

The new Soul platform was designed to accommodate both ICE and EV powertrains.  The thin, 27 kWh lithium-polymer battery sits flat under the seats in the floor pan. As with other EVs like the Nissan Leaf or the Tesla Model S, the extra weight of the battery – almost 500 pounds) serves to lower the center of gravity, balance weight between the wheels and more firmly plants the little wagon through curves and in wind.  The EV gets additional suspension turning and increased torsional rigidity. All of these extra benefits and engineering make the electric Soul the one to get if its limited range isn’t a problem for you.

The cargo space is similar to the Toyota RAV4 EV. It's not as big, but it's got plenty of space for most shopping trips.

The cargo space in the Soul EV  is similar to the Toyota RAV4 EV. It’s not as big, but it’s got plenty of space for most shopping trips.

The 2015 Soul EV is EPA-rated at 105 MPGe (33.7 kWh of electricity is equivalent to one gallon of gasoline, but who cares?) with a range of 93 miles.  The range is the most important number here and it’s the best range of any pure EV sold today that isn’t a Tesla. Better than the BMW i3, better than the VW e-Golf, better than the Nissan Leaf.

The Kia Soul EV comes equipped standard with three charging levels:

  • Level 1 -standard 120 volt – plug it in and wait a long time
  • Level 2 – SAE J1772 240 volt much faster, usually at  home charging
  • Level 3 –   CHAdeMO DC Fast Charge 480 volt – public charging stations where available

The excellent standard UVO navigation system can guide you to public charging stations, much like the Leaf and some other more expensive EVs.

The Soul EV comes completely loaded with navigation, HD radio, SiriusXM Satellite radio and a backup camera with guides. This is the EV+ with front and rear parking sensors and ventilated front seats (note the controls). The plastic fascia is a bit cheap.

The Soul EV comes completely loaded with navigation, HD radio, SiriusXM Satellite radio and a backup camera with guides. This is the EV+ with front and rear parking sensors and ventilated front seats (note the controls). The plastic fascia is a bit cheap.

I drove the Soul EV in heavy traffic around Glendale – not too different from the normal traffic in and around West Hollywood/Beverly Hills. So I didn’t get a chance to go on an open road or fast on the freeway. While the 81.4 kW electric motor is only rated at 109 hp, it packs 210 lb-ft of torque, instantly available, so it “feels” fast.  I’ve seen estimates that the zero to 60 time is a positively glacial 11-12 seconds.  But on surface streets, I found it quick and quiet with a smooth, relaxed ride. The seats comfortably fit my 6’1″ frame and visibility was pretty good all around.

2015 Kia Soul EV's instrument panel is completely digital.

2015 Kia Soul EV’s instrument panel is completely digital.

The B mode dialed in fairly strong regenerative braking — strong enough to stop the car at slow speeds. How much it actually adds back to the battery is questionable, but you feel good playing the “look ma, no brakes” game. The mechanical brakes that actually hug the wheels were strong and linear, with no spongy feel. One thing I’ve read about regenerative braking is that you should be aware that if you don’t touch the brake pedal, the people behind you don’t realize you’re braking. So it might be a good idea to lightly use the brake pedal along with the regenerative coasting.

This is the upgraded interior of the Soul EV+ with perforated leather seats.

This is the upgraded interior of the Soul EV+ with perforated leather seats. The electric blue piping around the seats is a nice touch.

I was surprised by how much resistance was calibrated to the accelerator pedal. That’s easy enough to get used to, but that was your first reminder you weren’t in gasland anymore.  Everyone complains about the numb steering, and they’re right, it’s pretty numb. But I have fairly low expectations for electric power steering these days and the Kia’s wasn’t any worse than anything else I’ve driven.

All EVs have a complimentary Smartphone app. The Soul EV's basic app allows you to check the charge level, set the climate controls and open/close the doors.

All EVs have a complimentary Smartphone app. The Soul EV’s basic app allows you to check the charge level, set the climate controls and lock/unlock the doors.

The 2015 Kia Soul is stuffed with tons of supplemental restraint systems - airbags and air curtains surround you.

The 2015 Kia Soul is stuffed with tons of supplemental restraint systems – airbags and air curtains surround you.

The Soul EV’s base MSRP is $34,500.  Everything you need is standard.  For $2,000 more, the Soul EV+ adds power folding side mirrors, fog lamps, front and rear parking sensors, vented perforated leather seats, heated rear seats and a cargo cover.  Frankly, that’s a lot of stuff for only two grand — worth every penny.  Kia is advertising a great lease deal for the base Soul EV: $249/month (about $272/month with tax) for 36 months with $1,999 down.  You also qualify for California’s $2,500 rebate with a 36 month lease.

The Good:

  • High kit level – much more for your money
  • Largest standard battery/longer range (other than a Tesla)
  • Available auto-dimming rear view mirror with HomeLink and compass ($350)
  • Perforated leather seating surfaces (+)
  • Heated and Cooled seats (+)
  • Electric folding side mirrors (+)
  • Parking sensors front and rear (+)
  • Comfortable seating for tall people in front
  • Rear view camera – Standard
  • Navigation – Standard 8 inch full color touch screen with UVO eServices
  • Decent rear seat room (far better than the Fiat 500e or Chevy Spark EV)
  • Strong “B” driving mode
  • Keyless entry and start/stop
  • Tilt and telescope steering column
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Solar control/privacy glass
  • Dual zone automatic climate control
  • Smartphone app
  • Standard fast charging system
  • Convenient USB and power ports
  • Electronic parking brake
  • Loads of standard passive safety stuff

The Not So Good:

  • Go pedal requires far more pressure than most other EVs
  • Only one B (regenerative braking) mode
  • Very slow 0-60
  • No rain-sensing wipers
  • Manual adjusting seats – 6 way
  • No sunroof option
  • No power liftgate
  • Cheap wheel covers
  • Some cheap plastic lower fascia
  • Sleazy dealership in Glendale
  • Limited availability of colors
  • Bait and switch lease deal – make sure to hold the dealer to the advertised price

Conclusion:

As long as you don’t expect to drag race a Tesla Model S P85D,  the 2015 Kia Soul EV presents the most convincing, satisfying, affordable and uncompromised electric car since the introduction of Nissan’s Leaf.  It’s at the top of the current  crop of EVs and at or near the top of my list.

Chat  —  Posted: November 4, 2014 in Automobile Manufacturers, Electrics and other "Green" Technology, Hybrids, Electrics and other "Green" Technology, Kia
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