Archive for the ‘Volkswagen’ Category


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


2015 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro

2015 Audi A3 2.0T Quattro

Audi’s all-new “entry level” 2015 A3 is a sweet little car that comes with a pretty big price tag.  Sure, it starts at $29,900, but that can easily soar past $40,000.  My tester, an A3 2.0 quattro in Prestige trim started at $41,350. Add the $800 Sports package and $895 destination and it hits an eye-popping $43,045.  You can spend more – $550 for metallic colors or $1,400 for an Advanced Technology Package that includes active lane assist, forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control – which takes it to a wince-inducing $44,995.  Now you shouldn’t be surprised that the 2015 Audi A4 2.0 quattro Prestige starts at $45,895; but the top price of an A3 is already deep into A4 territory – a sobering thought when ticking option boxes.

Now if you can get past the price, let me explain a few things.

Volkswagen Group's MQB Platform

Volkswagen Group’s MQB Platform

2015 VW Golf GTI

2015 VW Golf GTI

The all-new 2015 Audi A3 is basically a Volkswagen Golf wearing a smart Armani suit.  The 2015 A3 and 2015 VW Golf are the first two vehicles in the U.S. market built on VW’s much-anticipated, multi-billion euro platform called MQB, which stands for Modularer Querbaukasten, translating from German to “Modular Transversal Toolkit.”  It’s a big deal because it’s supposed to underpin hundreds of new models across VW’s vast multi-brand empire for years to come.  From the beginning, it’s able to support front- and all-wheel drive architecture as well as hybrid and pure electric powertrains (such as the e-Golf).

Audi A3 2.0T quattro badge

Audi A3 2.0T quattro badge

The base front drive A3 has VW’s 1.8L direct-injected turbo 4-cylinder engine making 170 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. I drove it, hated it, and immediately asked to drive the model with the 2.0L direct-injected turbo 4 making 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque – the same sweet (slightly less powerful) engine in the 2015 VW Golf GTI.  Mated to the only transmission offered – a 6-speed S-Tronic dual clutchautomatic – it’s a firecracker. Fast, direct, fun to drive and supremely sure-footed with Audi’s signature quattro all-wheel drive system.

Dual-clutch transmissions can be a clunky affair, but the VW group has sorted these things out well for many years. That said, the creep forward at stop is pronounced and it’s not as buttery smooth at the ZF 8-speed automatic used by BMW in most of its products and upper-tier Audis. But it’s easily as good as the 7-speed dual clutch Mercedes uses in the CLA250, the direct competitor to the A3.

2015 Audi A3 looks good from all angles.

2015 Audi A3 looks good from all angles.

The instruments panel of the A3 is a model of clarity and it looks terrific at night. Note the average MPG readout from the standard multifunction trip computer.

The instruments panel of the A3 is a model of clarity and it looks terrific at night. Note the average MPG readout from the standard multifunction trip computer. Note the retro analog trip odometer reset “0.0” on top of the steering column. Fast and easy! 

The EPA rates the 2.0L quattro setup at 24 mpg city, 33 highway and 27 combined. My tester’s computer showed 20.6 mpg on a combination of about 40% highway and 60% city driving.  It sucks down premium unleaded.

The A3's headlights remind me of something from Angry Birds. A signature Audi look.

The A3’s headlights remind me of something from Angry Birds. A signature Audi look.

The window and side mirror controls are from the VW  parts bin, but they are high quality and the chrome surrounds add a nice touch.

The window and side mirror controls are from the VW parts bin, but they are high quality and the chrome surrounds add a nice touch.

Just about everything in the A3 is executed well. From the signature Angry Bird-inspired LED running lights to the sharply creased sheet metal, this little car looks good from every angle.  The A3 appropriately telegraphs Audi’s DNA and nothing about it screams that it’s a rebadged VW (because it isn’t). It may share the MQB platform and the drivetrain, but what you see is pure Audi.

The same can be said about the inside.  Audi does about the best interiors in the auto business, although the competition has caught up over time. The A3’s interior looks terrific — from the tablet-style pop-up infotainment display to the turbine-inspired round vents, it’s a feast for the eyes.  Most of the surfaces you see and touch are good (not top) quality plastics and soft to the touch, but some hard plastic lurks, particularly in the door panels, below the arm rest, the seat backs and some lower fascia.

This particular model had all the bells and whistles. I particularly liked the Google Earth navigation maps and the 705 watt Bang & Olufsen 14-speaker surround sound.  Both were standard on the 2.0L Prestige.  Audi’s latest-generation MMI (multimedia interface) was easy to use with the center controller and dedicated buttons.  My iPhone 5S synced easily with the system and calls were clear.

The A3's full-color infotainment screen displays Google Earth beautifully and easily with its built-in 4G LTE connection.

The A3’s full-color infotainment screen displays Google Earth beautifully and easily with its built-in 4G LTE connection.

The wide angle backup camera works well, although if you're in a hurry, it takes a couple seconds to pop up and display.

The wide angle backup camera works well, although if you’re in a hurry, it takes a couple seconds to pop up and display.

Audi's Multimedia Interface (MMI) works well with the large center controller. The finger-writing recognition is too difficult while driving and good luck with the voice recognition.

Audi’s Multimedia Interface (MMI) works well with the large center controller. The finger-writing recognition is too difficult while driving and good luck with the voice recognition.

The power seat controls on the side of the front seats. I’d rather see the controls placed on door like Mercedes.

The power sports seats are comfortable but don’t have a memory function. They do, however, have a hand-adjustable thigh support – something my 6’1″ frame appreciates very much.  Unfortunately, the seat controls are so close to the door that you may have to open the door to adjust the seat!  And the damn seat belt doesn’t have a stop for the buckle so the buckle falls to the bottom of the belt every time you take it off. You have to jam your hand down to the tight crevice between the B-pillar, the seat and the floor – evoking flashbacks of 127 Hours – to find it each time you buckle up.  What were they thinking?

This car is loaded with all the bells and whistles: Full LED headlights and taillights, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers, dual zone automatic climate control, front and rear parking sensors, back up camera with guide lines, full-color MMI display, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, real-time traffic and weather, HD radio, 4-G connection w/Wi-Fi hot spot, auto-dimming rear view and side mirrors, leather seating surfaces, power heated (but not cooled) seats, digital compass, panoramic sunroof, tilt/telescope steering wheel, keyless entry and ignition, a dizzying array of safety features including countless airbags and air curtains and electronic nannies for braking, stability control and blind spot moniters.

Old-school physical controls and buttons are easy and fast to use.  Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard. Optional heated seats have 3 levels.

Old-school physical controls and buttons are easy and fast to use. Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard. Optional heated seats have 3 levels.

The cup holders are too close to the HVAC controls. No Big Gulps here. Also the power port should be moved away from the cup holders. Bad placement.

The cup holders are too close to the HVAC controls. No Big Gulps here. Also the power port should be moved away from the cup holders. Bad placement.

And if you’re like me and you’ve experienced the intoxicating, magical capabilities of adaptive cruise control (now with advanced stop & go), then no new vehicle purchase could be complete without it. Simply tick the box for the Advanced Technology package – it only adds $20/month to the lease.

But you know what you can’t get on an A3 – no matter how much you pay? You can’t get a HomeLink garage controller so you have to clip an ugly remote to your visor.  HomeLink is available on a Mazda 3 or a Kia Forte, but not an Audi A3?

The physical volume control knob on the right is handy. The MMI controller is nicely machined and well weighted. Hard buttons clustered around the controller provide short cuts to the main functions - Navigation, Telephone, Radio, and Media.

The physical volume control knob on the right is handy. The MMI controller is nicely machined and well weighted. Hard buttons clustered around the controller provide short cuts to the main functions – Navigation, Telephone, Radio, and Media. Note the electronic parking brake button nicely tucked into the console. The S-Tronic transmission can be shifted in sports mode from the shift lever or paddles behind the steering wheel.

Driving the A3 is a breeze.  The electric power steering is fast and tight even though it lacks some of the feedback you might get from now-antiquated  hydraulic units.  It darts in and out of traffic with ease.  The body is rock solid so quick maneuvers don’t feel like the mass is moving in the opposite direction.  The turbo spools up quickly leaving little room turbo lag (except at very low speeds) as the engine pulls and revvs happily to the red line.  Quattro cements the little car firmly in place, so the high winds we experience in the desert don’t blow it away or pull it dramatically off track.

The A3 is easy to park and the turning radius is very tight. The parking sensors and backup camera are very handy but sometimes the cross-path and other warning noises can get annoying. I’ve been heard shouting at the car to shut up, but that’s just me.

The front of the A3 sports Audi's logo: the Four Rings of Auto Union. Extra credit if you can name each ring.

The front of the A3 sports Audi’s logo: the Four Rings of Auto Union. Extra credit if you can name each ring.

Overall it’s a terrific driver’s car, more engaging and better rendered than the Mercedes CLA250. I also think that its lines will age better.

Another small but annoying feature is this key.  The VW group has been using the same large, clunky key for more than a decade. With keyless ignition, it's unnecessarily bulky in my pocket. It's the same key I had on my 2005 A6. Time for a change.

Another small but annoying feature is this key. The VW group has been using the same large, clunky key for more than a decade. With keyless ignition, it’s unnecessarily bulky in my pocket. It’s the same key I had on my 2005 A6. Time for a change.

All this gets me back to the price of a prestigious German badge. You can get far more for your money from a non-luxury or near-luxury brand. For example, the all-new 2015 Acura TLX, a bigger car, about the size of an A4, starts at $30,995. A fully-loaded TXL with a 3.5L 290 hp V6 engine, 9-speed automatic transmission, SH-AWD and the top Advance Package that includes far more luxury features and advanced technology than the A3 or A4 – is $45,595.

The average transaction price of an A3 is probably closer to $36,000 (not coincidentally the about same as the base A4). That’s still $4,000 more than a top-spec VW Golf GTI and enough for a base A4.

Is it worth the the steep premium to drive a small car with the four interlocking rings of Auto Union proudly affixed front and back? You do get a better standard warranty – 4 years/50,000 miles – and sales/service at an Audi dealer is probably much better than a non-luxury brand.  For most people, it all comes down to the deal.  As long as the lease payments are low enough, people naturally gravitate to the fancy German label. So far, the A3 has been a huge hit for Audi and it’s the main reason Audi’s sales are up dramatically so far this year.  I bet your local Audi dealer could find a terrific A3 deal for you too!

The 2015 Audi A3 2.0T quattro.

The 2015 Audi A3 2.0T quattro.