Posts Tagged ‘Volkswagen’


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


Sometimes prayers are answered. The rest of the world has had the pleasure of powerful, clean and ultra-efficient diesel engines for decades. The Germans, masters of diesel technology, steadfastly refused to bring diesel power to the U.S. market because they don’t think that we will buy them.

School_Bus_diesel_ExhaustThey do have a point. I mean, ask the average American driver about diesel and they conjure up images of billowing clouds of black, noxious smoke, belching trucks and busses and the dreaded diesel chatter. Even people not alive during the 1970s or 1980s have a visceral negative reaction to diesel, probably a byproduct of their parents’ prejudices or maybe from getting stuck behind a diesel school bus on a two lane road with no passing possibilities. Roll up the windows and press the recirculation button.

But the whole diesel question kind of goes back to the chicken and the egg paradox. We aren’t going to buy diesel-powered cars if they aren’t available, right? And what do we make of the fact that, for many years, Volkswagen dealers have been quietly selling out of every TDI (VW-speak for turbo-charged direct injection diesel technology) model they can get in inventory?  Conclusion: There is a small, but growing market for diesel power and efficiency.

VW EA288 2.0L TDI engine

VW EA288 2.0L TDI engine

The fact is that diesel power never left the truck market. Diesel is still the engine of choice for heavy-duty pickup trucks that need lots of low-end torque for towing and carrying heavy cargo. Almost all big rigs are still diesel-powered.

For most of the 1980s, 1990s an early 2000s, gasoline was so cheap in the U.S. that manufacturers didn’t see the need to offer efficient diesel models. Diesel engines are more expensive to manufacture and are heavier than their gasoline counterparts.  Pollution control regulations also killed diesel offerings as most couldn’t meet California’s emission standards and without sales in California, it didn’t make economic sense to federalize a diesel engine.

And then there was the dirty diesel fuel itself. It wasn’t until 2007 that the U.S. implemented ultra-low sulfur (15 ppm) diesel fuel, a necessary step before European diesel engines could function properly.

The cleaner diesel set the stage for a renaissance of European (mostly German) diesel-powered cars to return to the U.S. and to meet ever-increasing federal and California emissions standards. In California (and the states that follow California emissions laws), a diesel-powered car must meet the same standards as a gasoline-powered car.

Up until 2013, if you wanted a 4-cylinder turbo-diesel powered-car, you had to buy a front-drive Volkswagen (the Audi A3 TDI was discontinued in 2013).

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

To help boost corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) rating, the Germans have chosen V6 diesel power for their larger, heavier SUVs such as the Mercedes-Benz ML350  and GL350 BlueTec, the BMW X5 xDrive35d, VW Touareg TDI, the Audi Q7 TDI and the Porsche Cayenne Diesel.  However, the seemingly-obvious application of a high-mpg 4-cylinder diesel for volume models like the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-Class was inexplicably absent.

2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC has a 3.0L V6 twin turbo diesel engine making

2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC has a 3.0L V6 twin turbo diesel engine delivers 240 hp and a massive 455 lb-ft of torque and is EPA rated at 20/23/28 mpg.

That’s all finally changing for the 2014 model year.

Over the summer, Mercedes-Benz introduced a 2.1L 4-cylider twin-turbo diesel engine in the 2014 GLK250 BlueTEC and now, the same engine is in the 2014 E250 BlueTEC sedan, which went on sale last month. I’ve driven the GLK250 BT and loved it, so I have no doubt that the same engine, making 195 hp and a whopping 396 lb-ft of torque, will be fully-capable in the new E250 BT. Both models use Mercedes’ excellent 7-speed automatic transmission with adaptive logic.

2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC

2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC

But what should turn heads is the EPA numbers for the rear-drive 2014 Mercedes E250 BlueTEC sedan: 28 mpg city, 45 mpg highway, 34 mpg combined. That’s right, this 4,200 pound sedan offers fuel economy better than most hybrids, and if you drive mostly highway miles, you will likely do better than 45 mpg.  Mercedes also priced the diesel E-Class as its entry-level model, $500 less than the $52,825 E350 V6 which tops out at 30 mpg and sucks down premium fuel, which is often the same price as diesel.

Not to be outdone – finally some competition – BMW introduced its first 4-cylinder diesel engine in the US market in the 2014 3-Series. The 328d sedan enlists a brilliant 2.0L turbo-diesel engine making 180 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. A ZF 8-speed automatic is standard.  The 328d is EPA rated at 32/37/45. That’s far better than 328i which is rated at 23/27/35. The 328d, starting at $39,525, is $1,300 more than the 328i. However, if you drive around 12,000 miles a year, you could easily recoup the diesel premium in three years.

BMW 2.0L Dual Turbo diesel engine.

BMW 2.0L Dual Turbo diesel engine.

2014 BMW 328d Sedan

2014 BMW 328d Sedan

It’s a mystery why anyone would buy BMW’s ActiveHybrid 3, which uses a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain, when it gets only 33 mpg highway and starts at $50,825, a whopping $11,300 more than the 328d. Oh wait, I forgot. No one is buying the ActiveHybrid 3 and dealers can’t give them away – what few actually exist.

More German luxury diesel competition is either here today or coming soon. Audi already sells 3.0L V6 TDI variants of the A6, A7, A8, Q5 and Q7.  In 2014, we should see an Audi A4 2.0LTDI (probably a 2015 model).  In addition, Audi has hinted at gracing our market with a 2.0L TDI version of the lovely A4 Allroad wagon.

2014 Audi A6 TDI

2014 Audi A6 TDI

The all-new (Gen-4) 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, to be built for the North American market at Mercedes’ Vance, Alabama plant, will likely get 2.1L BlueTEC diesel engine. If it does, its power and fuel economy could trump the BMW 328d. Unfortunately, the wagon variant of the C-Class won’t likely be sold in the US.

Leaked image of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Leaked image of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Porsche already sells a diesel Cayenne running a specially-tuned version of VW’s corporate 3.0L V6 TDI engine. The Porsche version has 240 hp with a staggering 406 lb-ft of torque.

2014 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

2014 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

The 2015 Porsche Macan, a baby Cayenne based on the Audi Q5, will get its world debut at the upcoming 2013 LA Auto Show.  Starting at around $40,000, when the Macan goes on sale early in 2014, it is likely to become the best-selling Porsche, feeding Americans’ insatiable desire for compact crossovers.  Of course, there will be a diesel Macan (a given for the European market) running the same 3.0L V6 diesel found in the Cayenne Diesel; but it’s not likely to be sold in the US — at least not immediately.  I think the Macan Diesel will come to the US, maybe a year from now, possibly as a 2016 model.  I’d like to see it with the VW corporate 2.0L TDI engine; but I don’t think that’s going to happen unless Audi drops one into the Q5.

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

I saved my favorite diesel development for last. BMW has always made a sweet compact 3-Series sports wagon. However, in the US, it’s been on the endangered species list for a while now.

As background, BMW used to sell a fantastic 5-Series mid-size wagon in the US; however, in 2009, it was discontinued in favor of the butt-ugly 5 GT (big mistake) and the few wagon customers were either forced to visit a Mercedes-Benz dealer for the E-Class wagon or buy BMW’s X5 SUV.

When BMW introduced the sixth-generation (F30) 3-series in 2012, the company also announced plans for a 3 GT. The 3 GT has a longer wheelbase, 4-doors, extra back-seat room (mostly for the Chinese market) and a hatchback with extra cargo space.

Wagon lovers feared the worst. Oh god, is BMW going to force a 3 GT on us? Didn’t they get the hint when no one wanted the 5 GT? Maybe the powers-that-be heard the prayers of us wagon-lovers and for the 2014 model year, the 3-Series Sports Wagon returns to BMW’s US lineup.

But it gets better – the award-winning 2.0L TwinTurbo diesel engine is available in the form of the 328d xDrive Sports Wagon. You lose a couple miles per gallon to the all-wheel drive system, but it’s that rare beast that will likely remain on the endangered list as long as it’s for sale. But for now, it’s the Holy Grail for wagon-lovers.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

You have to look closely to see the "d" in the badge for the BMW 328d. The exterior is indistinguishable from the gas-powered 328i.

You have to look closely to see the “d” in the badge for the BMW 328d. The exterior is indistinguishable from the gas-powered 328i.

BMW 3-series wagons have always been compact, fun and full of utility. I like the styling better than the X1, although the X1 has more cargo capacity.  The 328d wagon drives better than the X1.

BMW 3-series wagons have always been compact, fun and full of utility. I like the styling better than the X1, although the X1 has more cargo capacity. The 328d wagon drives better than the X1.

I drove the 2014 328d xDrive Sports Wagon (starting at $43,875) and it was sublime. The average driver wouldn’t have a clue that it was diesel powered. You barely hear the distinctive diesel low frequency throbbing and engine and standard 8-speed automatic transmission work in perfect, steady harmony acceleration across the entire RPM range. It feels faster than the 328i (even if it isn’t) and with the urea-based injection system scrubbing the emissions, there is absolutely no diesel exhaust odor.

I’m feeling faint and nearly powerless to resist ordering a 328d – you may need to wake me from this little wagon’s intoxicating charms with a real whiff of diesel. Right now, it’s the most delicious diesel-powered car on the market.