It is fair to say that the regular Volkswagen Golf is one of the best all-round buys – competitively priced when new and holding its value well. Does ditching an internal combustion engine make it a better day-to-day bet than a bespoke electric car?
Our car: Volkswagen e-Golf List price when new: £32,730 (excluding PICG grant) Price as tested: £35,490 (excluding PICG grant) Official fuel economy: n/a
July 17, 2018
A relatively quiet week for the e-Golf, with just an(other) airport run and some local driving to run down the battery as low as I dare before charging it.
The airport run was for the launch of a new EV that has a 64kWh battery, which is almost twice the capacity of the 35.8kWh battery on the e-Golf. Those of us who drive the car can’t talk about it until next week (Telegraph readers will be able to get Andrew English’s review) because of an embargo, but suffice to say that a larger battery does seem to be the answer to range anxiety.
Personally, I haven’t been in any anxious about the e-Golf’s range, as I’ve decided to run the battery down as low as I possibly can, so I managed to get down to 17 miles of remaining range before taking it to my local charger. I would have gone lower, but I have to head into central London a couple of times in the next couple of days, so I thought I’d juice it up without risking the vagaries of public charging in the metropolis.
July 10, 2018
I love air-conditioning. Whether in hot offices, shops that offer a chilled respite from the stultifying heat of the city or in a car, air-con has always been my friend.
The problem is, despite us being in the grip of a heatwave, I feel as if I can’t use the air-con in the e-Golf. As soon as I turn it on, the range in the driver display plummets and my range anxiety overcomes my desire for that cold, sweet air and I turn it off, lowering the windows instead.
This is fine on the motorway, as you can get quite a breeze flowing through the car at 60/70mph, but it's less successful driving in towns – especially as the poor air quality in London that I’m attempting to play a small part in improving isn’t exactly conducive to windows-down motoring.
I will get braver and start using the e-Golf’s air-con but, knowing my luck, by then the heatwave will be over and I’ll be using the windscreen wipers more frequently.
Other than that, another airport run (this time to Farnborough) was accomplished relatively easily, in terms of range, but I was also able to charge there for free – which is always a plus and enabled me to not worry about going slowly to conserve range as I dashed home to catch Friday evening’s World Cup match.
I could even have switched on the air-con on, if I’d thought about it. Damn…
July 4, 2018
It’s been an interesting week in the e-Golf, as I went on my longest journey yet and discovered more about what it can do (and what it can’t).
On Thursday I drove to Tetbury, 109 miles from home. That didn’t give me a huge amount of leeway on the real-world 120-mile range. The car was almost fully charged, so I thought I should be able to get there, if I took it easy.
And take it easy I did. Once on the M4, I set the cruise control to 70mph and took my time.
By the time I reached Membury services, 30 miles or so from my destination, the difference in the available range and the distance to my destination was closing, so I thought I’d try the AC rapid charger at the services. Just as I parked, a message in the main touchscreen told me that I had insufficient charge to reach my destination.
I plugged in, fired up the app, chose the correct charger and… there was an error. The charger wasn’t working, so I had to use the next one – but that wasn’t rapid, just a regular DC charger, so I wouldn’t be able to get 80% of a full charge in 40 minutes.
I plugged in, had some breakfast, monitored the charging on the app and, after 40 minutes, had a relatively paltry extra 20 miles of range.
I made s l o w progress to my destination, with 20 miles to spare. Thankfully, I’d arranged to charge it at the hotel where I’d be based for the day, at a Tesla DC box, so I was able to start the return journey with a full charge.
I set the cruise control to 60mph - I don’t think I’ve ever driven at 60mph on a clear motorway before - but I made it home with 40 miles of range left and plugged it in at my regular charger near my home, so Thursday ended up being a three-charge day.
That first proper test of the Volkswagen’s range led me to an observation. The e-Golf is quick enough to cruise comfortably at motorway speeds: it’s also able to drive a distance in excess of the 120 miles that VW quotes (150 might even be possible). But you can’t have both at the same time – not at the moment, at least.
Battery technology and capacities should increase pretty rapidly in the next few years but Volkswagen, like other manufacturers, is still feeling its way and the e-Golf is at the start of what is so commonly called today ‘a journey’.
But after a month, I’m closer to understanding what the e-Golf’s limits are. My car usage is such that I won’t be testing those limits on a weekly basis but, when I do, I’m now better prepared.
June 26th, 2018
This week, I have mostly been sorting out technology failures. Such is the life of an early adopter.
The first was Apple CarPlay failing to work when I went to take 10 bags of hedge clippings to the local dump (don’t let anyone tell you an EV isn’t practical). Nothing would make it come alive on the way: stopping and switching off the ignition, stopping and locking the car and then unlocking it. Every variation of turning it off on and again failed to work. But after dumping my garden waste, I started the car and it suddenly worked.
I’ve previously encountered this on numerous occasions in several cars, so I think it’s an Apple bug, rather than a fault of car manufacturers. It's very annoying, all the same, as CarPlay is very handy for handsfree phone calls and sending/receiving texts.
The other failure was down to VW, though. While trying to check the status of my charging car on the Car-Net app on my phone, for some reason I couldn’t log in and ended up having to reset my password. I didn’t receive an email when I requested it, and that only happened when I tried again the following day.
We expect technology to just work, but the reality is that modern cars are incredibly complex machines. To put it in context, a modern car requires in excess of 100m lines of computer code to make everything work, while the Large Hadron Collider only needs 50 million.
So when the smartphone integration or an app that helps you to remotely control aspects of your car fail to work, it’s irritating, because we all have such high expectation of technology.
As the era of cars being defined by electrification, automation and connectivity looms large, our expectations are only going to increase. Car companies and technology providers are going to have to a long way to meet them – and the consequences of not meeting them could be a lot more serious than not being able to play your current favourite playlist.
In terms of how the e-Golf runs, I’m taking the view that I should just try and drive it as I would an internal combustion-engined car, as that’s what consumers switching to EVs will expect. So before a run to Heathrow last week, I charged the e-Golf fully (185 miles, which Volkswagen admits is a theoretical figure): however, my 45-mile round trip left me with 95-100 miles of range.
Admittedly, I’m not pussy-footing up and down the M4 between west London and the airport and, as I caught an early flight, leaving the house at 5.30am, I also had a pretty free run through town. But on the other hand, driving through more stop-start, inner-city traffic in the evening does end up being largely range-neutral, or only uses a fraction of the actual mileage.
But I’ve got a couple of longer trips coming up, so it's going to be interesting to see how my cavalier attitude works (or doesn’t) when faced with 100-mile journeys.
June 12th, 2018
“Are you an Uber?” Much as I joke about being a taxi driver for my kids, I’ve never before been mistaken for one of the ride-sharing private hire drivers that fill the streets of London of an evening.
I had taken a shortcut down a side road, only to be held up by an Uber driver double-parked in the middle of the road, folding down the third row of seats in a dirty old diesel MPV, with a group of young women waiting to get in to start their night out.
One came over to apologise to me for the delay, followed by the question about my status as a cab, probably prompted by the fact that I rolled up silently, much as a hybrid would.
The irony is, two days earlier, I’d been at an event organised by the Renewable Energy Association, where an Uber spokesman said that all the company’s cars would be fully electric by 2025. With Volkswagen’s plans for new EV models in the next few years, chances are that VWs could be part of that fleet.
Anyway, the fact that there was a charger around the corner from my destination was perfect, as I was down to 18 miles of range and it meant that I could have a couple drinks, walk home, leave the car to charge overnight and then pick it up on Sunday morning. I suppose that’s what’s being called "destination charging" in EV-owning circles.
It was a good plan, which worked perfectly – apart from one detail that I’d overlooked. Source London, the charger provider, makes its customers pay for the time the car is plugged in, whether it is actually using electricity to charge or already achieved fully charged status.
OK, so the £19.11 I paid is a still a fraction of the cost of a fill-up in a combustion-engined car, but it’s still about £10-12 more than the cost of the actual electricity I needed.
I can understand the theory behind the policy: Source London wants EV drivers to charge and go, leaving the chargers free for other drivers.
That’s a perfectly sensible and reasonable policy if chargers are as in demand as they will be in 8 or 10 years, but the reality of here and now is that the banks of three chargers that I’m using in my area are hardly ever used: I’ve not seen another car charging at any of them in the last month – and I drive past them on a regular basis.
While it's not a huge amount of money, I still feel cheated that a charger supplier is making me pay for electricity I’m not using.
I’ll bet Uber drivers don’t have to put up with that.
June 5th, 2018
Range anxiety is, despite the claims of some smug Tesla drivers, a real thing.
When you know that you’ve got, at most, 120 miles before you need to find a publicly accessible charger to get some juice, you start to reappraise all kinds of things. Invitations to events, weekend trips – almost anything that requires you to drive beyond the bounds of the city – send you to Google Maps to work out the distance you need to travel, followed by a visit to the ZapMap website to check if there’s a (working) charger at your destination.
And it’s only by learning just what the e-Golf will do will I discover what journeys are possible – and which might just be a bridge too far.
So last week, being half-term, meant a trip to south Wales for a few days (grand)parent-wrangling. Discretion being the better part of a quiet life, I thought that including my wife and two teenagers as co-guinea pigs would be a bad move for a 200-mile EV run. But, I could still use the trip as a recce for future attempts, so every day would continue to be a school day.
Thankfully, Volkswagen was able to lend me a Tiguan Allspace for the trip, which, in 1.4 TSI guise was also a useful experiment, seeing how it would stack up against a diesel for a long trip (perfectly well, it turns out, especially with a six-speed DSG auto ’box). Yes, I’m privileged to be able to borrow other cars (as long as I’m able to write about them for one of my outlets), but in the short and medium terms, this is the kind of service that manufacturers of EVs might well be offering.
Indeed, Nissan Leaf owners have access to petrol or diesel vehicles from the Japanese carmaker’s range for 14 days over the first three years of ownership, while the new Care by Volvo service – a subscription package that involves monthly payments covering servicing insurance, concierge services et al – also means that plug-in hybrid Volvo users have access to other vehicles for 14 days a year.
Volkswagen doesn’t yet offer this kind of service to e-Golf owners, but when the company makes a big EV push in the next few years with its all-electric ID models, it won’t exactly be a massive a surprise if access to other, internal combustion-engined, vehicles for a limited period every year is part of the package.
This won’t be a long-term strategy, because hopefully within a decade there will be the kind of rapid-charging infrastructure in place (and greater battery capacities) to ensure that long trips don’t induce any sense of anxiety.
But in the meantime, my recce of what is a regular journey for me did nothing to assuage my range anxiety. Yes, the Ecotricity rapid chargers at services along the M4 should mean I can get to Llanelli with one stop, but I realised that the number of public chargers in the town is, er, one, which has recently been installed by Carmarthenshire County Council (there’s a Tesla charger at rugby stadium Parc y Scarlets, where I have season ticket, but that’s no good for my e-Golf). Relying on one charger being in operation and available is a tad risky, so let’s see how that works out.
In the meantime, my current in-town project is running the battery as low as I can risk it, in order to see exactly how long a full charge will take.
Can I get it down to single figures? That will certainly be a test of my anxiety threshold…
May 30th, 2018
And so the learning begins… I’ve been bimbling about around town, running errands, running the kids around, doing the shopping and so on, all the while trying to get my head around how the e-Golf uses the energy from the batteries – and how that relates to precisely how much range the readout in the instrumental panel is telling me I have.
We’ve had a few fairly hot days in the last week and on one recent trip I decided to use the air-conditioning – leaving the windows open isn’t great for my hay fever. I had a 148-mile range when I switched on the A/C’s Lo setting, which immediately lowered the range to 122 miles.
Suffice to say, I turned the temperature back up and restored my 148 miles. If it stays warm over the next few months, finding the balance between maximising the range and maintaining a cool cabin should be an interesting exercise.
As should driving on motorways. My first foray came last week, in the form of a quick trip to Gatwick. A relatively early morning trip through Croydon, then on to the M23, went well. The 23-mile journey used up 27 miles of range, which seemed pretty reasonable.
As I was returning later that evening, I used the valet service at the short-term parking and asked them to top up the charge (a service they offer). Armed with a 186-mile range for my drive home, and an appointment to make, I felt slightly emboldened and joined the M23 at the speed I would drive at in a conventional car.
The result? Let’s just say the range didn’t stay at 186 miles for long. I lost 50 miles instantly, so eased off and, by the time I left the motorway and started to drive through suburban Croydon, I was down to 123 miles. Driving most of the rest of the way home at 30mph meant that I managed to claw back another 9 miles and ended up at home with 133 miles on the readout.
A quick motorway jaunt, using 27 miles of range to Gatwick and 53 miles back was very instructive: I know I drove a little quicker at the start of my return journey, but not for long, so my process of e-driving trial and error is still very much in a nascent period.
And it doesn’t exactly fill me with optimism for trips to see my family in south Wales. But by the time the rugby season starts again in September, I should be sufficiently au fait with my range management that I can travel there with confidence to watch my beloved Scarlets.
May 24th, 2018
If buyers are going to adopt electric cars, some familiarity will be helpful. There’s almost nothing more familiar on the road than a Volkswagen Golf, so the e-Golf variant is the perfect vehicle in which to experience battery-powered daily driving.
I’ve been driving electric cars for years, but almost all my previous experiences have involved single test drives, after which I’ve been able to walk away, leaving someone else to worry about charging.
Living in a terraced south London house, with no off-street parking, borrowing one for a short-term loan from a manufacturer has always been tricky: I can’t trail a cable from my house across the pavement (a health and safety nightmare waiting to happen) and signing up to a public charging network requires opening an account, etc – which is way too much hassle for a week.
This has always irked me, because living in the metropolis makes me the ideal candidate to be a regular EV driver. Most of my journeys are around the capital, so while I want continued access to what’s increasingly being called a “personal mobility solution”, I also want to do my part to help improve the city’s environment (and its poor air quality).
So I jumped at the chance to run a Volkswagen e-Golf, especially as my local council is starting to roll out more charging points – albeit slowly and in what seems a rather haphazard way (but that’s something I’ll no doubt return to weeks and months to come).
One week in, it is clear that there’s lots to work out about the logistics of running an EV, compared with one powered by an internal combustion engine. As Kyle Fortune has found during his long-term test of a BMW i3S, range anxiety is a real thing as long as a public charging infrastructure is still so sketchy – and it takes on new meaning when you’re already someone who gets twitchy when a fuel gauge drops below half-full.
Working out how to maximise the battery will be a fascinating exercise and one that I’m really looking forward to. And yes, I’m fully aware of how sad and nerdy that makes me sound.
Electric motoring is the future – but until that future arrives, a present in an e-Golf should make life interesting for the next few months.
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