Volkswagen’s New Electric Is ‘a Golf First, and Zero-Emission Second’

Der neue Volkswagen e-Golf

Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK) is perhaps best known for its diesel technologies, as it was one of the first manufacturers to have its signature TDI diesel engines approved for the updated U.S. emissions codes that sent many others back to the drawing boards. VW then spread its TDI technology to a couple of models, and it’s now an integral part of the company’s lineup.

However, instead of relying on the high-MPG diesels to keep up its fleet fuel economy averages, Volkswagen has been dabbling in electric cars and hybrids, though not nearly to the extent of some of its Japanese competition. The fruits of these labors include the still conceptual R8 e-tron, the similar A3 e-Tron, the available-for-purchase Jetta hybrid, and the forthcoming e-Golf — which was recently driven by the folks over at Green Car Reports and is especially exciting since it will be VW’s first fully electric vehicle to hit U.S. showrooms when it arrives later this year.

The e-Golf will arrive alongside the seventh-generation Golf as the beloved namesake celebrates its 40th birthday. The 2015-generation Golf has actually been on sale in Europe since 2012. Pilot production for the new car has started at Volkswagen’s plant in Mexico, Green Car Reports says, adding that production of the U.S.-spec e-Golf will be in Wolfsburg, Germany.

GCR was able to take the e-Golf around parts of Berlin for about 20 miles in what was largely urban, stop-and-go traffic — conditions suited for a car like the e-Golf, as its limited range and small footprint make it an ideal vehicle for city commuters. “Overall, our impressions were favorable,” reporter John Voelcker said.

Der neue Volkswagen e-Golf

“The electric Volkswagen Golf is exactly what VW intended it to be: the first production model in the Golf line to use a battery-electric powertrain, but otherwise every bit a Golf,” Voelcker added. That’s good news for Golf fans, as the car has enjoyed a cult-like following since the 1970s.

The e-Golf uses a 700-pound, 24.2 kWh, air-cooled lithium-ion battery pack that allows the car to put out a max of about 115 horsepower. That’s not super impressive, but remember two things when talking about electric cars: torque is likely way up and instantaneous, and the e-Golf is a city car first and a road-trip car in a distant second. Chances are high that buyers won’t be needing a whole lot more than that.

GCR reports that there’s no detriment to cargo space when compared to the diesel or gasoline models, which is a big plus. The Chevrolet Volt, for example, had to forgo a third seat in the rear because the battery pack wouldn’t allow it.

“On the road, the e-Golf is essentially a brand-new Volkswagen Golf with the quietest powertrain of the several offered in the car,” Voelcker wrote of his time behind the wheel. “The company stressed that its goal was to provide a car that was ‘a Golf first, and zero-emission second,’ and that’s exactly what it has done.” That should keep the Golf purists happy, for sure.

“Sporty handling” and “suitable for families” were also terms thrown around by VW’s engineers, and Voelcker was pleased to report that the e-Golf met both criteria.

The e-Golf sports three different driving modes, depending on how aggressively the driver wants to preserve charge. A person can choose from Standard, Eco, and Eco+, all of which are fairly self explanatory modes of charge protection. To achieve power savings, each mode will increasingly repress the power output and limit the top speed and ventilation output, reprofiles the acceleration, and slightly cuts maximum power from the motor (from 85 to 55 kW depending on the setting), Voelcker noted.

“VW’s U.S. representatives said the company hopes to create an electric-car ownership experience second to none,” he said. This could potentially include “loaner cars for longer trips, roadside assistance, carbon offsets for electricity used to recharge the e-Golf, and other elements–that reflects best practices across all current plug-in offerings,” according to the GCR report.

Pricing and such have not yet been disclosed, and GCR says that the e-Golf will first go on sale in the EV strongholds like California and several Northeast states.