2017 VW E-Golf SEL Premium – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis

OK, we’re a little late to the EV game. We recently tested the Soul EV, and came away charmed by the unique driving experience, and the way Kia made the electric Soul feel special and unique – like driving a car of the future.

Which is a great counterpoint to the VW Golf EV. While the Kia celebrates its EV-ness, the Golf plays it the other way – it completely feels like any other Golf, the only difference is that it has a different way of fueling up. For someone with EV anxiety, or who just wants to go electric with a minimum of fuss, it’s an easy way. But as we found out, it has surprises in store for the driver.

Looks like…. a Golf

Well, no problem here. The handsome, 5-door hatch has European sensibility written all over it. It’s a conservative design that’s aged well. It plays its EV cards close to its chest, with only a few clues to those in the know. The greatest telltale being the C-shaped LED daytime running lights in front and LED taillights in the rear.

There are also special badges and cool blue accents. Unique 16-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in low rolling resistance tires that look a tad futuristic, and of course, you’ll find no tailpipe. On the other hand, you charge where you’d expect to find the fuel filler door on the right rear flank. No cute pop-up nose flap here. Like we said, normal. Our tester, in a tasteful White Silver Metallic could be any Golf out to make its fortune in the wider world.

And on the inside…more Golf

No problem here, either. Like all VW’s, the seats are well-designed and comfortable, and the quality of materials is top of the class. Our upscale SEL Premium model featured hard-wearing V-Tex leatherette, while the soft silver trim looked rich and upscale. With standard keyless access with push-button start; heated front seats; dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel; cruise control and rearview camera, you feel surrounded in tech goodness.

So, you don’t feel completely left out of the electric vehicle club, there are little bits of blue trim, like stitching on the steering wheel, and blue inserts on the shift lever that hint at the EV nature, but that’s about it.

They even go so far as to make the power meter gauge look like a tachometer, and the battery charge level look like a fuel gauge. In between the gauges, a driver-assist display serves up the pertinent info. This could be any Golf.

On the center console is a handsome glass-covered 8” touchscreen, with VW’s Car-Net connected services, Apple CarPlay, and neat stuff like a JPEG viewer, the ability to read text messages from compatible phones, and pair two phones simultaneously. Best of all, even though it’s a full touch-screen, VW still gives you knobs for volume control and station tuning. Kudos!

(Note: our tester was a 2017 model. For 2018, you can get the cool Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, with an Audi-like 12.3” high res display replacing the standard gauges.)

We didn’t feel left out – our tester’s infotainment display served up EV-specific features like driving data, charging times, and remote climate control settings. There’s even the “Think Blue. Trainer” which gives tips on conserving battery life, fun training exercises and optional training models to encourage drivers to develop more efficient driving habits. If you’re in to that sort of thing…

You won’t have to compromise on functionality. Like all Golfs, the 5-door hatchback is a little tight on rear legroom, but serves up plenty of headroom. Cargo space is excellent, with no loss of space with the conversion to battery/EV power. 22.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and a spacious 52.7 cubic with the seats folded down. Notably, the seats fold flat to give you a really useful storage space.

Drives like a Golf…. sort of.

While VW has set you up to think the driving experience will be virtually indistinguishable from the garden-variety model, it isn’t. It’s a lot more fun! 2017 models like our tester got a big bump over last year, with a 35.8 kWh battery pack that extends the range to a useful 125 miles (83 previous).

You’ll enjoy that range, with the motor kicking out 134 hp and 214 lb.-ft. of torque. Like most EV’s, that torque is near instantaneous, and it lets the little Golf leap off the line with the kind of vigor you’d expect in a GTI. It’s a different kind of thrill though, since the EV powertrain is nearly silent. Whoooosh and away you go.

While we had a choice of three driving modes Normal, Eco, and Eco+, we were having too much fun in Normal to try to be thrifty. If you want to be more efficient you can tap the shift lever and choose between three modes of regenerative braking, offering major slow-down just by lifting off the accelerator pedal.

The Golf’s battery pack sitting low in the chassis and the tight dimensions also make the E-Golf fun to hustle around town, with that low-end torque, excellent maneuverability, and sweet German-designed chassis dynamics. We’re becoming big EV fans. Add in a smooth and compliant ride, and this is an EV any driver could love as a daily.

We also found it an interesting comparison to the Soul EV we recently tested. With a good mix of freeway and street driving, our test commute used up 27 miles of range in the Soul EV. In the e-Golf, only 11miles. We credit the smaller, more aero-slippery Golf as needing less energy to cruise, especially on the Freeway where EV’s tend to be less efficient.

Priced like… an EV.

If there’s a bummer here, it’s one shared by all electric vehicles: they’re pricey. The e-Golf starts with the SE model at $30,495. Our top-of-the-line SEL Premium started at $36,995. Our tester also added the driver assistance package, ($1,395) which includes Forward Collision Warning with Autonomous Emergency Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert, Park Assist and Digital Cockpit. Excellent value, and highly recommended.

All told, with $850 Destination Charge, our tester carried a sticker of $39,240. Big Gulp. Actually, the government makes it more of a Small Gulp, thanks to a Federal Rebate of $7,500. In California, there’s also an additional $2,500 in incentives. For an apples to apples comparo, that means an e-Golf SE nets out at $21,390. A comparably-equipped gas engine Golf SE rings the bell at $25,650. EV temptation sets in.

Like we said in the Soul EV test, we’d recommend leasing over purchase. In certain states an EV is a compliance car – the manufacturers have to sell a certain amount to stay clear of the EPA, so the carmakers often offer tasty deals. Taste test in your area for best value.

Also, it seems that EV buyers are fickle, and used models lose their value – EV buyers like the latest and greatest in their tech. On the other hand, that could make a used e-Golf an excellent deal. Your call.

We frankly were wowed by the e-Golf. So much fun to drive. No loss in utility and capability. No steep learning curve – it drives, works, functions like any other Golf. The range is more than adequate for our uses. And probably for 90% of folks out there, too.

The e-Golf is a great first EV for any driver –

and maybe all the EV you’ll ever need.