Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: Buying the e-Golf is a Compromise, But it’s One that I Could Live With

By: Sebastien Bell.
Why do people buy classic cars? They cost a lot of money and need a lot of work, they’re kind of slow, and you’re never quite sure if they’ll make it to where you’re going. I think if you asked a lot of classic owners, though, they’d list those same points as positives. I certainly would. A modern car will get you to where you’re going in great comfort, but we’re increasingly trading comfort and safety for numbness and boredom. A classic, on the other, hand, with their faults and foibles, they engage us. They’re so much more frustrating than a regular car, but so much more rewarding. It’s all about compromise. And when you think you aren’t making a compromise (as in when you buy a new car), you are. Some people are just more aware of the choice they’re making. In much the same way, the e-Golf is a choice with many downsides, but also one with huge upsides.
Before we get into what I mean, it’s worth remembering that, as a reviewer, I get to drive quite a few cars, so, in many ways, a different car is more exciting than a competent car. It can make it difficult to write about Volkswagen given the brand’s determination to have a characteristic through-line in all its cars, but the e-Golf is currently the most unique Volkswagen on the lot, which may explain why it excites me so much. I don’t think, though, that I’ve fallen into the reviewer’s trap. Or, at least, I’m not alone, because on a recent press trip noted e-Golf owner Scott Speed told me (and a room full of journalists) that the car was “money.”
Whereas every other VW, from the Golf to the Atlas, currently feels shockingly similar from the driver’s seat, the e-Golf feels like nothing else. Sure, the amenities, the furnishings, the smells are all familiar, but once you put your foot down on that familiar go-pedal, it’s a deeply unfamiliar feeling of torque. Then more torque. And then a little more for good measure. I would stop short of calling it breakneck acceleration—it’s quick, but it’s not really ludicrous—but it’s good, and it’ll bail you out of a mistake in the corner.
When the road gets twisty, that’s pretty useful. Find yourself a place for some spirited driving and you’re in for a treat. I, myself, have a super-secret hooning-spot that I made my way to. While turning onto the road I had to race an oncoming Jetta TDI to the mouth of the road, so as not to get stuck behind it in my unassuming eco-car. Unfortunately for him, he seemed to be just as interested as me in some spirited driving, so I felt it my duty not to trap him. Around the first real corner, it became obvious that I wasn’t out for a cruise, which seemed to please him as he tried to catch me. The puffs of soot coming out of his tail pipe indicated, if nothing else, that he wasn’t bored with his playmate and the growing distance between us gave me confidence that I wasn’t holding him up.
And neither was I, it must be said. The car’s slim, energy saving tires don’t grip that well, but the car is very well damped and the weight is down low, so turn in is good and the balance is surprisingly neutral. Moreover, the steering is communicative and the torque coming out of the corners gives you all the confidence in the world to really carry speed. And sure, with the electric motor, you lose the ability row through the gears, but in recovery mode, you get the sensation of engine braking, which goes much of the way to making you feel involved in the driving experience. In fact, it does a better job at engaging you than the faux-sequential gearbox in most autos. And the lack of tire grip only makes the drive more fun, because it’s so much easier to reach the limits of grip.
So despite its reputation for greenliness, it’s a fun car. Like all the best classics, it’s a ball to drive enthusiastically. Unfortunately, much like those same classics, it’s when great distances arise that things start to get nerve-wracking. The one problem with my little ribbon of fun road is that it’s quite some distance from my home, so getting there turned into a bit more of an adventure than I wanted it to.
With a full charge, the e-Golf has about a 126 miles of range and you could easily go that distance and more, were you to stay off the highway. As soon as the wind picks up and you try to maintain 60 mph the range drops precipitously. So you really end up driving the speed limit, which is annoying to everyone else on the road. I’m the first to argue that hypermiling, or indeed any kind of conscious driving, is fun, but sometimes you do want to just get home, and the (observed) 24-hour charge time means that running out of gas has a pretty steep penalty, one that will make you think twice about going places far away for anything less than a weekend. I’m sympathetic to arguments that most drives aren’t that long, and indeed, during the usual weekly driving, the range on the e-Golf was more than ample. I genuinely didn’t think about it at all, except in the hypermiling sense. But saying that I didn’t worry about range, is a bit like saying that a dog didn’t bite you even a little bit. It’s undeniably a good thing, but you’d also hope not to have to mention it. So the e-Golf isn’t really a whole car in the same way that the un-e Golf is. But then again, the same could be said about the Scirocco.
To buy an e-Golf is, truthfully, to make a compromise. That said, all cars are a compromise. They just aren’t all compromise that we have to think about. And some of the deals were making right now we might come to regret. Many people criticize electric car manufacturers of overstating EVs’ greenness, and indeed I (accidentally) ran over a squirrel while in the e-Golf, on a road that had bifurcated a forest, doubtless cutting off the squirrel’s historical nut gathering territory. And even the power used to charge the car that used the road that cut off the squirrel’s nut gathering territory thereby killing it was generated at a nuclear power plant, which is, in many ways, mortgaging the future and testing our children’s’ ability to deal with the waste. So it’s by no means perfect. But Bloomberg recently published that, by its estimates, that the wide adoption of EVs will only account for 5% of electricity consumption and will reduce humanity’s use of oil by 8 million barrels per day. It ain’t perfect, but by that math, the e-Golf looks like it might be worth it.
Whatever you think of viability of EVs, it fails to change the fact that the e-Golf—this e-Golf right now—despite not quite doing everything the g-Golf can, was one of the most exciting, futuristic, engaging cars I’ve ever driven. I can’t say if you should buy this car. That really depends on you. But if you can afford to own a car that might not be necessary 100% of the time, a hatchback for short hauls, this is good enough to be it and on top of that, it’s fun. And isn’t that really what you want out of your car?

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