Living with the Volkswagen e-Golf
Electric vehicles are great in principle, but what are they like to live with daily?
Many people are adverse to change, we like what we like, what we know and what we are comfortable with.
This is why the uptake of electric vehicles has been so slow. Despite the technology being available for almost ten years now, the number of electric vehicles on SA’s roads is minimal.
I have driven a variety of fully electric vehicles including the BMW i3, Nissan Leaf, Jaguar I-Pace as well as various prototypes throughout the years at various events and activations, but I have never lived with one and relied on it to get me from A to B as I go about my work and personal obligations.
Volkswagen have a few e-Golfs in South Africa as part of a feasibility study for their next generation of electric vehicles, so when they offered it to me for two weeks I jumped at the opportunity to see how this vehicle would fit into my lifestyle.
What is it like to drive?
The e-Golf offers all the same technology and creature comforts as a regular Volkswagen Golf 7 and fully charged it offers a range of approximately 230km.
The e-Golf is extremely refined. Compared to other electric vehicles, which I have driven, it offers a driving experience very similar to that of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, with a few quirks of course.
Starting the vehicle is by a press of a button, whereby you need to select Drive or Reverse. There is no noise or pomp and ceremony, just a green light that says ready. Apart from forward or reverse, the e-Golf has no gearbox as such. Coupled with the fact that all the power and torque is available from 1 rpm means that it offers rapid acceleration, enough to leave a Golf GTI behind from standstill. This acceleration does taper off at around 80km/h, whereby the GTI catches and passes the e-Golf.
That being said the e-Golf is very smooth and relaxing to drive as it whizzes along. Your driving style does not need adapting but the e-Golf does reward the driver for planning ahead. With two brake regeneration levels, drivers are rewarded with extra range when coasting, so you find yourself coming off the accelerator much sooner and coasting to a stop as opposed to braking for traffic lights or corners. The brake regeneration has been well set up to not be too harsh as was often the case on early electric vehicles.
But overall it is exactly like a Golf 7 and if it was not for the aerodynamically styled wheels you would be hard pressed to tell it apart from a petrol burning Golf.
As someone who likes to be prepared I immediately started researching where the closest charging point is and living in the Centurion the closest public charging point is at the local Jaguar Land Rover dealership. While they would happily facilitate the charging of the e-Golf, this process would take a couple of hours. The dealership is not located in shopping centre, so this would mean I would need to Uber or walk a few kilometres to a coffee shop where I could work while the car charges or do shopping to kill time.
The next best option was the public charging station in the parking lot of the Menlyn Maine shopping centre. So once the range dipped to 50km, I left home and headed there. Upon arrival I had 30km of range remaining. Plugging in the car at the dedicated electric vehicle charging station was an easy affair and I headed to Starbucks to kill time. Fully caffeinated and with a clear inbox 1 hour and 40 minutes later I headed back to the car. 100 minutes of charging had gained me 60km in range, bringing the range up to 90km. Once I had returned home this number had dropped to 70km. This means that returning to my starting location I had only really gained 20km of range after a 2 and a half hour exercise as I had to drive a total of 40 kilometres to and from the charging station.
There is an argument that you should charge your electric vehicle at home and not rely on public facilities. Unfortunately with no charger installed the only place I can charge a vehicle at my house is via the regular plug in the garage and it seems that plug does not supply enough current to actually charge the power hungry e-Golf.
Being able to effectively live with an electric vehicle would require some changes. As an owner of a vehicle like this you would have to have a fast charger installed at your home or office for it to be anywhere near practical.
One would also need to plug the vehicle in each day or every night, much like you do your cell phone, in order to keep it sufficiently topped up.
I really can not fault the e-Golf as a product, the problem is just that our infrastructure has not been developed to support these vehicles yet. Journeys need planning as one cant simply pull into a fuel station, ask for a full tank and drive 500 kilometres at the drop of a hat and that will take some getting used to.
As a general runabout they make perfect sense but your garage would need to contain an internal combustion vehicle of some sort for those longer journeys over weekends and holidays.