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Volkswagen Golf Blue-e-Motion review (2012 prototype)
What - Volkswagen Golf Blue-e-Motion
Where - Fleet, Hampshire
Date - July 2012
Price - Not for sale
Available - 2014 (in Golf Mk7 form)
We like: it's a Golf, it's an electric car: combine the two and you get a very convincing eco car indeed
We don't like: range still limited to 90 miles, which will remain the biggest barrier for potential buyers to overcome
Pre-production all-electric Golf is so convincing, it could go on sale tomorrow. It arrives in 2014, in next-generation form, when hopefully the Golf-loving market will be more receptive to electric cars, too...
The VW Golf is the best-selling car in Europe, by a clear margin. It offers something for everyone, including family-friendly petrol versions, high-mileage diesel expresses, the performance Golf GTI, the specialist Golf R, an estate, a convertible - even a Bluemotion model with supermini-like fuel economy.
So it is only natural that Volkswagen is now planning to launch an all-electric Golf, called Blue-e-Motion. Choosing to convert an existing model instead of designing a ground-up car like the Nissan LEAF, the firm argues this is the best way to bring mass-market EV motoring quickly, acceptably and cheaply.
A test mule based on today's Golf Mk6
The car you see here isn't the finished product. It's a test mule based on today's Golf Mk6. The production electric Golf will be based on the all-new Golf 7 to be launched at the Paris Motor Show in September: the Golf EV will arrive in 2013, and go on sale in the UK by 2014.
The 'mechanical' setup follows the now-established EV template: electric motor in the front, lithium ion batteries stored beneath the rear seat, in the space where the exhaust normally goes, and beneath the boot floor: improvements in battery tech means the latter set won't be necessary come production.
In terms of design, it follows the stock Golf template: apart from the lack of an exhaust pipe, there is nothing to mark it out as being an electric car. Again, this is on purpose: VW feels EV drivers don't want to stand out, in marked contrast to Nissan's bespoke approach with the LEAF.
And for those who aren't convinced, 80 Golf Blue-e-Motions have already been tested by individuals and businesses in Germany last year. Average daily mileage? 18 miles. Range of the electric Golf? 90 miles. Six out of 10 German workers commute by car and the Golf Blue-e-Motion is 'suitable for the majority'.
VW boasts the electric Golf has almost as much pulling power as the Golf GTI - and unlike the turbo hot hatch, it's available instantly here. How you feel this on the road through surging, linear drive that would easily scrabble the front wheels if the ESP traction control didn't kick in.
The electric motor produces 115hp, 10hp more than a Golf Bluemotion diesel, and feels much stronger in town because of all that torque (15lb ft more than the eco diesel). The surge does tail off with speed though: the Golf Blue-e-Motion weighs 135kg more than a regular Golf, which has a big effect.
VW has really thought about this setup though. Many electric cars offer battery charging when you lift off the throttle, and the intensity of this regeneration can be mild or severe. The Golf EV, though, allows you to alter the intensity, by using steering wheel paddles normally operating the DSG gearbox.
Less regeneration means a greater ability to 'coast': more regen means the car slows down more strongly when you lift off, enough to partly substitute for using the brakes. It's a really clever feature that will allow smart users to extend their battery life further - and also entertain keen drivers!
This bit is the most complicated part
This bit is the most complicated part of operating it. With two pedals and a DSG-style gearshifter, the Golf Blue-e-Motion is just like any other automatic Golf to drive. No special instructions were issued during our test: none were needed.
It's not silent at low speeds like most electric cars, though. To help pedestrian safety, VW has installed a sound generator, which operates at speeds below 22mph. It's speed dependent, so the tone rises as you accelerate - and the noise is just like a throbbing V8! Let's hope it makes production.
Ride and handling
No surprises here: it feels just like a Golf. Stable, safe and secure: the ride is a bit firmer, due to stiffer suspension that offsets the extra weight, but rolling refinement remains near-executive car level. With the absence of noise from the engine, it feels even more luxurious on the move.
The different weight distribution - less up front, more in the back - means it handles slightly differently. There's more front-end bite and it seems to thread through bends more neatly. You can feel the greater mass at the rear but it doesn't hinder progress.
The clues that this is an electric car are hard to spot. Again, VW has kept it as familiar as a regular Golf - but for some telling differences. On the centre console, for instance, there is a button marked 'E', which switches between regular or a lower-power, air con-denied 'Range' setting to maximise the capacity of the batteries.
The rev counter is replaced by a power % dial that swings round in response to accelerator position. A 'distance remaining' dial replaces the temperature gauge and a battery charge capacity replaces the fuel gauge: VW offers two ways of assessing remaining range to inform drives as much as possible. The displays are replicated, mobile phone style, on the colour central display screen.
The whine of the motor is subdued
Refinement is first-rate. The Golf is already a very quiet car: remove the engine and it turns into a Mercedes S-Class. The throb of the sound generator intrudes a little at low speed, but this is pleasant rather than objectionable, and the high-speed whine of the electric motor is subdued.
The boot is smaller on this pre-production car, due to the additional battery pack that VW says won't be needed on customer cars. It means the boot won't be much smaller than the regular car - factor in uncompromised interior practicality for a car just as supremely useable as the regular Golf hatch.
Economy and safety
The electric Golf has a range of 'over 90 miles' depending on conditions and driving style. A full charge takes eight hours: VW fits the new 'Combined Charging System' setup that allows ultra-fast charging via a standardised plug. Interestingly, there are two charge points: one behind the fuel filler flap and one behind the VW badge on the grille.
In the interests of battery conservation, VW has limited the top speed to 83mph. Pressing the range-extender button on the dash also caps power to 93hp and the top speed to 59mph. A smartphone app shows battery charge and lets you pre-configure the cabin climate remotely, while the Golf is still plugged in to the mains.
Obviously, it's range-limited. All electric cars are. But it also gives out zero tailpipe emissions, which is what's essential in smoke-choked cities. Given how 78% of drivers cover 31km or less each day, will the huge environment benefits be enough to offset the apparently groundless range anxiety worries?
The MSN Cars verdict
The electric Golf Blue-e-Motion is not, in action, a revolution. The electric drive is extremely satisfying, maybe even preferable to a regular diesel for some, but the car itself does not turn heads or signal the start of a futuristic motoring era.
That's exactly what VW intended. This is a Golf first, an electric car second. Europeans love the regular car but don't love electric cars yet. The hope is this will change their perceptions. As it's so convincing even in pre-production form, we wouldn't bet against it.
Need to know
Engines: 115hp electric motor, 26.5kWh lithium ion batteries
Power, hp: 115
Torque, lb ft: 199
0-62mph, secs: 11.8
Top speed, mph: 83
MPG, combined: n/a
CO2, g/km: 0
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