Review: Volkswagen e-UP! Part Two

Having discovered just how poor the range of the Volkswagen e-UP! is, I then set about using the car in a rather more typical fashion. An awful lot of my journeys are short ones, to neighbouring villages and towns. Here, the e-UP! was just fantastic. I like having so much torque in so small a car. Great for acceleration and for climbing the great many hills in these parts.

A City car, emphatically not in a city

A City car, emphatically not in a city

Even better, the short range isn’t an issue so close to home, so I could drove the e-UP! in a much more spirited fashion – much more how I’d normally choose to drive.

In those circumstances, I was averaging around 3 to 3.2 miles per kilowatt hour, so about a mile less per kilowatt hour than when I was driving as gently as possible. I don’t feel that’s too bad at all, especially with lots of heater use and sub-zero temperatures at times.

But naturally, I got bored just testing the e-UP! on sealed surfaces, so I also indulged in a little light greenlaning. All this and more is contained within my latest video. Enjoy!

Video: The Eco Car Con

The government is working hard to encourage us to buy brand new, environmentally friendly cars. But is it actually better for the environment than just keeping our existing cars going? Inspired by a question by one of my followers, I decided to investigate.

Could it be that new is not best after all?

Could it be that new is not best after all?

Now, this is not that easy to get to the bottom of, because there are an awful lot of variables. Certainly, my XM doing 10,000 miles a year kicks out about the same amount of pollution as a brand new Land Rover Freelander diesel auto doing the same mileage, or better than an electric car doing 25,000 miles a year. Yes, electric has a dirty footprint too – in the UK at least. Paraguay is actually leading the way with renewables while we still rely on dirty gas and coal. Encouragingly though, this summer apparently renewables were more productive than coal. A step in the right direction?

But it’s manufacturing that still generates most emissions. Now, this will vary dramatically from car to car, but as far as I could find out, building a car the size and specification of my Citroen XM today probably produces about 20 tons of CO2, whereas driving it for a year generates 2.5-3.0 tons. I do more investigation in my latest video.

A new Citroen I actually like!

Yes, I’m surprised too. Since the demise of the XM and Xantia, I’m not sure there has been a Citroen that I actually want to own. Nice as a C6 is, they’re a bit – needy. And huge. And scary.

The Citroen I would really like to own is not huge. It’s not really a Citroen at all – it’s a Mitsubishi. But hold on a minute. What actually is a Citroen these days? The C1 is a Toyota while everything else is just rehashed Peugeot. Hydropneumatic suspension is dead and the entire range is one big pile of Meh. The Cactus looks a bit interesting, and has a nice interior, but I wouldn’t rate it as desirable.

Stupidly exciting. No, really.

Stupidly exciting. No, really.

The C-Zero on the other hand, that really does appeal. For a start, it’s based on a Japanese Kei-car – built to strict regulations on size and speed. My Perodua Nippa began life as Kei-Car (though it’s 847cc is over the 660cc limit). I’ve always loved Kei cars and the skinny, high-up looks of the C-Zero put me in mind of the 2CV.

Best of all, the C-Zero is electric, so EV kicks ahoy! One of the first electric cars in fact, with the Mitsubishi i-MIEV on which it is based launched in 2009. It seems to be a fairly good one as well – I’ve spent a lot of time looking into this. Now sure, it’s no Nissan LEAF – it’s far smaller for a start and a lot lighter – a good few hundred KG. That makes a difference. While it’s range is firmly in the 60-80 mile range, that’s pretty similar to an early LEAF. It’s an entirely useful amount of range, just not for every journey you’ll ever do. I reckon it’d cover about 90% of my journeys. The range isn’t brilliant, but that’s because the battery is a lot smaller than a LEAF. It has to be, the car is much smaller. The major benefit here is that charging time is reduced – seven hours from pretty empty to full compared with ten hours for a LEAF. Appealing.

But the good news doesn’t end there. Citroen (and Peugeot with the identical iON) actually suspended their agreement with Mitsubishi while they tried to sell existing stock. I think that must be complete now and with the agreement rumoured to cover 100,000 vehicles (split between Peugeot and Citroen), they seem keen to make a real crack of it again – the price has dropped to a remarkable £11,995 on the road (including government grant). That’s astonishing! These cars were £28,000 or more when they first hit the market.

Given that a brand new Renault Twingo starts at £9495, it puts the C-Zero on a far closer par with a petrol equivalent. It makes me want to dash out and do something stupid on finance, which is a feeling I haven’t had for many years. I won’t of course, because my wife would kill me, and I quite like living a finance-free existance, but even so…

You’re probably wondering what a C-Zero is like to drive though. So am I. Frustratingly, I’ve been utterly unable to get my hands on an i-MIEV, C-Zero or iON so I’ve no idea. None of the manufacturers seems to have one on the press fleet and dealers have been less than sympathetic. And often bloomin’ miles away too!

Needless to say, if you do own one and don’t mind a strange chap with a beard having a drive, do let me know!

EV: Still can’t bloomin’ afford one

Every time I plug my smart phone in for its daily dose of electricity, I’m reminded of my love for electric vehicles (EV). Cars that to make go further, you simply plug into a socket.

Also, every time I go down a hill in a conventional (or ICE for Internal Combustion Engine) vehicle, I’m appalled at the sheer waste. All that potential energy lost though the brake system as heat. If I was in an electric vehicle, that energy could be recouped as range-extending electricity.

It may seem a small thing, but when I tested the Nissan e-NV200 Combi, I found it easy to generate more than 1kwh of electricity (per charge) through regenerative braking. Now, that might not sound much, but as I discovered with the Volkswagen e-Golf, it’s possible to drive 5 miles or more per kilowatt hour. That’s five miles of range generated for free! Pure gravity. It must be said, those figures were obtained without trying particularly hard either. Even with the short range of electric vehicles, I tend not to hang about.

Nissan electric van

Nissan e-NV200 Combi. Encourages economical efforts.

That said, I’m pretty sure that I drive much more economically in an EV than an ICE. It’s all too easy to just put my foot to the floor with petrol power, as you don’t get an instant sense of how bad that is. Shove your foot down in an EV and while you (usually) get a wonderful shove in the back, you also watch the range begin to plummet. With an EV, you have to drive efficiently.

Here’s the thing though. I still find that HUGELY enjoyable! When I had the e-Golf, I drove it on a very testing challenge across Snowdonia. Here are some of the finest driving roads you could wish for. I had a great time, but I also managed to drive very economically – 5.1 miles per kilowatt hour. That’s pretty impressive for an electric car. Especially as my average speed for the entire trip was 39mph. Given that there was very little dual carriageway and no motorway at all, I consider that quite remarkable. I doubt I could safely achieve more in an ICE. In Snowdonia, you just can’t drive much quicker than that.

Electric Car Charger EV

Certainly, EVs are a lot more pleasant to refuel. No smelly diesel or petrol here – just over there.

I’m sure that I’m now driving my ICE’d cars more economically too. Owning a 2CV has been really useful, because you learn a lot about momentum conservation. Finding the racing line (even if you stay your side of the central white line), judging your speed well so you don’t end up scrubbing too much away as you turn and trying to anticipate road and traffic conditions to avoid harsh braking. I HATE harsh braking! Yet lots of people do it. Smooth braking is a lot more comfortable, and also more economical.

Frankly, I’m a bit astounded by how much I love driving electric vehicles. I love the clean, smooth power delivery and the way you can often use different modes to boost the engine brake sensation – ie activate the regenerative braking without you even having to touch the brake pedal. It means you can easily control your pace with just one pedal. That’s very satisfying.

Electric makes so much sense for so much of my driving too. Sure, it would have made the trip to France a bit difficult – the charging infrastructure is barely keeping up with demand and some areas are still worryingly free of chargers – but for the vast majority of my time at the wheel, I’m driving distances between four and 25 miles. No trauma for even the worst EVs. I could even manage that in a G-Wiz – albeit very slowly.

A LEAF awaits its charge as the e-NV200 fills up

Congestion at charge points already becoming an issue.

But alas, the youngest EVs worth having are still only five years old. I’m starting to see Nissan LEAFs below £8000, and the Renault ZOE for as little as £6500 (albeit with a monthly battery lease to pay on top). Still way out of range for me given that my current ‘moderns’ cost £300 and £375 each. It’s a frustrating business waiting for depreciation to kick in, and waiting to see if EVs develop any ageing issues now they’re getting on a bit. There are interesting times ahead, and an EV will definitely be joining my fleet. I just can’t say when.

The realities of EV living

Another of my electric vehicle (EV) experiments is over, so I thought I’d tell you all you need to know about the realities of using an EV everyday.

A LEAF awaits its charge as the e-NV200 fills up

The electric era is now firmly with us. Would you choose an EV?

I’ll start with the positives. There is no power delivery system quite like an electric motor. That instant shove-in-the-back when you need it, and the irresistibly smooth power delivery when you’d rather take things a little more easily. Electric cars are so easy and effortless to drive that it’s easy to wonder why people still bother with those fuel-munching motors still found in most cars.

Sure, some modern cars are wonderful and quiet on the move, but you still won’t find many family cars that offer quite as much refinement. Diesels sound especially horrid these days, and are fast attracting a reputation for pumping out some really nasty pollutants.

That means they’re weighed down with loads of anti-emission kit, and stuff like dual mass flywheels to try and make them smoother. There’s an awful lot waiting to go wrong on a modern diesel. I really would rather go electric. Petrol engines have fewer issues, but they tend to lack bottom end torque, which means they’re not always relaxing to drive. Ford’s remarkable Ecoboost engines (also found in Peugeots and Citroens these days) go against the grain, but will they prove reliable in the long-term? 124bhp per litre is pretty strong stuff.

I think I’d rather still go electric, as the fundamentals are so simple. There are so few moving parts.

I’m not sure whether to claim environmental reasons as a good reason to go EV. Certainly, if you do a lot of city driving, you’re moving the vehicle emissions away from the city centre by choosing EV – as the power is generated elsewhere. That’s good. Some of that power comes from renewable sources too. My gut feel is that electric is, overall, better for the environment, especially when you take into consideration the impact of drilling for oil, fracking and then also having to mine stuff like platinum for the exhaust catalytic converter. Mind you, the lithium used in EV batteries isn’t exactly pleasant stuff either. Suffice it to say that I don’t think the environmental message stands up on its own.

A refreshing lack of plastic in the e-NV200's engine bay

Far fewer moving parts in this Nissan e-NV200 Combi, and no dirty engine oil!

Range is still an issue too. While I discovered last week that it’s pretty easy to travel 300 miles in one day in an electric vehicle, I did spend pretty much the whole time anxiously keeping an eye on predicted range vs predicted mileage to destination. You just can’t turn off, and while that does great things for economy – because you tend to do your utmost to keep power use as low as possible – it’s not necessarily how most of us are accustomed to driving. There’s still that “fuel light on, running on dregs” feeling, and longer journeys need serious planning, though both of these concerns will be reduced as the charging infrastructure is improved.

There’s another easy solution to this. Don’t use an EV for long journeys! Many households have more than one car, or you could consider hiring a car for a long-distance trip. I spent two days of e-Golf custodianship using it how it should be used. I nipped to the shops in it. I visited local friends. I drove a short distance so we could have a walk by the sea. I didn’t charge the car for two days, because it wasn’t necessary. This is where the magic of electric really shines. For those short, local trips, it’s absolutely ideal. Especially when travelling a few miles from one village to another. The sort of journeys where combustion engines are barely warming up, and so are woefully inefficient – this study found that cold engines consume 13.5% more fuel when cold. That’s more emissions for less movement.

I must concede that a great amount of my driving is less than 30 miles a day. For a week, the e-Golf entirely replaced my own vehicles, and no hardship was created because of this. Yes, I work from home, but the same would have been true even if I had needed to commute up to 50 miles a day (which is the most I’ve ever wanted to).

But let’s look at benefits again, because combustion cars still require servicing. So do EVs, but there’s much less to do! No filters, no filthy engine oil to dispose of, no clutch to wear out, no exhaust to rot away. EVs even tend to be kinder to their brakes, so pads need replacing less often (due to regeneration effect where the motor generates electricity, thereby slowing the vehicle). That also means that your front wheels won’t get so dirty through pad wear build up!

Battery life is still the elephant in the room, and yes, that’s still a bit unknown in the long term. A taxi company in Cornwall has a Nissan LEAF with over 100,000 miles on the clock, and the battery is still pretty much fine – despite or perhaps because of being rapid charged several times a day. The success of that car seems to have even surprised Nissan, who previously were a bit wary of recommending frequent rapid charging.

I’m pretty convinced that for an awful lot of people, electric power now makes a lot of sense. It still depends on your access to electricity (a fast charger at home/work or access to the rapid charger network) but with prices for really very decent electric cars dropping as little as £6000-7000 now, the EV solution looks ever more appealing.

Road Test: Volkswagen e-Golf Conclusions

Part 5. In which I actually make my mind up

My time with the e-Golf is almost over. In a week, I’ve covered over 700 miles putting this car properly through its paces. I have undertaken long trips, and it has also entirely replaced my own cars for normal car stuff – like going to the shops and general bimbling about. So, how has it been?


After 700 miles, have we reached a conclusion?

Firstly, you’ll find all the detail here, in my Introduction, Clever Tech, Downsides and Roadtrip reports. There I talk about the features and realities of the e-Golf, enabling me to keep this conclusion fairly short. For once.

It must be said – the e-Golf is a very capable machine. It should be. The Mk7 Golf is a very good basis. Mix in the super-smooth EV driving experience and you have a car that stands up very well. I don’t doubt for a moment that anyone buying an e-Golf would find it a very satisfactory experience.

But there are one or two caveats. Charging is perhaps the biggest issue. As I covered in downsides, the lack of a large on-board charger, and incompatibility with the most common form of rapid charger do put restrictions on use. Volkswagen have told me that they’re looking into an on-board charger upgrade in the future (no timescale specified) and the necessary CCS rapid chargers are becoming more widespread, so perhaps these issues will simply go away.

The other is price. Some will find it absolutely fine to pay a little more for what is seen by many as a prestige product. It certainly feels very well screwed together, but so do most cars these days. Seriously, a Nissan LEAF more than matches it for refinement and build quality. The e-Golf scores a few points over its British-built rival with the Adaptive Cruise Control though. I’m simply staggered at how well it works most of the time (not the smoothest in stop/start traffic) and how relaxing it makes the driving experience once you learn to trust it.

e-Golf engine

The e-Golf’s motor looks fairly engine-like!

I do have some concerns about rapid charging – the Volkswagen battery guarantee advises against doing it more than twice in succession (I did it three times yesterday, naughty me). That really rules the e-Golf out for those doing motorway miles or long distance trips on a regular basis. Which is annoying. That really does restrict the e-Golf to second car duty – ideal for those local trips (whether you live in the city or somewhere more rural).

The range is impressive – a genuine 100 miles seems possible, even in the hilly terrain of Wales. Of course, the caveat here is that I have not tested this vehicle in the winter (there’s an idea). My previous tests have deliberately been conducted in November, as that’s the hardest time of year for an EV. The less aerodynamic, heavier Nissan e-NV200 found 61 miles a real struggle when it was really cold against its claimed range of 106 miles (the e-Golf’s claimed range is 118 miles).

Overall then, this is a seriously impressive car albeit with a hefty price tag. Certainly, it only justifies its cheaper running costs (free road tax, cheap fuel) if you’re in the market for a new car anyway. Were I in the market for new, I’m not sure petrol and diesel would tempt me, so I’d be inclined towards EV. If I had the money, choosing between e-Golf and LEAF (I’m yet to test the Kia Soul and BMW i3) would certainly not be easy. I doubt I’d feel hard done by with either. They’re both great examples of just how far electric vehicles have come in recent years.

e-Golf: The biggest electric road trip yet

Road Test Part 4 – The 300-mile roadtrip. Part 3 (The not-so good) Here

Sorry, you’ll have a further wait for my conclusions on the Volkswagen e-Golf, as I first need to relate the details of my biggest ever electric car road trip.

I began the day aiming to crack 200 miles in the day, though I’d actually done this before with the Nissan e-NV200. After failing the other day, I aimed to get a rapid charge at Oswestry on the Electric Highway. From there, I would hopefully head north – probably to Chester, though that opened up the whole of the M6 and therefore, much of England.

Success! e-Golf slurps DC current at 110Amps.

Success! e-Golf slurps DC current at 110Amps.

Now, things didn’t start all that well. The first two attempts to get electrons flowing resulted in a baffling error message. So, I did what any IT bod would do. I effectively rebooted it by removing the connector from the car and starting again. Third time lucky, and I could head off for a brew.

It was definitely time for a brew, as I’d been driving for almost two hours by this point, having covered 62 miles on typical Welsh A roads. By the time I got back to the car, it was already at 85% charge! It had been at 48% when I arrived just 15 minutes earlier. Charging slows as the battery fills, so although going to maximum is not advised (certainly on a regular basis – it’s healthier to stop at 80%), I left it going and supped my brew. And perhaps a cookie.

Soon enough, it was time to continue my journey. I headed up the A483 towards Chester. Now, Chester is a nice place, but the next rapid charger was a mere 35 miles away. That hardly felt like the stuff of adventure. Hold on. Isn’t there (bizzarely) a rapid charger on Holyhead? A quick consultation of Ecotricity’s map revealed that this was the case. Sat nav reckoned it was 92 miles away. The range estimate was 98 miles. Easy!

Of course, I may have neglected to remember that Snowdonia lies between the two, and that electric cars (and normal cars for that matter) use up a lot more energy when climbing hills. I got off to a good start though, and twenty miles in, it still reckoned it had over 80 miles of range. Brilliant. I passed through beautiful Llangollen (for the third time this year), delightful Betws-y-Coed and as I climbed the next steep hill, noted that I appeared to have 38 miles of range for the 34 remaining miles. Ah. I knocked the cruise control down from 50mph to 45. Perhaps if I climbed hills more slowly, all would be well.

Normally, travelling this slowly would pain me – even going uphill in the 2CV – but actually, it was really relaxing. Mainly because this was not a weekend and there was not much traffic. Incredibly, I still encountered folk going more slowly than me! I set the Adaptive Cruise Control and let the e-Golf follow their pace. Saving yet more miles. As we neared the A55, the range was again around 20 miles higher than my destination distance. I could do 60mph with relish.

I arrived at Holyhead with a full 16 miles of spare range. The charger (or rather chargers) took a little finding, being hidden at the far end of the short term car park at The Port of Holyhead. I was pleased with my stats so far though.

e-Golf figures

5.2 miles per kilowatt hour is pretty impressive for the speed and terrain!

Frankly, managing to AVERAGE 40mph across Snowdonia and mid-Wales is not bad in any car. But to do it while achieving a very creditable 5.2 miles per kilowatt hour impressed me no end. Clearly all the momentum-conservation tips I’ve learnt through 2CVing came in useful, as did actually allowing the car to slow on hills rather than using all of that beautiful torque to keep the speed up. It was also fun, as I didn’t slow down much for bends…

At Holyhead, the only issue was that I first parked at a charger that didn’t have the DC CCS plug I needed. The other one did, and started charging straight away – no issues.

Electric Highway Holyhead

Just to prove it. That’s a ferry in the background at Holyhead.

The only other issue is that the port is unremittingly grim! I’m glad I only had to enter the main building to use the toilet. I charged to about 90%, giving a range of 100 miles, and set off back to Oswestry.

There seemed a little more traffic on the way back, so I made more use of the cruise control. I found it accelerated more gently when placed in Eco mode, so I sat back to enjoy the views, listen to BBC Radio 6 Music on DAB (where terrain allowed) and focus merely on not steering the car off the road. I did get fed up with a dawdler in a BMW at one point and made a lavish, range-sapping overtake. That torque means you can zip past and expose yourself to danger for a very short period. Confident I’d make it back with miles to spare, I allowed myself the luxury of a 60mph cruise.

There was one brief period after a long climb where the range dropped below the predicted mileage, and the car started frantically asking me if I wanted to find a charging station. For a giggle, I told it to do this, and it told me it couldn’t find any. None of the Electric Highway chargers seem to be on its map. This is poor.

But I made it anyway, gave it another charge, drank more tea (I refuse to comment on cookie intake) and headed home. I had way more charge than I needed, so got a positive hoon on along the A44. It’s a nice car to drive briskly. As I pulled up at home, the e-Golf reported that it’d clocked up 300 miles since leaving home that morning. In total, I’ve driven this car 700 miles since Thursday. Not bad going for any car, but unthinkable with an electric car only a few years ago. Truly, times have changed.

Road Test: Volkswagen e-Golf. The not-so-good

Road Test Part 3. Part 2 (Clever Tech) here

No car is perfect. Not even the Citroen 2CV. So here are the less-good things my review on the Volkswagen e-Golf has found in my real-world road test.

Firstly, there’s price. At £27,395 on the road, this one is certainly not what you’d call cheap. I configured a top-spec Nissan LEAF Tekna with metallic paint, all-round parking sensors and a meaty 6.6kW on-board charger (quite expensive at £1150 extra) and the on the road price was £25,590. With the LEAF, you can down-spec (Visia trim starts at £16,490). With the e-Golf, there’s only one level of trim and quite a lengthy options list.

Electric Car Charger  EV

Free, non-smelling fuel – but charger confusion ruins dream.

You cannot specify a 6.6kW charger with the e-Golf, which is probably the next big hurdle. The optional bigger charger means a 32amp home supply can charge a LEAF in just four hours. The e-Golf will take eight – which isn’t that useful a saving over the 13 hours it takes to charge from a simple 13 amp plug. In short, it means it needs to charge overnight. Volkswagen are aware of the issue and there is talk of an upgrade to the spec at some point. Really though, they’re behind the game in this regard. Kia already packs a 6.6kW charger as standard on its Soul EV. Incidentally, the Soul EV’s RRP is £24,995 after grant, and it packs an impressive spec – including a 7-year, 100,000 mile warranty. Metallic paint is free.

The e-Golf has another downside to charging – albeit one which is steadily improving. To rapid charge with DC (say at motorway services) you need to find what’s known as a CCS charger – Combined Charging System. Sadly, most DC rapid chargers use a ChaDeMo plug. It doesn’t fit the e-Golf. There are two CCS chargers in Wales. One is on Anglesey, the other is in Llanelli and doesn’t work. I visited one in Oswestry the other day, but got confused by the complete lack of labelling on the charger, and pages and pages of info in the owner’s manual that I found it hard to make sense of. I just could not easily see the information I needed and hadn’t realise that a lower cover needs removing from the charge port to allow use of a CCS plug. I did get the AC socket to work, but that relies on the slow on-board charger, so it took two hours to get enough juice on board. And I then discovered that this was not enough after encountering a few hills! I was forced to stop at the excellent EV-friendly Blaenglanhanog self-catering cottage where the owners kindly let me juice up some more. That took another two hours. Sure, some of this was my fault – I should have taken longer to make sense of the handbook – but it goes to show how something easy may not see so to a novice. It should be noted that more CCS chargers are being rolled out. See ZapMap for more.

Fast charging wall box

The friendly folk at Blaenglanhanog allow me to use their fast charger.

To be honest, those charging issues are the main gripe with the e-Golf. Yes, the ride is a bit firm and jiggly at times, but that’s sadly common with many modern cars. Low-profile tyres certainly don’t help here. I’m also not all that keen on how wide the centre console is – what’s hiding under there? It’s like the transmission tunnel in an E-Type Jaguar and I find my leg rests, uncomfortably, on the hard plastic if my foot is on the ‘clutch’ rest.

That’s probably just a personal thing though, as is annoyance at the number of beeps and bongs. One final issue was revealed as I visited Blaenglanhanog though, which is along a gated track. The e-Golf chucks a massive hissy fit if you get out while it is still ‘running.’ In effect, you have to restart it every time you get back in. Which can be quite often on a gated road!

EDIT 25/06/15 I need to add a few more gripes now I’ve covered over 700 miles in this car. The first one is that the climate control resets every time you turn it on. It puts the temperature to 22 degrees, and puts it on Auto. I find this infuriating after a bit as I have to keep putting the settings back to where I want them (usually a lower temperature, or off entirely). You can access very little information about the car while it is charging too – the info screens won’t show anything unless the ignition is on, which we are told not to do while charging. It’s important to have stuff to play with while sitting there charging! Not huge things, just things.

Next time, I’ll reach my conclusions and later on, I’ll discuss EVs in wider detail – the good, the bad and the downright frustrating!