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!

Road Test: Volkswagen e-Golf – Clever Tech

Road Test Part 2. Part 1 here.

The Volkswagen e-Golf is not a cheap car – the one I’m driving has a retail price of £27, 395, which includes the £5000 plug-in grant from the government. However, it does pack in quite a lot of tech, and has some features not found on other EVs. That said, it also lacks kit in some ways, as we’ll find out on my Downsides report.

Let’s stay positive for now though, with the two headline features for me. These are not exclusive to the e-Golf and can be specified on any Mk7 Golf. They are Parking Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). The former is a nice show-off gimmick. The car will literally steer itself into a roadside parking space, while you operate the pedals. Quite snazzy, but it does have its limitations – ie space size. It won’t shuffle back and forth into a tiny space. [EDIT – I’ve since discovered that it will do this if you switch between D and R]

e-Golf headlamps

LED headlamps certainly help you keep an eye on the world.

The ACC is far more impressive in reality, and a lot more useful. You set your cruise control speed as normal, but a front-mounted radar will slow the car if you encounter slower traffic. Here in rural Wales, I found this system very useful on busy trunk routes. You find that all you have to do is steer. For miles and miles! Follow another car and the e-Golf will even slow down for bends (assuming the car in front does!). It’s hugely relaxing – once you’ve got used to trusting the car. It even spotted a motorcyclist turning left, and slowed the car right down behind them as they turned. Most impressive was how it brought the car to a halt at a set of temporary traffic lights as the car in front did likewise.

Oddly, I found this reduced control quite comforting. It was far more relaxing (and better for battery life) to sit back with the slower traffic rather than attempting lunatic overtaking manoeuvres. A petrolhead should not like this hint of automated driving to come. Thing is, on a really busy road, it’s hard for a petrolhead to have much fun anyway. The result is, I really like this feature. Trusting it is tricky at first, as you’re convinced that parked cars and oncoming traffic will confuse it. It didn’t get confused once during over 100 miles of driving with it turned on so far though.

Other smart tech unique to the e-Golf includes LED lighting front and rear. The headlights are formidable, yet consume much less power than Xenons or Halogens. There is also a multifunction display, which can tell you a lot about your driving – average economy, speed and so on. I didn’t find it as good as Nissan’s system, on which you can monitor power usage as you drive. Then you can see what difference climate control and headlamps make to power consumption. There are at least eleventy twelve ways of playing music on this car, with USB ports, SD card ports and even an Aux input. The radio is DAB and allowed me to listen to the cricket on Five Live pretty well, even in remote Wales.

There is an auto-hold function, should you be performing a lot of hill starts. This means that if you bring the car to a halt, you can remove your foot from the brake pedal and the car will remain where it is until you accelerate. Saves blinding people with the brake lights, and means you don’t have to use the stupid electronic handbrake. (not a specific e-Golf problem, I absolutely detest electronic handbrakes). You can turn auto-hold off, which means the car will creep as you release the brake, much like a conventional automatic.

Unnecessary badge picture.

Unnecessary badge picture.

I didn’t explore the Car Net, but this apparently allows you to access some functions from your smart phone. That’ll be things like climate control, lighting and charging status – useful because there’s no way of telling at a glance how charged the vehicle is. Nissan’s EV range has three lamps that indicate rough charge level.

Other scary tech includes Automatic Post Collision Braking System. If you smack something, the car will slam the anchors on to try and stop you smacking something else. I opted not to test this functionality, at the time of writing. Nor did I test the Driver Alert System, which tries to guess if you’re falling asleep. It monitors your driving to spot anything out of the ordinary – presumably like swerving unnecessarily or departing from lane.

Optional but fitted to this vehicle are the horrible, bland white paint (£260), the winter pack (£380) which consists of heated seats and washers, a wireless heated windscreen (£295 – a wired screen is standard) and the £315 fancy pants conductive mobile phone connection to use the car aerial. This apparently includes a phone holder built into the centre armrest, but I could find no such thing on this car. I even read the manual.

Next time, some of the less good points of this very impressive car.

 

Road Test: Volkswagen e-Golf first impressions

Volkswagen is pretty unique in offering conventional, hybrid or electric versions of its family-favourite Golf hatchback. Given my increasing love of electric vehicles, it was naturally the fully blown e-Golf I opted to test. In short, this is a Golf, but with a transversely-mounted 85kW/115PS electric motor driving the front wheels via a single-speed transmission and with a 24.2kWh, 318kg battery back mounted at the rear. It has a claimed range of 118 miles per charge. The weight of the e-Golf is 1585kg, which is 200kg more than an equivalent diesel.

e-Golf

A very clever, thoroughly conventional car.

In reality, it’s just like a Golf. You get in, twist the key in the ignition, select Drive on the automatic gear lever, press the handbrake release button (electronic – annoying) and off you go. It feels very conventional, if eerily silent as you come to a halt.

Once you’re on the move, it’s like the smoothest automatic you’ve ever driven. There’s grunt instantly if you require it, but the key to getting the best out of an electric vehicle (EV) is to drive as smoothly as possible. The seamless power supply certainly aids here, as does nicely weighted (if slightly lifeless) steering. A power counter replaces the rev counter, and the key is to keep it in the blue range. The gauge goes from zero to 10 but you really want to try and keep the needle below three. The needle also swings the other way, into a green zone, which is when regeneration occurs. This is where the motor turns into a generator, which gives an engine braking effect, slowing you down without having to brake.

You can accentuate this feature through no less than four modes. In D, you can knock the gearlever left to access D1, D2, and D3, which gradually increase the regen effect. Or, knock the lever down to put it in B mode (like on a Nissan Leaf) which gives a really strong regen effect. I see no reason not to use this really.

Selector

Gear selector is just like an automatic, but with a B mode for more regen.

In reality, you find yourself controlling your speed almost exclusively with the throttle pedal. Lift off completely and the car slows quite dramatically (it does illiuminate the brake lights). Lift a bit less and you can manage that regen effect to slow as much or as little as you like. It isn’t very often that you have to actually use the brake pedal. Even then, the first bit of travel merely increases regen further before the actual brakes come into use.

The ride is mainly composed, but a bit jiggly over some surfaces. 55-profile tyres probably don’t help here. Otherwise though, it’s all reassuringly conventional. Road noise is quite pronounced, probably because there’s a complete lack of any other noise. It’s very easy to drive smoothly, but if you do decide to burn up the amps, it can be very entertaining too. It has superb weight distribution, so it’s really well poised if you decide to really push on. The vast wave of torque means you can dart very swiftly from corner to corner.

LED car lights

LED lights front and rear reduce power consumption.

There’s plenty of room in the back, though tall adults may find a lack of under-thigh support. There’s loads of knee room though. The boot is a decent size, but not overly generous. The charge cables live in a bag beneath the boot floor. On a regular Golf, this is a much larger storage area.

Next time, I’ll talk about some of the clever features of the e-Golf, some of the downsides and later on, some of the major problems with electric vehicles in general. If you have any queries about the e-Golf, ask away!

EV Road Test: Volkswagen e-Golf intro

Ok, a break from the shambolic cavalcade of shabby old cars, as I conduct one of my Electric Vehicle Road Tests. The Volkswagen e-Golf has arrived. It has 104-miles of range showing and we’re about to head out to start the tests proper. Naturally, I haven’t read the manual, understand that the range is going to drop quite rapidly as soon as I encounter a hill (about quarter of a mile to the first one) and only have a vague idea of where suitable chargers are.

The e-Golf has landed. Let the test commence!

The e-Golf has landed. Let the test commence!

Let’s be honest. The terrain here in beautiful mid Wales is not ideal for electric cars. That said, the number of long descents allows for a good amount of regeneration – putting charge back into the batteries rather than using the brakes to slow the vehicle. So, it’ll lose a fair bit going up, but will get some back coming down.

Over the next week, I aim to get a realistic feel for the range of this vehicle well away from city limits. Stay tuned for more as it happens. I’ll be live-tweeting my experiences.

Road Test: Lancia Y10 1.3GTie entirely wins me over

This is a car that attended Shitefest last year, after a monumental weld-fest. Unsurprisingly, it was rotten as a pair, and most of the underside had to be replaced. I didn’t get to drive it last year, so, despite the owner now temporarily living in Australia, I thought I’d better not miss out this time.

While the owner is away, he has loaned the car to various members of the Autoshite forum. It was one of these temporary carers who brought it to Shitefest.

Y10

Tiny Lancia is sheer joy to drive.

First, a bit about the Y10. In Italy, it was actually badged as an Autobianchi – the spin-off from Fiat that has a history of producing slightly-quirky designs, such as the Primula – the first modern-era hatchback with a transverse engine and end-on gearbox. MacPherson strut front suspension is allied to a dead ‘Omega’ beam axle at the rear. This formed the basis of the suspension improvements on the Mk2 Fiat Panda, when the simple leaf springs were replaced by coils.

This one is a GTie – which replaced the frenetic Turbo in 1989. It uses a 1.3-litre engine, not one generally used on Fiats at the time, but an overhead-cam version of the Fiat 124 engine, built in Brazil. It seems the Y10 uniquely used a fuel injected version of this engine. Power output is 78bhp.

I’d heard people say these cars were a good laugh, so I climbed aboard with many great expectations. The first thing that struck me is how wide this car felt for a small thing! It’s a bit Tardis-like. The engine isn’t overly quiet, but as I accelerated up my favourite test hill, I actually hooted out loud! Gosh, this car is hilarious! A kerb weight of 850kg means there’s not much weight to shift, but it really does feel a lot more powerful than the paper stats suggest.

The pedals are tiny though, so its best to avoid braking. That’s fine, as this car handles absolutely superbly. It makes Minis seem a bit reluctant with the way it dives into corners at seemingly suicidal speeds. I just had not expected a supermini to be such an absolute riot. I imagine it’s not bad on a long trip if you can resist endlessly wringing its neck.

You can keep your XR2s and MG Metros though. When it comes to diminutive fun, this is my new benchmark. It’s entirely worthy of the Lancia badge.

Road Test: BMW 335i Touring

BMW E30 fans will already be querying the model name that doesn’t exist, so that tells you already that this is no normal motor vehicle. Open the bonnet and you won’t find much spare space – this engine is a full litre larger than any E30 from the factory.

I must admit, I had mixed emotions as I clambered aboard this silly-looking, chopped-suspension estate. This is exactly the sort of car I don’t much like. Slammed, noisy and with more power than any reasonable person needs.

Meaty Beemer fends off hovering males

Meaty Beemer fends off hovering males

I mean, just look at it. Barely any suspension travel and silly wheels. Clambering aboard revealed a tiny steering wheel thrust towards your chest, and seats that grabbed you in a bear hug.

A twist of the key fires the six-cylinder engine noisily into life. I pointed the nose up a nice, steep hill and floored it. Cue loads of misfiring and not much acceleration. See? Silly car. Then the chap who owns it switched off the (now empty) LPG tank and encouraged actual petrol into the engine. I tried again.

Jeepers! We must have overtaken several scalded cats and excrement ladled from a shovel as we flew up the hill. The car showed the sort of disdain for gravity that I usually reserve for Tory MPs. It had that typical, smooth BMW six-pot bellow. Yes, it was louder than you might normally expect, but still wondrously smooth. I didn’t dare take it near the redline at first, for fear I might simply run out of road.

Not much space in here. Meaty.

Not much space in here. Meaty.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect was the way this car darted into corners. No roll, no upset if any bumps were encountered, just a lithe feeling that made you want to try harder next time. I did eventually trouble the upper echelons of the rev-range and it was something I just wanted to do again. Instantly. To do so in third gear would have taken us way beyond any desirable road speed though, so I didn’t.

That kind of proved my point really. It is a stupid amount of power. Totally unnecessary and very hard to exploit on the road without getting into trouble. So, why was I grinning so much when I clambered out?

Car provided by Fu’Gutty Cars.

Road Test: Renault 16

I rate the Renault 16 as a better car than a Citroen DS in many ways. Like with the Renault 4, the firm took a shrewd look at Citroen’s offering and thought “we can do sis but betterrr.” Apols to French viewers. My accent is terrible.

They were certainly right with the 4, which went on to sell about 3 million more than the 2CV, even if you include all of the Citroen derivatives.  They got it right again with the 16 too – 1.8 million sold, compared to 1.4 million DSs. Oh, and that was in just 13 years, compared to the DSs 20-year lifespan.

Renault 16 TS

Renault 16. Only one sidelight working, because French.

A brief look at the facts demonstrates remarkable similarity. The gearbox is ahead of the engine, driving the front wheels. The engine is a water-cooled straight-four. The gearbox is controlled by a column change. The suspension is very soft, but the handling is good. There is LOADS of space (the Renault offering it in just 4.2 metres of length, compared to the 4.8 of the DS).

But crucially, the 16 had the hatchback that perhaps the D should always have had. That made it even more practical. It was also much more simple – Renault realising that torsion bars offered full independent springing without the complexity of the Citroen hydraulic kit. Sure, self-levelling suspension is notably absent, and a full load makes the 16 squat like a resting D, but for the vast majority of the time, this doesn’t matter in the slightest.

The Renault doesn’t have the space-age majesty of the D either – something which has helped the latter get recognised as a complete icon of the motoring age. The 16 falls more easily off the radar, not helped by being remarkably prone to rot – and not as good at hiding it as the base-unit construction DS! A pretty D could actually be rotten as a pear. A rotten 16 generally looks rotten!

16

Stylish and oh so practical!

I’ve only driven one 16 before, and I absolutely adored it. That was a manual, and I was amazed at how pleasant the change was. More recently, Shitefest allowed me to sample an automatic. Not for Renault the curious semi-automatic of the D (a full auto was a later option for Citroen).

Now, 1960s/1970s automatics tend to be rather inefficient things, and certainly if its performance you’re after, then look elsewhere. The Renault rather gently gathers pace, not helped by a gearbox keen to get to top gear as soon as possible. Fortunately, the 1565cc engine has good torque characteristics, so it’s happy to slog on. Press the throttle fully to the floor and it will kick down and pick up its skirts a little, but it’s better to take things easy.

Not that you have to slow down much for bends, as the car steers beautifully. There’s plenty of body roll, but no Citroen fan is worried by such exploits. It goes where to you point it – though I was warned that the tyres are of poor quality. I didn’t exactly have it on its doorhandles.

The ergonomics aren’t brilliant, with the control layout seemingly arrived at by handing them to several different people, and having a game of ‘pin the control on the donkey.’ It seems most of them missed, and one column stalk (for the wipers) simply sprouts straight from the dashboard instead.

I don’t care though. This is the first modern hatchback for the family. It deserves far more credit, especially in this, it’s 50th year. If I didn’t think it’d dissolve in an instant, I’d have one like a shot.