Tuesday 21 August 2018

Why this new e-Golf shines light on two electric futures

And one of them is grim

E Golf
E Golf
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I think I caught a glimpse of not one, but two futures with this week's review car (nothing like a good dose of the practical present to light up the crystal ball). I was driving Volkswagen's new all-electric e-Golf. It may not be the most dramatic development on the electric vehicle (EV) scene, but I think my sojourns in it permitted a real foretaste of contrasting tomorrows.

One is the clichéd version where we all swoosh silently in our sparkling EVs with not a tailpipe in sight.

The other is not nice at all, not least because it is soaked in regret that we didn't do something - really do something - when we had the chance.

If we continue to shuffle along we'll end up patching together an EV future that'll do justice to no one. Like the un-joined-up thinking that kept two Luas lines apart for so long.

So either we, as a government and a society, are going to 'go electric' or half boil the kettle. And we don't have that much time. As a wise young man said to me recently: "Faraway is quite close." It is, you know.

Anyway, here's my personal taste of the bad future. I needed to charge the e-Golf. I wanted a quick boost of 40mins or so to get my range back above 200km (in eco+ mode). But there aren't that many charging points in my neck of the woods. Of the cluster at the Luas stop at Stillorgan, one of the nozzles was filthy, covered in clay. And because I wasn't travelling by Luas, the notice warned the monetary charge could be - stress could be - €45 a day. For Luas users, it is a max of €4 a day. So it's free to charge but you pay to park. Time to rethink? Definitely.

In town, two points I'd selected from the app were occupied - one by a non-electric car.

It was wet, miserable, cold. If this is the future, I said, I couldn't be bothered.

The thing is the car itself was excellent; silky smooth, hush-quiet and a real pleasure to drive. I was well tuned in, too, with apps, directions and range monitor (my 'eco' driving rated a 98pc Blue score). But that didn't bring any of the charging stations nearer, nor reduce the hassle.

So I drove carefully back and charged overnight (14 hours) to gain a 297km range (in eco+ mode).

That scenario morphed into the second, brighter, future: my planned overnight-charge approach would cover my needs and something further afield - a drive to the midlands, for example, a 30-minute boost at Enfield or Kilbeggan.

But I want to be absolutely sure I can do it; certain there are enough quick chargers available to do Wexford and back too. Honestly, that uncertainty is electric's biggest enemy. A range of 230km (realistically the e-Golf's practical limit) is okay so long as you can boost your reserves in quick time.

And that's where, despite our current low uptake of EVs, we should be showing real intent; we either push on and lead people to change or we play un-joined-up Luas thinking for decades. I know this sounds like preachy, typical media commentary. It's not. It's something I believe would be a good thing for many. We've invested in 1,200 or so charging points. Let's add more, let's target high-use urban areas especially. Let's have incentives: no parking fees, no tolls, benefit-in-kind, bus lane access. Either this is worth doing properly or it's not.

My days in the excellent e-Golf showed it can work. Sure, a hybrid gives you double indemnity (petrol/electric) and would be my choice right now for practical purposes. But 230km/250km in an EV is loads for many. I managed it. This electric future needn't be a disruptive shift at all. It's up to us.

And I did a lot of driving for a few euro (night rate charging - road tax just €120 - but the price is stiff). It's a routine I settled into. I just wish there were more boost options. That's the nub. I'm not sure we've got our heads around making clusters of chargers available (for those living in apartments for example).

I was in Tokyo recently and saw how coordinated it can be; to the point of car batteries feeding into the communal grid in times of real need. Try that here? You must be joking. Yet it is the sort of planning we need.

I thoroughly enjoyed my e-Golf, even if boot and rear-seat space weren't that great. But what a silent, seamless drive it was. The system shone in slow traffic, its recuperative mode (three levels) boosting my range. Ideal around town. And it is such a great car to just drive (I never get out of a Golf without saying that).

This one benefits from the revisions of the range's recent update, most pertinently the new high-density battery pack and electric motor which they claim pushes range from 190km to 300km.

The e-Golf may not be a radical EV game-changer, as such, but it is certainly helping to bring the 'faraway' much closer.

Facts & figures

Volkswagen e-Golf electric 5dr hatch; 134bhp electric motor, 36 amp-hour (Ah) lithium-ion battery. Claimed range 300km; zero emissions; €120 road tax.

On-the-road price: €35,665.

Standard equipment: 16ins alloys, adaptive cruise control, Front Assist/pedestrian monitoring; 9.2ins nav system, Isofix anchors outer rear seats, 'C' shaped LED DLRS, Hill Hold assist, voice control, lumbar support, electric/adjustable/heated mirrors, 'e-Golf' badgings, climatronic air con, quick charge socket. Options: Technology upgrade (park distance control, high beam 'light assist', Lights & Vision package, folding mirrors, active info display.

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