Tested: 2020/1 Volkswagen e-Golf

There’s trouble in paradise. The Electric Vehicle, which was once hailed as our planet’s saviour, is having a few PR issues at the moment. And with apologies to Volkswagen, I’ll use this e-Golf to explain why…

That’s right, I’m sorry, Volkswagen of South Africa. You’ve been mostly good to us and supplied some of the vehicles we requested for testing from the press fleets. This e-Golf is no exception, although we did have to join a considerable queue to finally get behind the wheel of this eerily quiet VW.

It also makes the perfect target for my rant-review because it’s (currently) not for sale in southern Africa. VWSA brought this white demonstration vehicle to gauge the immeasurably important response from our region’s esteemed motoring titles. Probably. Maybe.

And that’s where the problems start.

South Africans (and Namibians) love a good band-wagon fuelled by the thick gravy of conspiracy theories. And to quickly unravel my accusation: they’ve cottoned onto the lethal combination of EV pricing, virtue signalling, battery toxicity, slow charging issues, insufficient range, huge local distances, lack of infrastructure plus that Russian Roulette called “load shedding.”

An EV, any EV, simply can’t drive from Outjo to Jo’burg without poisoning a dozen Chilean children, needing eleventy-hundred hours to charge but still run out of juice near a sun-burnt sign proclaiming “Voetsekfontein 90.” That is, of course, grossly exaggerated, but there is quite a bit of truth in that scenario.

My first defence of an EV like this e-Golf comes in the shape of usage. I wouldn’t want to drive to Jo’burg with this vehicle. Or any others, to be honest, but that’s beside the point. In my eyes, the primary purpose of an electric vehicle is to save fuel/money during inner-city and very limited inner-region trips.

They’re not supposed to munch miles.

This was immediately proven by my two colleagues who flung this fully-charged e-Golf onto the Western Cape’s highways, only to discover that range anxiety is a very real thing. Next up was the charging problem, because this older-generation EV takes much longer to replenish its power source than the latest and greatest volt-mobiles.

Another societal issue that crept up was that our newest staff member plugged this car into one of the three available fast chargers underneath a local shopping mall. So what happens if EV numbers double or quadruple over the next few years? How many more chargers will they build? And what will the fees look like, depending on vehicle or location?

When my colleague emerged from the mall, he found this e-Golf only half charged. Because a BMW i3 owner had pulled up next to the EV bays and taken the charging cable from our VW. Although it’s technically not possible to remove the charging plug from a locked car, so I assume he forgot to lock it…

Fun, hey?

But that brings us back to the ugly side of our society. Can you imagine the self-righteousness of a Porsche Taycan driver who needs a quick top-up but has to stand in line behind a slow-charging Nissan Leaf? On top of that, it turns out that electric cars behave like any other battery-powered device (like a cellphone) by losing charge capacity as time goes by.

With its mileage gently sailing past 25,000km, this electric Volkswagen was still performing as its maker intended: 0-100 in 8.97 seconds, but never really hit the distances claimed by its range calculator. To be fair, most internal combustion vehicles will behave in a similar manner, unless you start treating them in a favourable way.

Which is why, when my turn behind the wheel arrived, I did exactly that. Long distances and fun outings were relegated to my classic V8 coupés while short and boring errand runs (which the V8’s detest) were allocated to my temporary electric steed. And to sum up my experience: the Volkswagen e-Golf was absolutely brilliant!

…the Volkswagen e-Golf was absolutely brilliant!

Adopting the driving style of a thrifty pensioner, I even completed one trip without losing a single km of range. This was possible thanks to the VW’s Eco+ driving mode and “B” gearbox setting; which seems to be a rather hectic regenerative brake setting. If you’re not in a hurry (like in a traffic jam), this e-Golf makes perfect sense.

I’ve driven a few EV’s over the years and have grown to love their new approach to energy consumption, different set of driver information, and newfound capabilities… including savage acceleration. To be honest though, the e-Golf doesn’t feel stupidly fast. Its traffic light performance is OK-ish, while top speed is limited to 150km/h.

That’s all perfectly acceptable to me, even more so because it’s wrapped in one of thee most accomplished vehicles the world has ever known. The packaging and classless design of a Golf works beautifully in unison with a gentle and silent electric power plant.

It’s not exciting, nor is it futuristic, but it’s extremely well executed.

In closing, I feel a bit sorry for Volkswagen and other leading car brands who were pressured into the EV direction because someone decided that it worked for their lifestyle in Switzerland. These people have never been to Voetsekfontein, don’t realise how Stellenbosch i3 drivers behave, nor do they know what Eskom is; or the kind of tricks they get up to.

So VW had to build the e-Golf (and many other incredible EV offerings) to appease an angry greenie mob which is completely detached from the plight of developing world countries. It’s wonderful that they brought this example for testing – thank you – but my guess is that local EV sales will be very limited. To large cities and towns.

Where, if you’ve been paying attention, this e-Golf proved to be absolutely perfect.

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