Pedro Arrais review: A responsive EV in Golf’s clothing

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You can thank the government of Ontario for a spike in the number of 2020 Volkswagen e-Golfs you might have seen in Victoria lately.

Volkswagen has been selling the e-Golf, an all-electric version of the popular Golf, since 2017 in Canada. You might never have seen one, given that they were almost impossible to acquire. The local dealer would only see a few trickle in over the years.

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The past month or two has seen a population boom, thanks to events taking place in Ontario.

A new provincial government cancelled financial incentives on electric vehicles (buyers would previously receive rebates of up to $14,000), leading to sales dropping by as much as 55 per cent in 2019.

Suddenly, dealers who couldn’t keep them on their lots were having them pile up, gathering dust.

They are now more than happy to sell them to dealers in British Columbia, including Victoria. In B.C., buyers can take advantage of a $5,000 federal rebate and a further $3,000 provincial rebate against their new all-electric vehicle.

Thanks to the rebates, electric vehicles now account for one of every 10 cars sold in this province, the highest in Canada. It is hovering around two per cent in Ontario.

Now Victorians can test drive — and drive home — an e-Golf.

In Canada, there is only one trim level for the car, the Comfortline, which starts at $37,895.

The first thing you notice about the e-Golf is that it almost indistinguishable from a regular Golf. A small plaque on the grill and a few trim pieces separate it from its gas-powered brethren. Local owners have reported other EV drivers being upset at them when they park in an EV-only parking spot — not realizing it has an electric motor under the hood.

The same can be said of the interior, with a caveat. My e-Golf test car had the Technology and Driver Assistance package, which includes the Digital Cockpit. Gone are the analog dials — in their place is a customizable digital screen. The screen can, among other things, display your navigation map in front of you (with the speedometer and fuel information flanking it). This unit is similar to the one debuted by Audi a few years ago.

The centre infotainment screen is large — 23.3 centimetres — and bright. Its claim to fame is a gesture control feature, where you can perform some commands by waving your hand in front of the screen (without touching it).

Despite the addition of batteries, the interior of the e-Golf is virtually unchanged (there is a slight hump in the middle of the rear floor). You can load up to 645 litres of luggage and still carry up to five occupants in its five-door hatchback body.

The electric motor under the hood delivers 134 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. It is fed by a 35.8-kWh lithium-ion battery, giving an estimated 198-kilometre range.

This powerplant is where the e-Golf falls behind its competitors. Newer entrants such the Kia Niro and Chevrolet Bolt boast more powerful motors, to 200 hp and more, with the Niro even claiming 291 lb.-ft. of torque.

The result is that the Bolt is almost three seconds faster than the e-Golf’s 9.6-second zero-to-100 km/h sprint time.

Volkswagen’s rivals are also installing larger batteries — up to 64.0-kWh, resulting in a battery-only vehicle range of up to 385 km.

But all is not lost, as the e-Golf is perhaps the most engaging compact electric vehicle out there.

It might have ditched the gasoline engine, but it still has that fun-to-drive nature that has endeared itself to legions of Volkswagen fans. In fact, a drive on your favourite country road might be even more enjoyable, as the batteries help lower the centre of gravity of the car. (The e-Golf weighs 1,567 kilograms, about 200 kilograms heavier than the gas-powered version.)

The steering is light, accurate and responsive, communicating well with the driver.

The brakes also feel normal, which is to say they don’t exhibit the grabbiness and over-sensitivity found on other electric vehicles.

You can also choose up to three levels of braking regeneration. At its highest setting, the vehicle slows quickly, especially noticeable when decelerating from higher speeds. It will not, however, bring the car to a stop.

You can find the regenerative control on the transmission lever. Competitors use steering wheel paddles to achieve the same result.

To save even more energy, you can choose between three driving modes. At Eco-plus, the car’s most extreme mode, it will also affect occupant comfort. It will deactivate your heating (or air conditioning), leaving only ventilation and defroster functions.

I like to save money, but I also like being comfortable, so I will save that last setting for more frugal owners.

While the 2020 Volkswagen e-Golf is new to us, it also shows its age when stacked up with younger competitors. But while the youngsters may outperform the VW in some instances, the maturity of the Golf’s chassis shines through. If you enjoy driving and want to save at the pump, the e-Golf is still in the game.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Compact four-door hatchback electric vehicle, front-engine, front-wheel-drive

Engine: Electric motor, 100 kWh/134 hp and 214 lb.-ft. of torque

Battery (kWh): 35.8 lithium-ion

Range (km): 198

Transmission: 1-speed automatic

Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,270; width, 1,799; height, 1,452; wheelbase, 2,629

Curb weight (kg): 1,567

Price (base/as tested): $37,895/ $46,805 (includes $1,685 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: Technology and Driver Assist Package $4,750, Technology $2,375

Tires: 205/55 R16 on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Electricity

Fuel economy (Le/100km): 1.9 city/ 2.3 highway

Warranty: Four years/80,000 km new car and roadside assistance, five years/100,000 km powertrain

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