Driving VW's E-Golf (and Debuting the Amazing XL1 in the U.S.)

By · October 07, 2013

VW e-Golf

The VW E-Golf ready to roll in Chattanooga. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Chattanooga is the home of Volkswagen’s only U.S. plant (with 50 percent solar power), and it’s also where the company chose to show off its 261-mpg XL1, That car was display-only, but VW did allow journalists to drive a pre-production version of the E-Golf, one of 20 in the U.S.

The setting was the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conference, and the E-Golf was part of the related ride-and-drive. I drove a much-earlier “Blue E-Motion” version of VW’s electric car years ago in Santa Monica, but most of the planning is over and the company’s first electric car should go on sale in 2014 (as a 2015 model).

Driveline Finalized

The E-Golf will be based on the seventh-generation Golf, one ahead of the car I drove. Still, according to VW’s Wade Harris, an e-mobility specialist, it’s drivetrain is fairly final, with a 24.2-kilowatt-hour battery pack and a front-mounted 85-kilowatt electric motor (both produced by VW on its own). Together, they translate to a modest 115 horsepower, but with a great 200 pound feet of torque.

Harris said that important details about the E-Golf, such as launch markets and production targets, aren’t available yet.

VW e-Golf

The e-Golf has a stated range of 118 miles. (Jim Motavalli photo)

My drive around Chattanooga’s downtown—past a pair of charging Chevy Volts—was short but vivid. The car, which lacked extensive EV displays but offers two driving modes and dial-able regen braking settings—simply leaped off the line. Handling was pin sharp and braking sure; although the E-Golf looked mild-mannered, a GTI badge wouldn’t be embarrassing.

I flung the car into corners and it was sure-footed. All the power I needed was there, delivered very quietly—the EV lacked the squeaks and rattles found in many prototypes. I didn’t drive the E-Golf on the highway, but it’s supposed to reach 62 mph (100 kmh) in 10.4 seconds, and reach a governed top speed of 87 mph. That’s about the same as the Nissan LEAF, but this car feels faster.

No Driving, Lots of Looking

The XL1 plug-in hybrid in Chattanooga wasn’t drivable because it was sent from Germany on short notice, and the law limits air shipment of lithium-ion batteries. The pack in the car was a dummy. So the assembled journalists were only able to admire and sit in the (much smaller than anticipated) two-seater.

VW XL1

The VW XL1, making a splash at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The XL1 has incredible presence, with a somewhat retro rear treatment dictated by its serious CD aerodynamics of just 0.19. Rear-view mirrors are sacrificed in favor of on-board cameras. Electric-only range is 32 miles.

The gullwing doors are a trip, as are the small roll-down windows embedded in them. It’s bigger inside than it looks, with some width opened up by the rear offset of the passenger seat. It’s likely to be fairly noisy on the road (as confirmed by our road test in Germany), since the 47-horsepower turbocharged two-cylinder diesel engine is behind the driver’s head, and (in the interest of weight savings) there isn’t much sound insulation. The electric motor adds another 27 horsepower.

The XL1 will be produced in a limited edition of 250. A VW engineer in Chattanooga confirmed that it will cost $145,000, but Americans won’t be paying it—the XL1 won’t be sold in the U.S. Let’s hope that this technological tour de force leads to something less cutting edge and more modestly priced for the American market.

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