E-Golf Extended Test: Can It Hack a New York Winter?

Jamie Lincoln Kitman

Jamie Lincoln Kitman | Feb 17, 2016

Volkswagen -- the company -- has 99 problems, conservatively speaking. But VW’s electric car, that is to say the silk blue metallic e-Golf SEL premium we’ve been testing for the past eight months and 11,080 miles, isn’t one of them.

Pictured: The Volkswagen e-Golf, one of the few things not on the list of VW's current problems. (Volkswagen)

When we took delivery last May, we were promised it for a term of six months, less than our preferred year-long test, but better we reasoned than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, etc. Slowly, however, it began dawning on us the short term agreed meant we’d miss spending time with the e-Golf in the cruel, telling months of a New York winter.  Surely that wasn’t VW’s intention? Or was it? To read the press recently and the plaintiffs' attorneys’ ads seeking class action foot soldiers, the German giant’s intentions are always suspect.

(Jamie Lincoln Kitman)

Personally, I suspect they’re not always suspect. Even if 1,000, nay, an incredible 10,000 people at VW were in on their diesel scam, that’s still a small fraction of the company’s almost 600,000 employees. Unfortunate it is that many of these scammers were senior executives. But are the whole company and all of its products to be rejected and despised? I say no.

With VW critics and EV naysayers in mind, nevertheless, we asked the carmaker’s Virginia-based U.S. headquarters to extend the loan to a full year. Freezing cold would come to New York City late this trip around the sun. However, based on previous experience driving electric cars in winter, we knew the low temperatures that were inevitably on their way would arrive to diminish charge, at the same time as the car was already busy draining its storage batteries to supply heat, defrosters, seat warmers, wipers and windscreen washers. The question was how much range would winter take away? And if it snowed, would the e-Golf make it through?

Would the e-Golf survive the winter?  (Jamie Lincoln Kitman)

In stating the case for an extension, we pointed out to VW how electric cars – with their zero direct and low overall emissions -- might be one of the best ways, PR wise, for the beleaguered company to extract itself from the very deep air pollution rut it is in. An electric future is clearly one distraction the company’s been attempting to float itself, embodied by an unconvincing but still enthusiastically received electric Microbus concept. (See the  http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1101320_long-range-electric-vw-micro....)  It’s not a million miles away from what GM did with its hybrid Volt when it was looking to build public sympathy for a government bailout in 2008, and minus, so far, the right wing blowback.

As a subject, we reminded VW, anything that keeps the people not talking about your cheatin’ diesel ways has got to be a win. Plus, we’d taken a shine to the e-Golf, which is pretty much just like the ordinary Golf, except that it’s electric. No sacrifice in room, ride or comfort. We didn’t want to see it go.

Without sharing its thinking, VW doubled the loan term.

(Jamie Lincoln Kitman)

So then. Is the e-Golf any kind of practical year-round proposition in places with real winters? The short answer is yes, so long as you’re not counting on 100% of normal range to complete your appointed rounds. Where we found that in fair weather you might travel as many as 110 to 115 miles between charges – that’s assuming you primarily ran in eco mode, which prevents use of a/c or heat and governs top speed to 60mph –you may fall down to 80 or less when it’s really cold outside and you’ve been forced to deploy heat, lights, defrosters, electric seat warmers, and wipers.

Myself, I find it acceptable often to run without heat in winter (hats and gloves are where it’s at!,) air conditioning in summer (roll down those windows!) and otherwise sacrifice creature comfort in favor of range. But then I’ve been choosing things like MGBs and old Volvos for transport in months hot and cold for too long. Things like heat prostration, foggy windshields, and numbness from cold are nothing I’m not intimately familiar with.

"I love squeezing more miles out of a charge and seeing it on a tiny screen inches away from my eyes and hamster brain." (Volkswagen)

What’s more, ever since the mid-80s, when they invented trip computers to minutely measure your car’s economy in real time, I’ve been driving modern cars like I’m on the Mobil Economy Run, anyway. I love squeezing more miles out of a charge and seeing it on a tiny screen inches away from my eyes and hamster brain, just as much as I love watching myself squeeze more miles out of a tank of gasoline, as represented on a display before me. But remember, for the e-Golf, like the ads used to say only more so, it’s very much a case of your mileage may vary.

One thing that ought to make every type of driver happy: In a little over eight months and 11,000 miles, including plenty of weather extremes, with satanic heat, bitter cold and a couple of righteous snowstorms thrown in, the e-Golf has cost us nothing, other than the price of electricity (cheaper still than today’s cheap gas), plus the $100 cost of installing a set of snow tires –  mail-order giant Tire Rack graciously supplied us with four grippy Michelin X-Ice Xi3s, free of charge. Yours probably won’t be free, but we’d recommend them for winter driving anyway.

The loan was scheduled to run out just before the bad weather hit. Suspicious? (Jamie Lincoln Kitman)

Marking a change from some VWs in the not too distant past, nothing has broken or fallen off and the air of quality the e-Golf had when delivered remains in full effect.

On a more esoteric level, our e-Golf has uplifted and improved the quality of our life by sparing us thirty or forty trips to the gas station, the value of which – you can’t know until you try it – is incalculable, even after you factor into the equation the bother when seriously commuting of having to charge your car daily. Not having to pump gas is a strong mood improver, and more than makes up for the hassle. Not having to give your money to oil companies feels even better.

Little known fact: The Amundsen expedition didn't like having to stop for fill-ups either. (Library of Congress)

Actually, we did have to replace a battery. But before you scare yourself thinking we were footing the bill for something really expensive, like a new battery pack, we just required an ignition key battery, the need for which we’d only been alerted to by a dashboard-warning message. It cost $14.08 at Palisades, Volkswagen of West Nyack, NY, where a 10,000-mile service was also performed free of charge a few weeks later, at 10,798 miles.

That’s a fair amount of miles to drive in any car over so short a period of time, but when you’re talking about an electric one, it’s a lot. It proved to us that there are people living and working, like ourselves, in and around urban areas that might very much get by in an electric car. It makes an excellent daily driver, for some, a perfect commuter for others, and a neat, green and practical second or third car for all.

Until an Audi Q7 backed into him, this press photo was the only view our intrepid blogger ever had of the e-Golf's engine. (Volkswagen)

There was one other expense a few months back we should probably mention, too. But that bill was covered by the woman who backed her Audi Q7 into the front of the e-Golf while it was stopped waiting in a space to meet friends at the Metro-North station one night in Tarrytown, NY. It was raining, she didn’t hear me honking and I had nowhere to go. Boom. Fortunately, there wasn’t a lot of carnage - the paint wasn’t even broken – and $1,034.36 was the full measure of the bodywork she footed. When I popped the hood the following morning to inspect in daylight what damage might have been done, but wasn’t, it marked a funny moment. I realized I had gone six months without once opening the e-Golf ‘s hood; this was the first time. That’s how automatic and simple running this car has been.

It’s proven totally reliable, while allowing me to cover ground like an ordinary citizen; I've already driven it as far as the average American covers in their gasoline-powered vehicle in a year’s time. That gives one real respect for the e-Golf, but what makes me love it is how pleasant it is. It’s just a fine little car.  And it’s not that little.

Here in New York, the Golf has not just been a fair weather friend. Yes, we have had to drive around its shorter winter range. Charging requires a little more frequent thought and logisticating.  The Michelin snows are noisier than the summer set and probably lose us a couple of miles of range on account of greater rolling resistance. But they serve the VW well.

"Charging requires a little more frequent thought and logisticating." (Jamie Lincoln Kitman)

When NYC was hit with eighteen inches and haphazardly shoveled parking spaces on the street required big traction to attempt, fearing the worst, we took a chance of getting stuck and impulsively lurched into a serious deep snow situation. Much to my delight, the e-Golf shone. The combination of snow tires and, I’m guessing, the extra weight of the car’s batteries, allowed us to sail in and out of a spot that would’ve challenged many conventional machines.

In sum, the e-Golf’s got a few problems. But there aren’t 99 of them. And winter isn’t one of them.

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