Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: March 5, 2019
Range anxiety. It’s not an illness you would find listed in the DSM-5 but it’s a legitimate malady that some electric vehicle owners are faced with on a day-to-day basis. Rolling the dice and trying to fulfill your 20 km commute when there is only 25 km left in the battery is almost as nerve wracking as driving with a flat tire on its last breath of air.
Recently, I came face to face with range anxiety behind the wheel of a 2019 Volkswagen e-Golf, an electric-only variant of the brand’s most iconic hatchback. After an entire day of errands on a fully charged battery, I had to make a last minute 60 km round-trip to the airport to pick up my dad coming back from the Honda Passport media launch in Quebec. While that doesn’t sound too bad considering the e-Golf has an official range of 201 km, these “official” figures never truly match the actual real world range, especially when the temperature is dipping below zero-degrees Celsius. Cold temperatures and batteries mix together like oil and water. Add highway driving to the fold, and it’s a recipe not just for range anxiety, but for that embarrassing call to CAA asking for a portable battery charger or in the worst case scenario, a tow back home.
The new Digital Cockpit instrument cluster displayed an estimated range of 65 km. I panicked. Sitting at a red light with snow gently falling on the windshield, I began to brainstorm and strategize how I could somehow hypermile this little hatchback from Markham to Mississauga in the swiftest and most economical way possible. Not only that, but make a return trip as welI. I turned everything off. The infotainment screen and radio keeping me entertained was switched off, the heaters keeping the cabin at a cozy 22-degrees was switched off, even the heated seats went off. I cycled through the driving modes until I got to the most efficient one, aptly named Eco+. In this mode, acceleration was severely limited, so I didn’t even think about trying to overtake anybody but the range did go up a tick: 75 km. A glimmer of hope remained.
The quickest route to the airport was via the Highway 407 toll road. It’s not as economical as taking city streets where I could take advantage of brake regeneration, but it was definitely the shortest, and with the cabin quickly turning into a rolling fridge, the less time spent in there, the better. So off I went with 134 hp, 214 lb-ft, and 75 km of range at my luckless disposal. The e-Golf’s official time of 0-100 km/h of 9.6 seconds wasn’t achievable. With the pedal to the metal, Eco+ mode limited me to a scant 97 km/h. Right lane hog it is.
Long story short: I made it, with 8 km to spare thanks to a bit of brake regeneration after getting off the highway. I even desperately resorted to tailing lorry trucks to reduce drag, and rationing my windshield wiper use. Let’s just say I won’t be doing this again, not even in the name of science. My dad wasn’t too impressed about the whole ordeal either. Luckily the freezing cabin kept my sweat glands from going into overdrive, and I used my iPhone to play some music so my thoughts wouldn’t wander into shameful “what-if” scenarios.
The e-Golf made it back safely into my garage with the charger snugly plugged into the socket, but then arose another issue. Charging. Because I don’t own an electric vehicle, I don’t have those handy Level 2 chargers installed, just a measly household power socket. Estimated time for a full battery? A whopping 27 hours, and I needed to drive another 10 kms that evening. Trust me, I was not in the mood for round two. Lesson of the day: if you plan on buying an electric vehicle, invest in a Level 2 residential charger. Then, a fully juiced battery would only take 4-5 hours.
Frankly speaking, any electric-only vehicle could have run into this situation as well, whether it be the Tesla Model 3 or the Chevrolet Bolt. Price, hype, and looks are all out the window when left with insufficient range to get back home and not a charging station in sight. But having a bigger battery does ease the anxiety when you don’t have to charge as often. That, or a backup combustion engine like they have on the BMW i3 or the late Chevrolet Volt. The e-Golf actually has one of the smallest ranges in the market compared to the Chevrolet Bolt (383 km), Tesla Model 3 (418 km), and Nissan LEAF (242 km). The Hyundai Ioniq tops out at a comparable 200 km.
What the e-Golf lacks in driving range, it makes up for in being the most car-like EV. What I mean by that is the e-Golf drives pretty much like a regular Golf. Sure, there’s more initial torque and propulsion but aside from that, this zippy hatchback is incredibly easy to pick up and is friendly for both beginner and expert drivers alike. There is no learning curve in the way it handles, it doesn’t feel top-heavy when rotating around corners, there are no fancy regenerative paddle shifters, and no futuristic screens or interior layout. Okay, maybe the springy brake pedal requires some muscle memory adjustment but that’s about it. Even the charging outlet is mounted right where the fuel cap used to be. In fact, the only way to tell the e-Golf apart from its combustion-powered siblings is the obvious badging, C-shaped LED daytime running lights, coloured strip on the front grill, ham-cutter wheel design, and the fake exhaust outlets out back. I actually appreciate its low-key demeanor and how it doesn’t scream “look at me, I’m saving the world” like other EVs.
But at the end of the day, you could load up the e-Golf with as much bling, pizzazz, and price incentives as you want, but the dismal range would still remind me of that fateful drive to the airport and give me palpitations. Ontario’s cut to government EV incentives doesn’t help the $36,720 MSRP either, where it used to cost less than a standard Golf and was nearly a no-brainer deal. Range sells, and even though the e-Golf undercuts all of its competitors in price, it desperately needs a bigger battery to stay competitive in this flourishing segment. When it does, I wouldn’t be hard pressed to call it one of the friendliest and most enjoyable EVs on the market. Until then, consider other options.
Model: 2019 Volkswagen e-Golf Comfortline
Paint Type: White Silver metallic
Base Price: $36,720
Price as Tested: $41,470
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,270 / 1,799 / 1,452
Curb weight (kg): 1,567
Powertrain: 100 kW electric motor + 35.8 kWh lithium-ion battery
Horsepower: 134 hp
Torque: 214 lb-ft
Transmission: Single-speed transmission
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Range: 201 km