VW demonstrates strength of its electric range

There is plenty of talk in the media about the inconveniences of electric car ownership, despite the increasing excitement brought about by new plug-in car launches seemingly every week.

The UK's plug-in car market has plenty going for it though, and to demonstrate a little of that Next Green Car was invited to the EV Experience Centre (EVEC) in Milton Keynes by Volkswagen. The main aim was to take a look at the manufacturer's plug-in car line-up, but there was also the opportunity to hear about charging solutions from Chargemaster, and take a look around the EVEC itself.

It didn't strike me until I saw all of the models parked up and charging, but VW's choice of plug-in models is one of the best on the market at the moment. It might be the likes of Renault and Nissan that many think of when talking about plug-in cars with the Leaf and Zoe respectively, and NGC has talked before about BMW's extensive line-up too, with other manufacturers such as Volvo and Mercedes also expanding their plug-in portfolios.

However, VW has four different electric models - five if you count variants - covering much of the spectrum of those cars that the majority of drivers buy. The e-up! represents the brand in the citycar market, the e-Golf and Golf GTE in the small family car sector, and the Passat GTE - in both saloon and estate forms - in the large family class.

Expensive executive cars such as the Tesla Model S and better established models like the Leaf and Zoe might make the headlines, but those four models from VW will meet most of the requirements anyone who's looking at buying a car has.

The e-up! doesn't have a long range. In fact it has one of the shortest available by some distance thanks to on-going updates to key EV models. But that misses the point largely and the e-up! is most at home as an urban runabout where outright range is largely irrelevant.

It's the same principal that Smart has applied to the electric drive versions of its model line-up. A citycar is not likely to travel long distances in one go, and will often be bought either by those who take short trips regularly or as a second car to runabout in. So why fit a large and expensive battery when a smaller one will do?

VW's e-up! is on balance better than the petrol versions of the excellent citycar in my opinion - especially if you keep it to its natural environment and don't attempt to tackle 60+ mile motorway trips regularly. Unlike the Smart models, the e-up! can tackle longer trips more easily thanks to CCS rapid charging. Stick to nipping across town or down to the supermarket though, and the e-up! has more than enough range to suffice.

It also feels quicker off the line than its petrol up! stablemates thanks to the electric motor's natural slug of torque. It feels like a better handling machine because of its low centre of gravity and - after the up! range's updates - it's still one of the most refined cars in its class, made all the more so because of the quiet electric powertrain.

It's not perfect and it's not for everyone, but if you need a citycar in the traditional sense of the phrase - to cover lots of short distances - the e-up! is great.

VW e-Golf

Moving up to the e-Golf, Volkswagen has a fantastic car on its hands; not just a fantastic EV. After its recent updates, the range has jumped from one of the worst around to one of the best options on the market, and the rest of the car oozes class - as you would expect from a Golf.

A real-world range of 150+ miles is plenty for the majority of drivers and trips, and the e-Golf is an easy to drive, comfortable, and very well equipped car if you ignore the electric aspect. Add the EV part of the e-Golf back into the mix, and the instant power, selectable levels of braking regeneration, and quiet running make the e-Golf a lovely car to live with.

Again, like the e-up!, it's not the perfect option for all people, and there are drivers around who need (not just want) more range on a single charge. But I've completed cross-country trips before in the electric Golf, largely doing so at conventional motorway speeds (rather than the slower EV motorway speeds) and with ease.

Around the grid-like layout of Milton Keynes with plenty of roundabouts and dual carriageways, and the twisty country roads past the town's outskirts, the e-Golf's range wasn't tested in the slightest. Driving it again reminded me why it is my current pick of the mainstream EVs, competing hard with the i3 - winning thanks to greater practicality - and trumping the Leaf, Ioniq, and Zoe, even considering the latter's lengthy range. It's just such a well rounded car.

Pure-EVs aren't for everyone though, and with this in mind VW offers both the Golf and the Passat in GTE forms. I've liked the way VW went about the PHEV-ing of its models from the start. Pitching the plug-in hybrid models in the same group as the flexible GTD and legendary GTI gives the car some strong foundations on which to build its reputation.

Having a GTE button to switch the car into full-performance mode gives the Golf a Jekyll and Hyde nature in the best possible way. It enables the GTE to be all things from eco-cruiser to hot-hatch with all stops in between - including practical conventional hatch.

The Golf GTE isn't a true hot-hatch in today's money, but it is a bit livelier than a warm-hatch to fill a niche that doesn't really need to be filled. Think of the GTE as an economical Golf with an overboost button and you get the picture.

VW Golf GTE

The electric range is decent rather than class-leading, but it managed to potter around Milton Keynes and surrounding areas on electric power alone with charge left over when I returned to base. The short distance - a little over 20 miles - would easily have been covered on electric power completely, but the GTE button proved too tempting when a lovely stretch of B-road hoved into view.

And that's the biggest plus of the Golf GTE over many other PHEVs. It will behave like a conventional PHEV for the majority of the time, but the GTE mode proves that economical cars don't need to be boring. In short, the Golf GTE is one of the most versatile cars on sale today.

Finally, we come to the Passat GTE. Using the same 1.4 litre petrol engine with electric powertrain system as the Golf GTE, the larger car is understandable less of a performance model. This removes much of the Golf's combined sensible/lunatic nature, but the Passat GTE can still provide a fun drive when the mood fits and situation suits.

However, the biggest benefit of the Passat GTE is that - like the Golf - it is such a good car to start with, it's enhanced by the PHEV drivetrain. Practical, stylish, and frugal to drive, the Passat GTE is also one of the few plug-in cars available as an estate.

Although it should be of interest to anyone looking at buying a practical family car, the Passat GTE would be a worthy replacement for a petrol or diesel company car for many, especially when you consider the huge reductions in running costs a PHEV can bring.

VW's plug-in line-up isn't the most famous, but it has quickly and quietly built up to offer a good range of vehicles, and there's something there for the vast majority of car buyers. The tone of this overview is admittedly positive, and there are drawbacks for each model as you find in any car, but you can find road tests giving a more thorough appraisal of VW's electric line-up at NGC's Reviews section.

VW Chargemaster

Also covered during the day was a small talk from Chargemaster that I have to admit would have been very helpful when I first started this job and knew little about EVs. Covering aspects such as on-board chargers, battery capacity, charging limitations, and unit types, the talk also showed how quickly Chargemaster is expanding.

The British-based charge point manufacturer and network provider talked candidly about the move away from the unsustainable 'freebie' charging model employed by many of its rivals a few years ago when the market was developing. This initial set-up has had to transfer to a sustainable payment model for networks to, firstly not go bust, and also for reliability, coverage, and service levels to improve to those demanded by EV drivers.

Chargemaster's focus on a subscription service might not be for everyone, but it you charge at a public point more often than occasionally, the coverage and accessibility of the POLAR Plus network makes the monthly fee worth paying.

Finally, the work being carried out by the EVEC looks to be having an effect already. Based in the Centre:MK shopping centre, the EVEC is in unusual spot for a car dealership, but allows its experts a far greater opportunity to impart their knowledge to more potential car buyers that have little idea of the electric car market.

Even those more au fait with plug-in cars would find a trip to the EVEC handy, even if only for the chance to test drive different electric cars from one place. The multi-brand showroom was switched to a Volkswagen-only affair for the event, but it normally has models from the likes of BMW, Nissan, Renault, Kia, and Mitsubishi on show - and the staff on hand to answer questions about which might suit buyers best.

It's only a small snap-shot of the UK electric car market, but the event laid on by VW with support from Chargemaster and the EVEC showed how well the industry is progressing, and in a short space of time. Long may it continue.

VW at EVEC

You can view VW's pure-electric and plug-in hybrid line-ups by clicking on the buttons below.

Volkswagen's EV range     Volkswagen's PHEV range

Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:18th Oct 2017

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