2015 Volkswagen e-Golf: Drive Report, First U.S. Sale Details

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The 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf is the German maker's first production electric car to be offered for sale in the U.S.

On sale late this year, it adds a plug-in electric powertrain option to the all-new seventh generation of the classic Golf five-door hatchback, now celebrating its 40th birthday.

Volkswagen e-Golf (European model) test drive, Berlin, March 2014

Volkswagen e-Golf (European model) test drive, Berlin, March 2014

While the new Golf has been on sale in Europe since late 2012, it will arrive in the U.S. market this summer. Pilot production of cars for North America began earlier this year at the company's facility in Puebla, Mexico.

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Unlike the gasoline and diesel models of the 2015 VW Golf to be sold in North America, however, all electric Golfs sold in the States will be assembled in Volkswagen's home factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.

Last week, we spent almost two hours driving a European-spec 2015 e-Golf for more than 20 miles (33 km) around Berlin, part of the Volkswagen Group's first major "e-Mobility" event at the former Tempelhof Airport.

The bulk of our driving was in dense stop-and-go traffic and less crowded urban neighborhoods broken up by frequent stop lights. There was one short stretch of highway, but generally speeds stayed at or below 40 mph.

Overall, our impressions are favorable.

The electric Volkswagen Golf is exactly what VW intended it to be: the first production model in the Golf line to use a battery-electric powertrain, but otherwise every bit a Golf.

Volkswagen e-Golf (European model) test drive, Berlin, March 2014

Volkswagen e-Golf (European model) test drive, Berlin, March 2014

'Golf first'

No unusual Leaf styling here; you have to look closely even to see that it's different from any new other 2015 VW Golf. Aside from wheels, badges, LED lights, and a few trim items, there are no hints to the battery-electric drivetrain that lurks under the sheetmetal.

And that's by design.

Volkswagen's new MQB "toolkit" of platform components was designed from the start to accommodate drivetrains that include gasoline, diesel, natural gas, electric power, and a gasoline plug-in hybrid--including fuel tanks and battery locations.

The electric traction motor, with a peak output of 85 kilowatts (114 horsepower), sits under the hood and powers the front wheels. Power electronics are also located there, and the charging port is on the right rear fender located under the standard fuel filler door.

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The e-Golf's 24.2-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack sits under the rear seats and between the rear wheels, with small "wings" under the two front seats. The total pack weight is 700 pounds (318 kg).

It is air-cooled, like that of the Nissan Leaf, rather than using liquid cooling as do packs from Ford, General Motors, Tesla, and others. (There was some confusion over this in the press materials; we confirmed it with the German battery engineers.)

And VW says there is no difference in luggage volume between the battery-electric Golf and a gasoline or diesel model.

Volkswagen e-Golf (European model) test drive, Berlin, March 2014

Volkswagen e-Golf (European model) test drive, Berlin, March 2014

Quietest, calmest Golf

On the road, the e-Golf is essentially a brand-new Volkswagen Golf with the quietest powertrain of the several offered in the car.

The company stressed that its goal was to provide a car that was "a Golf first, and zero-emission second," and that's exactly what it has done.

Other goals included "suitable for families" and "sporty handling," and VW has largely achieved them.

The seventh-generation Golf has grown in size, interior volume, and equipment level, and 40 years after the model was first launched, it's matured: It's a quiet, capable, compact hatchback that's lost a bit of the cheeky, rollerskate appeal of the first generation.

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