2015 Volkswagen e-Golf Vs. Golf TDI: Back-To-Back Test Drive

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With the introduction of the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf late this year, VW will be the only automaker to offer (in the U.S.) both diesel and all-electric versions of the same model in the U.S.

While we expected to plan a back-to-back drive of these two models at some point, we didn’t expect it to come so soon. At a ride-and-drive event called Drive Revolution, organized in part by yours truly this past week, we convinced Volkswagen to bring both models -- both as four-door hatchbacks, both the same color.

The e-Golf doesn’t arrive in U.S. spec until November or December, so our test car was Euro-spec; aside from headlamps, taillamps, trim pieces, and of course some unseen elements like airbags, the two models were very close in appearance and equipment.

Subjectively, how does the e-Golf stack up against the Golf TDI?

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A smoother, stronger new diesel, vs. an all-new all-electric Golf

In the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI, the latest EA288 turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine, which has a completely new design and all-new parts throughout, makes 150 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque; it feels a little quicker than before, but it’s the major advances in refinement and drivability that will leave anyone who’s driven previous VW diesel products very impressed. This latest model has an absolute minimum of clatter when cold, settles to a quiet purr when hot, and lacks the turbo lag that its predecessor had. And it’s not just smoother, but quicker-revving, as we appreciated with the six-speed manual transmission.

Meanwhile, in our drive of the e-Golf, we found a relatively conservatively tuned electric vehicle -- albeit one with some of the best seat comfort, likely the quietest interior, and perhaps the most nimble, reassuring handling. As with many electric vehicles, the placement of the battery pack brings the weight distribution farther back, more onto the rear wheels.

TDI is heavier -- and heavier-driving

Curb weight is actually slightly heavier for the TDI (around 3,125 pounds, versus just below 3,100 for the e-Golf), and there’s no mistaking that the e-Golf ended up with the better weight distribution. Whiile the TDI can feel rather nose-heavy when you push it harder into tight corners, the lower and more rearward center of mass of the e-Golf feels more nimble and more at ease in quick changes of direction. Somehow, the electric power steering managed to transmit a little more feel from the road in the e-Golf, too.

As VW notes, the new MQB platform for both of these models adds about two inches to overall length and a half inch to width. The front wheels sit farther forward than the previous Mk6 Golf, leading to the feeling that you’re both sitting farther back, toward the midpoint of the car. As well, the seating position feels somewhat higher relative to the beltline (even if it isn’t), allowing better outward visibility.

e-Golf more efficient -- but not the right pick for everyone

Kilowatt for kilowatt, there’s no disputing that the e-Golf is the more efficient of these two. But it all comes down to this: With the e-Golf’s most efficient (Eco+) mode cutting you off at 59 mph, and the middle Eco mode trying to keep you to a 72-mph top speed (unless you floor it), the electric Golf’s sweet spot is at city speeds, and not at all on the freeway. Meanwhile, the Golf TDI feels like it’s just hitting its stride at 40 mph -- and we’d venture to say that it’s probably still returning close to its peak mileage at 55 or 60 mph -- making it a great pick for those who must commute longer distances, on the Interstates, tollways, and freeways...or even higher-speed exurb boulevards like what you have in the outer reaches of many U.S. metro areas.

For those who typically make shorter trips, at city speeds, often in near gridlock, the e-Golf is the one to have. It feels far more mature than zippy small electric cars like the Chevrolet Spark EV and Fiat 500E, has less cabin noise than the Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus Electric, and offers a somewhat sportier feel, fundamentally, than the comfortable yet van-like Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive.

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TDI for speed and distance, e-Golf for absolute efficiency

But back to weighing these two Golfs, apples to apples, the Golf TDI remains the pick for those who have longer distances to cover, while the e-Golf is something to consider if you’re already shopping electric vehicles and can meet their charging and range requirements.

Diesel fuel, on the other hand, is available pretty much everywhere in the U.S.

As for the e-Golf, charging it quickly remains an issue. With the first DC fast-charging SAE Combo stations just rolling out, it will be quite a while before those who live in EV-friendly West Coast regions can take the kind of longer, coastal-and-mountain road trips with quick charging -- the way that those with the Leaf can with the CHAdeMo chargers, or Tesla drivers with the Supercharger network.

Pricing is the wild card

Of course pricing will be also be a big part of whether the e-Golf can fit into the households who might consider it. While the 2015 Golf TDI has a sticker price that’s been reduced by about $3,000 versus that of the previous-generation Golf TDI (our test car, and the one we drove back-to-back with the e-Golf, stickered at around $28k. Starting price for the TDI is $22,815. It’s likely that pricing for the e-Golf will be a lot higher, but federal and state tax credits could bring them to about the same effective price.

Both of these models are tuned for efficiency; but with the power and torque characteristics of the diesel, versus the way that the e-Golf is (conservatively) controlled, the TDI is the clear winner for perceived sportiness.

That’s the quick back-to-back take, essentially. We look forward to fine-tuning these impressions with a weeklong test of the e-Golf -- hopefully by the end of the year.

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