Volkswagen South Africa loaned me the electric e-Golf for the month of November. I found it very fitting that my first long-term test car would be an EV. It was scheduled back in July and I basically counted down the months till it arrived.
A quick recap: the e-Golf was brought to South Africa for testing only; it will not be sold here. There are only six in the country and it will rotate between media, customers, staff, etc. so VW can collect feedback before bringing their official range to SA.
From my understanding, the ID.3 will also arrive here for testing next year but the ID.4 will be its first EV to go on sale in this market.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IT’S ELECTRIC?
The e-Golf looks just like a regular Golf but if you look closely, you can tell its electric. The side front and back says “e-Golf”; the door says “VW E.lectric” in blue, and the front has a blue line going across the headlights. It has a concealed exhaust but it’s not round.
On the inside, you can see the digital instrument cluster has a battery meter and the count is different to an ICE vehicle.
The e-Golf has 100kW of power, 290Nm of torque, and an electric range of ±190km. Its battery capacity is 35.8kWh but its usable range is 32kWh. It does 0-100km/h in 9.6 seconds and its top speed is capped at around 150-160km. It uses a Type 2 charger, located on the right. This model supports AC and DC charging.
The e-Golf has three driving modes: Normal, which is the default; Eco; and Eco+ that you can toggle between based on your needs. Normal has no restrictions but Eco drops the speed to 120km/h and restricts aircon and Eco+ severely restricts output with no aircon. I toggled between theses based on my range and how far my drive was. I loved the driving modes for when I was in a hurry and couldn’t pay as much attention to preserve battery life. Sometimes when I got close to nearing the end of my trip, I’d switch to Eco+ and not have any aircon.
The car lets you drive in regular D mode; then there’s three levels of recuperation when your foot lifts off the accelerator, D1, D2, and D3; and lastly there’s a B mode for max regeneration. So, technically, there are four regen modes on the vehicle. You have to drive the car to experience the varying degrees of regen from D1/2/3; they all feel different to each other.
I loved that I had these options, which was entirely dependent on how far I was going and how much I’d need to regen. When it was tight, I’d just go straight into B, or if you don’t want to think too much and do it manually, go into Eco or Eco+ mode. However, I loved driving in regular D for the coasting aspect. It allowed me to be super efficient; I achieved an extra 30km range after driving 30km from Joburg to Pretoria side. I’d say D and B were my most used modes for the month.
The one thing I didn’t like about the regen modes was not being able to see easily which mode I was in. If you’re on D3 for example, the instrument cluster does not specifically say so. The main gear is set to D so you move the gear either left or right to go up and down.
The e-Golf was equipped with a bag in the boot that contained a home charger with a regular three-pin plug. The three-pin plug was an adaptor added to the plug, which is an import. This could be used anywhere in South Africa with that socket; the same way you charge a smartphone. However, this method is the slowest and is meant to be charged overnight. It also came with a charging cable that I could use at public charging spots, like at shopping centres.
The e-Golf has a built-in feature that you can program it to charge your vehicle at a certain time of the day. This requires you to have it plugged in before going to bed for example, and letting it come on at 11pm or 12am, whatever suits your household.
VW South Africa also provided me with a charge card, issued by GridCars. It covered the cost of recharging at public chargers. I had no issues accessing the charging stations.
While there are no instructions on how to use public chargers, I think the process is straight forward/intuitive. You tap the card on the marked area to begin and then follow on-screen instructions. I only struggled in instances when it was a bright sunny day and couldn’t see the screen of the charger clearly. Once the car is charging, nobody can remove the car and steal it. You need the key to unlock it to disconnect the charger. This basically applies to all EVs in SA. One currently cannot just drive off with a car attached to a charger.
A regular wall three-pin plug is 2.3kW and charges at a rate of 12km/h, so a full charge takes 16h30m. I didn’t deplete it that much, and always charged when it got to around 90km range. So it never took me that long. The car supports a DC charger, which I tried at the Jaguar Land Rover Experience Centre. However, the model of the e-Golf supports up to 40kW of fast charging and the JLR DC charger is 60kW. A max 40kW charge will take 36mins to fully charge at a rate of 220km/h. I referred to the Electric Vehicle Database for the stats.
CHARGERS I USED
I charged the e-Golf at home on a wall socket with a three pin plug. There were times when I forgot to charge the vehicle overnight. When I needed an urgent charge, I drove to JLR and used the DC charger. I made use of BMW i chargers at shopping centres in Joburg. Some had cables attached to it, and others I had to use the one that came with my car.
I also made use of the PlugShare app to locate chargers around me, and referred to it when I was making a trip somewhere, on the chance I needed a quick charge. Except the major malls that have ones I am familiar with and used before.
I didn’t have access to the data on my charging card and therefore could not refer to my “transaction history” to see exactly how I was billed. With a lot of the charging stations I used during the day, due to the glare of the sun, I couldn’t see the screens properly or it disappeared too soon when you tap the card to end the charge session.
There is no uniformity with the various chargers and data it displays, unfortunately. VW did tell me afterwards there is a way to register the card online, but I tried myself based on the info on the card and alas couldn’t link it to ChargePocket either.
I know at initial launch phases, some manufacturers provide charge cards to customers that either cover the costs for a certain amount of time or cover a percentage of the total charge. All customers who buy an EV in SA will need a charge card of some sort to use at public chargers. I hope it can all be linked to one portal.
ONE MONTH IN AN EV
My excitement levels were consistent throughout the month of driving the e-Golf. I looked for opportunities (between being on the road for other car events) to drive places, visit friends and show off the car. There was curiosity from both people I knew and complete strangers. I’ve had conversations with people at traffic lights who wound down their windows to ask me questions about it. And one particular enthusiastic Golf R driver who drove side by side to chat with me and ask questions. I loved the interaction of both being socially distant but being able to answer his questions and see his excitement.
I got used to the instant torque very quickly (my favourite thing about EVs) and miss it a lot. The e-Golf is a comfortable drive; I loved that it had Apple CarPlay support. I plugged my phone in at times and it didn’t appear to use a lot of power from the car, or I didn’t notice.
I didn’t have range anxiety specifically with this car. I was told that from the 190km range, one could technically get a 600km range out it, based on individual driving style. Driving around Joburg felt like a game to me, I was obsessed with seeing how I do, how much range I could use or not use and just be efficient.
The eGolf forced me to change my driving habits. I drive a Mini Cooper S and drive a certain way, so this entailed me doing things the opposite way. I don’t think I could have pulled off driving efficiently in a regular car, only in an EV because you have to be calculating about it. And this is why I think this could be a challenge for the masses in South Africa.
CHALLENGES IN SA
Due to my extensive coverage and having had the opportunity to drive most EVs available in South Africa (well, except one), I understand what it entails to drive one. This may not sound like much but there are things you need to adjust to, like starting up to silence, driving in silence, barely needing to use the brakes, understanding that just because it says 190km range you can actually get more range out it if you drive it efficiently. You can’t just put your foot flat and waste the range. I think most people can’t grasp the fact that 190km range may not equate to exactly that.
Yes, we all love (well, me) the thrill of instant torque but you cannot drive like that all the time. You have to learn to adapt your driving style to get the most out of one charge. Those modes like Normal, Eco and Eco+ are so important for those who may struggle to driving efficiently manually. But it will come with practise. That said, all the EVs I’ve driven in SA are different to each other. I learnt something by driving each one.
There needs to be a massive educational drive in SA for EVs to take off. I also cannot tweet about EVs without someone mentioning load shedding. I know it’s difficult to be positive right now, but the way I see it, is we don’t have load shedding for 12 months in the year, and we don’t have it at night. Charging an EV is meant to be done overnight, or if you look at the suburb and schedule, you can drive to a DC charger for a quick charge in a short time. I truly believe if you want something, you will make it work.
However, the bigger challenge is for the prices to come down. BEVs are being taxed higher – unfairly, which is why they are so expensive. All we can do right now is wait for the government to fix this. Manufacturers have been lobbying them for years and honestly, I don’t know why it’s taking this long. Maybe I’m just impatient and want things now.
Welcome to Wired to the Web. My name is Nafisa Akabor and I’m a technology journalist covering business and consumer tech for the last 14 years. I’m passionate about start-ups, smartphones, mobile payments, travel tech and electric cars. ✉️ firstname.lastname@example.org