Volkswagen e-Up, e-Golf place their bets

Volkwagen (VW) broke from years of touting diesel power as the most practical short-term route to efficient driving, choosing on 10 September to double down on electric drive.

The Volkwagen Group debuted four electrically propelled vehicles on the first day of previews at the Frankfurt motor show: the Volkswagen e-Up and e-Golf, the Audi A3 e-tron and the Porsche Panamera plug-in hybrid.

The two Volkswagen models are, quite simply, electrified versions of two of the company’s best-selling models. Each car features a lithium-ion battery pack mounted beneath the floor, which helps create a lower centre of gravity for improved handling, despite the added mass of the battery pack.

The e-Golf is scheduled to arrive in European showrooms next spring and in North America and Asia in 2015. The electron-propelled model will be visually distinguishable by its LED headlights and C-shaped LED running lights.  It will also have a blue accent stripe on the grille – a contrast to the speedy Golf GTD’s grey and GTI’s red stripes.

The e-Golf’s 24.2-kilowatt-hour battery pack – slightly larger than that in the electric Nissan Leaf – propels the car between 90 and 118 miles on a charge, depending on temperature, driving conditions and speed. Because very low ambient temperatures sap battery performance, the e-Golf has a heat pump system that warms the battery pack in extremely cold weather, which boosts the car’s cold-weather range by about 20%, VW claims.

The car has an 85kW electric motor (roughly equivalent to 115 horsepower) that zips the e-Golf to 62mph from a standstill in 10.4 seconds – hardly tire-torching performance, but not far off the pace of its electric- or gasoline-powered competitors. Top speed, meanwhile, is electronically limited to 87mph.

It would take about 13 hours to recharge a fully depleted battery using 110v household current, but a direct-current quick-charging station along the lines of Tesla’s Supercharger can recharge 80% of the battery’s capacity in just 30 minutes – with the remaining 20% coming on line in the next half-hour.

The e-Up receives an 18.7kWh battery pack that can run the 60kW (82hp) electric motor for a distance of between 75 and 100 miles, depending on conditions. The car can accelerate to 62mph in 12.4 seconds – casual to be sure, but quicker than a gasoline-powered Up.

Far from any wall socket, VW also showed the Golf R in Frankfurt. The 296hp, all-wheel-drive über-Golf rockets to 62mph in just 4.9 seconds when equipped with the DSG dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Row-your-own holdouts may have more fun with the manual transmission, but they will lose a drag race to the DSG because the six-speed manual needs 5.3 seconds to reach 62mph.

The DSG has an edge in efficiency, too, with a 34mpg rating in combined driving on the European test cycle. The manual transmission, meanwhile, is good for 33mpg.

The car launches in Europe later this year, with a starting price of €38,325 (pricing for the US will be announced closer to the R’s sale date).