Feature

New Volkswagen e-Golf vs BMW i3

Electric hatchbacks don’t come much more usable than VW’s latest e-Golf. But is it better than the radical BMW i3?

Words ByWhat Car? team

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New Volkswagen e-Golf vs BMW i3

The contenders

BMW i3 94Ah

List price Β£33,070

Target Price Β£28,570 (after Β£4500 government grant)

Space-age looks and technology are matched by strong performance


Volkswagen e-Golf

List price Β£32,190

Target Price Β£27,690 (after Β£4500 government grant)

New version benefits from an improved range and the same practicality as any Golf


PC or Mac? Regardless of your interest in tech, it’s a question you’ll no doubt have an answer for. In reality, both do virtually the same job – namely, to act as a personal computer – and yet they encapsulate two entirely different ways of thinking.

The same can be said for the two cars in this test. Both are electric, both claim a near-identical range and both achieve similar results, albeit by following distinctly different paths. For example, the BMW i3 has been built from the ground up to be the ultimate urban electric car. It positively shouts about its electrification with its carbonfibre construction, quirky rear-hinged rear doors and futuristic styling.

The Volkswagen e-Golf, on the other hand, takes a more functional approach, sacrificing none of the excellent ergonomics that make the standard Golf a dominant force. It’s restrained and classless and blends into the crowd. So, which approach results in the best electric hatchback?


Driving

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

It’s unlikely that you’ll want to drive your electric car fl at out very often, but it’s the i3 that will get you away from the lights quickest. Plant your right foot and it scampers from 0-60mph in a hot hatch-rivalling 7.2sec – a whole 1.5sec quicker than the rather more pedestrian e-Golf can manage.

Benefiting from its carbonfibre construction, the i3 is a whopping 285kg lighter than the e-Golf, and BMW, unlike VW, has gone to the trouble of fitting stiffer suspension than you’d normally find in a family hatchback. But while the e-Golf steers accurately and generally stays composed, the i3 all too often feels unstable, with overly quick yet uncommunicative steering forcing the driver to take several bites at corners. Granted, the relatively skinny tyres provide more grip than you might expect, but hit a mid-corner bump and the tall i3 feels nervous and twitchy.

The e-Golf has a much more comfortable ride than the i3, staying composed even over nasty, sharp-edged bumps, while smaller imperfections are shrugged off with ease. The i3’s ride, even on standard 19in wheels, is decidedly poor at low speeds, with smaller bumps being transmitted straight into the interior. The situation is only exacerbated on the optional 20in wheels.

The i3 and e-Golf are more evenly matched in terms of refinement. The electric motors are virtually silent in both cars, with none of the high-pitched whine that you get in, say, the Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe. However, the i3 generates slightly more road noise at higher speeds.

BMW claims a real-world range of 125 miles for the i3, while VW says the e-Golf can cover 124 miles between charges. However, in our test it was the e-Golf that came out on top, eking out 78 miles to the i3’s 74. That’s a surprise, because the i3 has far stronger energy recuperation when you lift off the accelerator, almost rendering the brake pedal redundant.

Next: Behind the wheel >

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