The VW Golf blue-e-motion electric car isn't scheduled to go on sale for three years, but we got an exclusive first drive in it on the recent Future Car Challenge from Brighton to London.
The 57-mile route took in every type of road, from crowded city centre traffic in central London through to leafy country lanes, although higher-speed motorway driving was limited.
Looks like a normal Golf?
Visually, the electric Golf is barely different to the standard car. There's a little less boot space because of the battery pack, a couple of different dials to reflect charge levels and most notably two paddles behind the steering wheel, which can adjust the level of automatic brake regeneration.
The Golf is powered by lithium-ion batteries and has an electric motor with a peak power output of 113bhp providing a range of around 100 miles in normal conditions. It can reach a top speed of 86mph and accelerate from 0-62 mph in 11.8 seconds. That's enough for everyday driving, and its instant torque can even spin the wheels, if you must.
The car has regenerative braking that can activate when the accelerator is released and during the initial travel of the brake pedal. This reduces the amount of energy that would otherwise be wasted during driving.
Behind the wheel
Driving the Golf proved to be simplicity itself. There are two forward settings, one that allows free progress, the other maximises brake-energy regeneration. Both modes of driving take seconds to get used to, but would take several hours behind the wheel to get the maximum benefit from.
The same can be said of those paddles behind the steering wheel. There are four settings, each applying increasing amounts of braking to instigate energy recuperation a crucial way of extending range, particularly because the battery pack means the Golf is around 250kg heavier than an equivalent diesel model.
Used cleverly, the paddles make a significant difference to efficiency, but getting the best from the system requires a lot of thinking ahead, reading the road conditions and working the paddles hard. In everyday driving it is easy to believe they could get ignored unless you are running out of range.
Overall, this car supplements all the Golf's qualities with improved refinement. There's no engine noise, just a tiny whirr from the electric motor, and wind- and road noise are minimal, plus amazing efficiency. On our eco-minded test drive, we achieved the Golf's claimed range.
VW's next step is to put 500 Golf Blue-e-motions into real-world trials, which will begin next year. Data from these trials will then be used to hone the car ahead of its mass-market debut in late 2013.