Winter Driving in an e-Golf

We are in the midst of a cold snap here in Ottawa, colder than Mars according to the headlines.  The temperatures over the last week or two have been consistently very cold, with a few days not making it much above -20C.  We have had some snow and the roads have been challenging at times.  Electric Alice has behaved well, and here are some of our thoughts and observations.  We have only used the car in town at these temperatures so far, a longer trip will have to wait for another post.


We have installed good winter tyres, Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2s, They are great tyres and perform well in all the conditions we have had so far. The R2 is designed for low rolling resistance and scores very highly in tyre tests.  We have found that the R2s are noisier than the summer tyres, but overall the noise level is not much worse.

On slippery roads, the traction control works really well, no torque-steer at all with really only the light on the dash to tell you what is happening.  EVs generally have good traction control as the motor is far more responsive than a gas engine. Under hard braking, the ABS works well, just like any other VW.

Regenerative braking seems to work differently if the battery is cold.  In warmer weather, we see about 50kW of regen in B mode and 100kW under braking.  With low temps, the regen seems to be much reduced, perhaps less than half of normal operation.  This is similar to driving with the battery close to 100%.  I suspect that the battery is being protected from some high current events.

Creature Comforts

Volkswagen have clearly put a lot of effort into making the e-Golf comfortable in the winter.  The heater is very powerful, keeping the cabin warm in temps well below -20C.  There is a combination of heat pump and resistive heating, with a total power draw of about 6-7kW.  When the car is cold and you turn on the heated seats, heat front and rear windscreens, the power draw sits at about 7.8kW, a huge draw. Once the cabin is warm, this seems to cycle between 4.4 and 6 kW at -20C.

On the cold days I have been using the preheating function to take the edge off, it is nice to reach the car across the large and windy parking lot at work and settle into a warm car.  It is a shame you can’t turn the seat heaters on with the timer, but they come on in a few seconds.

Range Impact

All this warmth has a big impact on range guess-o-meter (GoM) and the real range. We keep our car in our garage that sits at a few degrees above zero if it is -20C outside.  We see about 110 km on the GoM before we turn the car on, about 130 km when the car is on.

Just turned on in the garage

Driving around town is about the worst thing you can do for range in the winter, the draw of the heating systems does not drop as you sit in traffic, getting out of the car to run an errand lets the cabin cool down and you have to put a bunch of heat back in.  On Saturday we did about 75km in -22C temps with about 6 stops over the day, we got home with about 25km range, so 100km is a realistic range in these conditions. This was the only time I have experienced a touch of range anxiety in town, but when I thought it through, I know where the DC fast chargers are and we were never more than a few km from one so if we had gotten close to running out of electrons, I could have picked some up easily.

We use about 30kWh/100km at -20C, compared with about 16 kWh/100km in warmer weather. A lot of this is the heating but there is also some loss of range due to increases in rolling resistance due to road conditions and hysteresis of the cold tyres. Air resistance is higher in cold temperatures too.  Fossil cars are also much less efficient in cold weather, perhaps 30% or so.

The reduction of range really brings into focus the benefits of workplace charging.  If you have a longer commute, plugging in at work, with the option to preheat your car without using the battery is a big help.  Thankfully, the e-Golf does not have to be plugged-in to use the preheat function.

When we bought Alice, we did so on the assumption that we would rent a car for all long trips.  In warmer weather we have not found that necessary, but I think we would have to think hard about a long trip in the depth of winter.  On the other hand, in town, even in a cold snap we have a car that is warm, comfortable, easy and safe to drive on difficult roads and I have not had to stand in -20C for 5 minutes to fuel up.


Introducing Electric Alice

Electric Alice is our Volkswagen e-Golf, She is white, like a lot of Golfs and she is a 100% electric car.  With no gas or diesel engine we rely on charging at home or on the road to keep moving. Why Electric Alice? Alice as in Alice in Wonderland, buying this car was a trip down a rabbit hole to a different world.

Why did we buy this car?  We choose an e-Golf firstly because it was a Golf.  I like Golfs, they are smallish, well designed and well built.  Golf’s fit our lifestyle and fit in our garage without requiring a huge reorganisation of all our stuff.  The e-Golf is just a better Golf, all the nasty diesel or gas bits are gone, replaced with an electric drivetrain.  We bought the car sight unseen

Here are a few key facts about the car:

Power – 100kW or 134 bhp

Torque – 214lb-ft

0-100km – 9.6 seconds

Battery – 35.8kWh

Range – 201km

I am not a journalist, but Jonny Smith is and he has a great review of the e-Golf that reflects how we view the car.


A Fun Summer

Where does all the time go?  We have had a very busy summer and not much time to blog.  A mix of family responsibilities, setting up our new lives ashore and getting back to work have taken a lot of time but we did find time to take some road trips.  Starting with a trip to Solomons in Maryland and trips to see Jimmy Buffett, a break in Vermont we have put over 10,000km on Alice.

We have really enjoyed the road trips, other than a couple of charger issues, we had no problems, even on long trips.


Going Electric

As we prepared to leave on our Caribbean trip we sold our Mini and we talked, in passing, about the possibility that we might have just sold our last petrol/gasoline car (henceforth – “fossil car” ) We liked the Mini, but it had issues and the local dealer was useless and so we were not sorry to see the car go, but the idea of an electric replacement seemed a long way off.

I am a “car guy”  I like small sports cars, turbocharged engines, hot hatches etc but over the years I have become more and more concerned with the fossil cars impact on the environment. We have a rule that we don’t drive the car for one errand and we try to walk or cycle when it makes sense, but even with this reduction in use, our little Mini racked up some serious miles while we commuted to Kingston and back while we prepared for our boat.

Living off the grid on our boat gave us an appreciation for how little energy we really needed and a lot of experience managing a large battery pack.  This has translated into less “range anxiety” and a more analytical approach to looking at our needs.

While we were on our trip I casually kept an eye on the electric vehicle (EV) market and wondered if any of the current cars would meet our needs. Range is a big factor but needs and wants are a very personal matter. One data point we have is Ottawa, where we live to Kingston where one of our kids lives. This is about 196 km on highways and about 176 cross country. The Kia Soul EV seemed like a close fit, but with 150km range, seemed like too much of a compromise.

In early February, the Government of Ontario announced a new EV incentive program that raised the subsidy on an EV to as much as $14,000.  This subsidy is enough to put the cost of an electric car at the same level as a fossil car.  Ontario is seeding the market to drive the uptake of plug-in cars.  Tandemed with programs to rollout more charging infrastructure, Ontario is committed to make this work.  They are trying to crack the chicken vs egg issue and turn it into a hotdog vs bun issue.

At about the same time, Hyundai and Volkswagen announced new EVs each with 200 km range.  The Ioniq and the e-Golf represent a stepping stone between slightly lower range cars like the Leaf, Focus Electric and Soul EV and long range cars like the Bolt and the Tesla Model 3.

We had seriously considered a Golf TDI a few years ago, only escaping the Diesel scandal by not making a quick decision to buy one when we went shopping.  The e-Golf seemed to meet our requirements and the price was right so we came up with a plan:

The plan:  Buy an EV, use it for local trips and set a budget for rental cars when we want to take a road trip.  This plan went right out the window within days of buying the car, but more on that later.