Review: BMW i3 v Volkswagen e-Golf

Review: BMW i3 v Volkswagen e-Golf
Review: BMW i3 v Volkswagen e-Golf

Two e-hatchbacks take a different route, so which is better, the more traditional VW or the more radical BMW?

While these two achieve much the same thing, that is to be solid electric hatchbacks with similar ranges and results, the way they go about it couldn’t be more different. If you want to venture into the world of electric driving, then the VW e-Golf may well be the more attractive option at first glance. Because a first glance is all you’ll give it. It simply looks like a Golf. But the BMW i3 wants a second glance and then a stare. So which one is you?

Driving

Volkswagen e-Golf

Price: £32,190
Engine: Electric motor
Battery capacity: 35.8kWh
Gearbox: Single-speed automatic
Power: 134bhp
Torque: 213lb ft
0-60mph: 8.7sec
Top speed: 93mph
Range (claim): 124 miles
Range (real-world): 78 miles
Cost of a full charge: £4.65
Cost of electricity per mile: 5.9p

The BMW does have the figures to back up the carbonfibre and aluminium looks. Shove your foot down and you’ll hit 62mph in just 7.2 seconds. Take your foot off and you’ll wonder why they fitted a brake pedal. Energy harvesting is so strong that the car slows rapidly without you even touching the brakes. It’s also almost completely silent, with no presence of electric whine such as you’d find in a Nissan Leaf.

The VW e-Golf is similarly quiet, but it’s going to take 8.7 seconds to hit 62mph. That’s partly down to the considerable 285kg it weighs over the svelte i3. However, that heft means that the ride is pretty steady and stable and, after all, this is a Golf, so the handling is very sound.

The lighter, friskier BMW struggles to deliver a composed ride most of the time. It gets a bit eager, and feels a bit top-heavy in some corners, not helped by light and uncommunicative steering. The thin tyres grip surprisingly well, but this isn’t a car to go caning around country lanes in.

While that energy recuperation is very marked, it somehow doesn’t seem to translate into range. BMW claims 125 miles but we only managed 74. That’s close to the VW situation, where the official figure of 124 miles translated into 78 miles in the real world.

Interior

The BMW has some fairly wacky doors although the rear-hinged rear doors open up to a passenger space that is fairly cramped, unlike the decent room in the front. And you have to have the front doors open to then open the rear doors, which is tiresome.

The Golf stays traditional with its five doors, and offers more space in the rear. And then it offers considerably more space in the boot, with the BMW compromised by trying to store electric motor, battery and ancillaries.

BMW i3 94Ah

Price: £33,070
Engine: Electric motor
Battery capacity: 33kWh
Gearbox: Single-speed automatic
Power: 168bhp
Torque: 184lb ft
0-60mph: 7.2sec
Top speed: 93mph
Range (claim): 125 miles
Range (real-world): 74 miles
Cost of a full charge: £4.29
Cost of electricity per mile: 5.8p

The VW continues the more mainstream appearance in the cabin, where there is little to remind you you’re in an electric car, bar some blue stitching and bespoke dials. A lot of people might find all that reassuring, whereas the i3’s cabin goes all out to remind you you’re in something different. The digital instrument cluster ahead of the wheel and the infotainment screen handle just about everything. It’s pretty funky.

The BMW comes with a 6.5-inch colour screen, but we’d recommend finding £960 for the Professional media package as that gives you the 10.2-inch screen and a whole lot else. The e-Golf has a 9.2-inch Discover Navigation Pro touchscreen as standard, and it comes fully loaded. Although if you can get the gesture control system to work effectively then you must have some serious self-control.

Costs

The e-Golf comes well equipped with sensors front and rear, LED headlights and that great infotainment system – all of which are extras on the BMW. On the other hand the BMW will be cheaper on finance or lease. Once you’re past that headline figure though the BMW starts to get more expensive. Depreciation will be higher, insurance will also be higher and so too will servicing costs.

You can charge both cars up at home, although this will take ten hours (BMW) or 13 hours (VW) if you’re just using a 240v supply from your house, and that will only get you 80 per cent charge. Shift up to a home charging station and that time drops to about four hours.

So which one should you have plugged into your electricity supply? The BMW is certainly the head turner. Designed from the ground up as an electric car, it has the benefits of light weight, out-there styling and an absence of compromise. Which is strange because it does seem compromised. The rear doors are not wacky they’re irritating, and the space back there is definitely cramped in comparison with the VW. Given the ride at low speeds is less than exemplary, you’re left with a car that’s compromised where it shouldn’t be.

The VW e-Golf of course is hugely compromised since it was designed basically with a petrol or diesel engine. And yet it works so well, doing what a Golf always does. It’s practical, spacious, drives enjoyably and is well equipped as standard. The fact that it’s a bit cheaper than the BMW and will depreciate less is just the clincher. Next time you see an e-Golf give it a good long stare.

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