On the road: Volkswagen e-Golf – car review

Can Kaiser Chief Ricky Wilson be persuaded of the charms of the silent electric e-Golf? We find out

Late Thursday afternoon, and Ricky Wilson and I are riding through the streets of Bloomsbury in a Volkswagen e-Golf. We’ve got the windows down, Toploader’s Dancing In The Moonlight on the radio, spilling out on to a throng of American tourists near Russell Square. They look on, meat-faced and unmoved.

When I collected Wilson, he climbed in with a carrier bag full, he claimed, of everything we would need for our mini roadtrip (to north London via the dry cleaner): “Some crap crisps. Capri-Sun. Haribo,” he said. “And the only CD in my car: New Woman: Party Starter. I don’t know how long it’s been there – I’ve never seen it before.”

The e-Golf is Volkswagen’s electric version of its 40-year-old classic. You wouldn’t really be able to discern this from the exterior, save for its LED headlights, sealed grille and alloy wheels. The difference lies in the throbbing heart of its lithium ion battery. Do lithium batteries throb? Not quite yet, perhaps.

While a frontrunner in the electric vehicle market, this is not really the car for major roadtrips. It purports to have a range of about 118 miles before it needs charging, at home or on the street (recharge time eight to 13 hours); though when my colleague later borrows it, the range claim begins to look dubious – it runs out of juice near Reading services.

It’s lightweight, just 1.5 tonnes, bobbing about on the breeze like thistledown. Yet it never feels flimsy; there is real precision to its handling, happily curving the capital’s mini roundabouts.

Because it’s nigh-on soundless, you notice other details: the tick-tocking of the indicator, the squeak of the steering wheel beneath your palms. And without the buffer of engine noise, you feel more attuned to the world outside: cyclists, pedestrians, small flights of birds.

Wilson’s busy telling me about his Range Rover and his Mini, and the motorbike that he can’t technically drive but keeps in his garage all the same and sometimes sits on and goes “brum brum”.

I ask him what he thinks of the e-Golf. “Um, it’s fine,” he replies noncommittally. I’m going to turn off the funk so you can hear how quiet it is, I say. I mute Jamiroquai and we drive in silence. “For me, it kind of doesn’t fulfil anything,” says Wilson. “If I was going for an electric car, I’d want it to scream electric car. I’d want lightning bolts on the side and a plug on the back.” There is a plug but, to Wilson’s disappointment, it’s concealed where the petrol cap would be.

The thing is, I quite like the e-Golf. There’s something unexpectedly pleasing about a quiet car in a busy city. You’re moving stealthily through the hubbub in a peaceful little bubble. It feels like modern travel: clean, soft and easy.

I wait for Wilson outside the dry cleaner. When he returns, folding a bundle of woollens on to the back seat, he brings the loudness of the outside world, struck afresh by the recognition that TV fame has brought – his role as a judge on BBC1’s The Voice has meant that he now gets waylaid on even the shortest of errands.

Today he is on his way to write songs for the next Kaiser Chiefs album, a task at once exhilarating and daunting. “It feels like a mountain to climb,” he says. “Making the last record consumed my life. Afterwards, you realise that what took a year, and all that travel, and all that emotion, is just 46 minutes of noise.” And then, just for a moment, we sit there and enjoy the silence.

Volkswagen e-Golf

Price £27,090
Top speed 87mph
Acceleration 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds

CO2 emissions 0g/km 
Eco rating 9/10
On the stereo The demos I get sent
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Laura Barton

The GuardianTramp

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