Volkswagen sees Tesla as its main mass-market electric vehicle (EV) rival.

Uh, what? Really? VW, the EV company?

Yes, according to various reports, the centerpiece of VW’s Dieselgate comeback plan – call it the “reimagining of VW in the wake of a global scandal” – will deliver quite the jolt to the new vehicle marketplace.

Consider: VW claims that one in four new VW models will be all-electric by 2025. To get there, VW plans to introduce 30 new electric vehicles by 2025. By 2030, VW expects to have at least one hybrid or electric version of every model in its lineup. The goal is to have EV sales account for 25 per cent of all sales.

VW CEO Mattias Mueller expects his company to compete with Tesla at all price points between the Model S and Model 3 in VW’s three biggest markets: China, North America and Europe. By 2025, according  t0 VW’s grandiose vision for itself, the company will be selling 2-3 million EVs annually.

Judging by my recent test of VW’s only EV in Canada so far, this German automaker has a long way to go in a relatively short time. Aside from the fact the e-Golf makes something less than a bold design statement, this hatchback has a best-case range of about 200 km — considerably less than the 380-km of a Chevrolet Bolt, the 354 km range of the most basic Tesla Model 3 and the 241 km range of the 2018 Nissan Leaf.

Pricing? The starter version of this four-door hatchback lists for $36,355. Add in the Technology + Driver Assistance package ($4,610), leatherette upholstery ($360), freight and PDI ($1,645) and various taxes and fees ($689 in Ontario) and the final tally comes to $43,659. Whew!

Of course, some provincial governments have various schemes to subsidize EVs. In Ontario, if you buy an e-Golf or lease one for three years, generous taxpayers have $14,000 for you. So a really well loaded e-Golf comes in around $30,000, after incentives.

Worth it?

Well, the e-Golf is no Model 3, design-wise. Not a Bolt, either, inside and out. Where the Model 3 is a gem, marked by clutter-free surfaces, and the Bolt is tallish and Chevrolet-practical hatchback, the e-Golf is just a bland and uninspired retro styling exercise. Not offensive, but certainly not very interesting.

VW, as noted, is in the early stages of developing a broad range of EVs and when new VW EVs roll into showrooms, they surely will sport designs that turn heads and set tongues to clattering. This current e-Golf does little more than plant the electrified flag for VW. It’s as exciting to look at as a shopping cart.

Keep in mind, the e-Golf here pre-dates the “reimagining of VW in the wake of a global scandal.” It went into production in the second quarter of 2014 and since then got a facelift and a better, more potent battery – 35.8kWh.

You’ll need to dig around to find that sort of detail, however. VW Canada’s scant interest in selling the e-Golf today is reflected in its consumer and media web sites – neither of which go into abundant technical detail. But I can tell you from real-world testing that an 80 per cent charge takes less than an hour from a public DC charging station. (If you’re stuck with a 110-volt plug at home, plan on a 26-hour recharge.)

And the car is very nice to drive. The electric motor now develops 100kW, or 136 horsepower, but what’s more impressive is the instant torgue – 290 Nm or 214 lb-ft. This little hatchback jumps from a standing start and will hit 100 km/hour in less than 10 seconds, with power going to the front wheels via a single-speed gearbox.

The battery range will be dictated by road and weather conditions and how you drive. If you’re careful and conservative, you might get more than 200 km on a single charge. Put the gear shift in “B” and you’ll get a bit more range as energy is recovered when braking and slowing. But this regenerative process can jarring when you lift your foot from the accelerator.

The rest of the car is totally unremarkable, right down to the dashboard lifted from the regular gasoline Golf and the optional 9.2-inch touchscreen. The seats could use better padding for a pricy car like this, I would also note.

We can expect VW to get more serious about EVs starting with the second-generation e-Golf due in 2019. The new e-Golf will be one of the first vehicles to ride on VW’s MEB battery-electric compact architecture. And from there, all these future VW EVs will follow.

Until then, VW has this and it’s not quite enough to inspire great confidence in VW’s great EV plan – the one to take on Tesla in this space.

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

Base price: $36,355. Total as tested: $43,659. (Eligible for up to $14,000 in taxpayer-funded incentives depending on jurisdiction.)

Power: 100-kW electric motor; 35.8-kWh high-voltage battery

Fuel economy (kWh/100 km): 16.8 city, 18.6 highway

Comparables:  Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Ford Focus Electric, Kia Soul EV.

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