Why Volkswagen Is An Unlikely Environmental Savior

Don't laugh, but the E-Golf and Jetta Hybrid are actually great green car buys.
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Don't laugh, but the E-Golf and Jetta Hybrid are actually great green car buys.
2015 Volkswagen e-Golf

Yes, Volkswagen is this week’s environmental boogeyman. Next week it will be somebody else.

But while Volkswagen's massive emissions scandal threatens to cost the German brand $87 billion—even costlier than BP's disastrous 2010 oil spill—VW is ironically offering perhaps the best affordable electric cars on the market.

The Volkswagen e-Golf is my favorite, least-compromised battery electric EV in the U.S. And for 2016, VW has introduced a lower-priced model that strips some of the expensive extras away for shoppers who only have $29,000 to spend saving the planet. That price is before various state and federal rebates, which are commonly included when quoting prices of other EVs.

There are plenty of battery electric cars available on the market right now, with the Nissan Leaf probably the best-known of the ones that don’t cost six figures like Tesla. But the Leaf and most other battery electric cars often don't live up to their gas-powered peers when it comes to everyday driving.

The e-Golf feels like a regular Golf, which is to say that it is excellent. The EPA says it will go 83 miles on a charge and that it scores 116 mpg equivalent, which is its rating for the efficiency of EVs. An available 7.2 kilowatt onboard charger makes for faster recharging than most competitors.

Nevertheless, only about 350 people bought one last month, which, considering the outrage over the potential for VW diesels to release more oxides of nitrogen than advertised, seems disproportionate to the utter disinterest from buyers in the cleanest available options.

Even less popular? Volkswagen's Jetta Hybrid. Toyota grabs headlines for its Prius, while Jetta Hybrids collect dust in showrooms because fewer than 100 were sold last month.

Like the e-Golf, the Jetta Hybrid does a very convincing impersonation of a conventional car.That’s in part because of its use of seven-speed automatically shifted dual-clutch transmission rather than a continuously variable transmission like most hybrids do, so the engine goes through the familiar up-and-down rhythms of gear changes like regular cars.

For 2016, VW is replacing the naturally aspirated gasoline engines in its Golf and Jetta with downsized 1.4 turbo motors, as Ford has done with its EcoBoost engines, but without the focus group-tested name.

So yes, there are some excellent green choices offered by the currently demonized Volkswagen.

Perhaps they should try a new slogan: Save the planet. Buy a VW.

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