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Volkswagen Launches the People's Electric Car

The basic throttle response and braking feels very similar to the Mercedes B-class, Chevy Volt, Ford Focus and Nissan Leaf. They are all well-balanced and exhibit a lack of drama. It's really the other factors that set them apart -- seating position, steering wheel, instrumentation controls and so forth.

The outlier of the group is clearly the BMW i3. It feels like nothing else on wheels. The BMW has a dramatically precise steering and an amazing accelerator pedal with a supremely calibrated regenerative braking. Nothing else on the road comes close.

The BMW i3 is so different to drive that I find it polarizing. It's so superior in its sharpness but at the same time I fear it may become tiring to drive. It has the potential for making me car sick because of the heavy g-forces throwing my head in all four directions as I brake, accelerate and steer. While I have driven the i3, I think, at nine times now, I still need to drive it for at least a couple of full days in order to be able to tell more conclusively whether I would prefer to live with its sharp responses from steering and pedals.

In contrast, the VW eGolf could almost put you to sleep because it is so calming and smooth, as are most of the other competitors. This is meant in a good way.

What about the other factors?

The Chevrolet Volt and BMW i3 offer one thing the competition does not: gasoline backup, which is optional in the BMW i3 and standard in the Volt. For some people, this is an absolute requirement for living with a plug-in car.

In terms of DC fast-charging, the VW Golf electric will have the new charging combined DC/AC standard, just like the BMW i3 and for that matter the West-Coast-only Chevrolet Spark. This is unlike the Mercedes B-class and Ford Focus, neither of which offers any DC charging.

Bottom line: Strong entry into a tiny market

If you absolutely need to have a pure EV in this price range -- $30,000 to $50,000 -- the VW Golf electric should be your top choice side by side with the Mercedes B-class and perhaps the BMW i3. However, for most people the Chevrolet Volt is the better option because of its gasoline backup.

For another $10,000 or more over the Volt, the BMW i3 with range-extender also provides some of this benefit, although with a tiny and difficult to manage two-gallon gasoline tank.

In order to sell more plug-in cars, VW needs to launch plug-in hybrids as well as pure EVs with longer range. There is no doubt in my mind that we will see such models from VW on U.S. roads before 2017.

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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