First Drive: Volkswagen Golf GTE
There’s an obvious niche for this car to fill. With surprisingly high economy for the power available, a quarter of all Golfs registered in the UK this year have been the GTI, GTD or R. Significant numbers for one of the country’s biggest-selling models. The GTE takes taps into that market, but with potentially even lower running costs.
The drivetrain is shared the A3 e-tron. It’s a combination of a 148bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine, six-speed DSG gearbox and an electric motor which, at 100bhp, is almost as powerful as the e-Golf’s. Flat out, using both power sources, the GTE produces 202bhp and can reach 62mph in 7.6 seconds from a standing start. Convincing hot hatch numbers.
On the more pragmatic side, a full charge of its lithium-ion battery, which takes between 2.5 and 3.5 hours depending on what it’s plugged into, will allow it to travel 31 miles without burning a drop of fuel. So the GTE is the most efficient Golf with a fuel tank, equating to CO2 emissions of 35g/km.
As with all plug-in hybrids, the environmental and cost benefits vary enormously depending on its use. A 5% Benefit in Kind liability, exemption from Vehicle Excise Duty and London Congestion Charge are all useful, but the biggest gains mean spending as much time as possible driving it on electricity, only using the petrol engine for bursts of acceleration or longer trips. Volkswagen claims it’ll average 62.8mpg once the battery is depleted, helped by its ability to coast along with the motors disconnected at low loads.
That’s not unimpressive for a car at this power level, which is just as well. Unlike the e-Golf, this can’t be rapid charged, so there’s no option to claw most of the range back while you stop for a break. So while it’s ultimately more versatile, because it’s not wholly reliant on battery power, the shorter range and longer charging times means it’s harder to make the most of the greener side of its drivetrain.
It’s otherwise very clever though. If there’s power in the battery, the GTE is unusually reluctant to activate the petrol engine, even on steep climbs, and it shares its additional driving modes with other Volkswagen Group plug-in hybrids. So it’s possible to save the electric charge for driving in urban areas, trash the fuel economy by using the petrol engine to charge the battery, or simply let it do everything automatically, with the option of a more aggressive GTE mode for enthusiastic driving.
Some of the extra weight is offset by the lighter platform of the new Golf, but this weighs 172kg more than a GTI and 147kg more than a GTD with a DSG gearbox, most of which is the battery over the rear axle. It has that familiar Golf solidity on the road, and performance is lively in GTE mode, but it’s predictably not as much fun on a good stretch of road as the other hot Golfs.
Arguably these are its biggest threat. Long-distance drivers are still better off in a GTD, and impressively low running costs for the GTI and R mean they’re increasingly viable too. But the GTE does what the original GTD did – it satisfies the need for a hint of the GTI, but without the costs, and offers a pretty clear view of where this sector is likely to be heading
Volkswagen is cautiously predicting sales of 1,000 units in its first, incomplete, year on sale, but with the potential to outstrip those early figures significantly, particularly in fleet. With the right bits of an ultra-low emission vehicle and enough performance to grab enthusiast interest, all dealers have to do is divert drivers away from the default GTD.
Segment: Lower medium
Type: Petrol plug-in hybrid
Price: £28,000 (estimated) after £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant
Fuel: 188mpg (provisional)
Electric range: 31 miles
CO2 emissions (tailpipe): 35g/km (provisional)