What is it?
Following the introduction of various petrol, diesel, natural gas and pure electric versions over the past two years, Volkswagen has added a new plug-in petrol-electric hybrid variant of the seventh-generation Golf to its line-up.
The new car, which opens for orders in the UK in November, carries the name GTE – a nomenclature that Volkswagen suggests hints it is more than just a fuel miser but a genuinely sporting model in the mould of the Golf GTI and GTD.
The sister car to the Audi A3 e-tron, with which it shares its hi-tech driveline, the Golf GTE is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder direct injection petrol engine and a synchronous electric motor mounted within the forward section of the gearbox. Together, they provide a combined system output of 204bhp and 258lb ft of torque.
The combined reserves are channeled to the front wheels via a specially adapted version of Volkswagen’s six-speed dual shift (double clutch) gearbox known as the DQ400. It provides the driver with the choice of five modes: E-mode, GTE mode, battery hold, battery charge and hybrid.
Depending on the mode that is chosen, the gearbox is either decoupled from the engine to provide drag free coasting or recuperates kinetic energy on a trailing throttle, thereby ensuring the maximum possible efficiency.
The electric motor draws energy from an 8.7kWh lithium-ion battery mounted underneath the rear seat in the place usually taken up by the fuel tank. The petrol tank, reduced in size from a regular 50 litres to 40 litres, is housed within a slightly raised floor of the boot.
As a result, luggage capacity drops by 108 litres over more traditional petrol and diesel versions of the Golf to 272 litres. Despite the rearward shift of the fuel tank, Volkswagen claims the Golf GTE can absorb a 50mph rear end impact without any serious deformation or safety concerns.
Volkswagen is quick to extol the fuel sipping qualities and low emissions of the Golf GTE, and with pretty good reason. With a combined cycle average on the European cycle of 188mpg and average CO2 emissions of just 35g/km, it promises remarkably economy.
Its combination of petrol and electric power also provides it with spritely performance when you explore the kick down potential of the two power sources. Official figures point to a 0-62mph time of 7.6sec and 138mph top speed in GTE mode.
In E-mode, the Golf GTE hits 81mph before a limiter caps your speed, making it suitable for both city and motorway running. The claimed electric range is put at 31 miles, although this is dependent upon varying factors including your average speed. The combined range extends to 584miles, or roughly that of a conventional petrol engine Golf.
The key to the Golf GTE’s extended electric range is its plug in capability. The new car can be charged on either standard household mains or a fast charge wallbox – the latter of which comes as an option.
The recharge time for the battery is put at four hours on a regular 240 volt, 10 amp system and just under two hours on a more robust 240 volt, 16 amp set-up. The socket for the plug is neatly hidden beneath the Volkswagen emblem in the grille. Alternatively, the petrol engine and kinetic energy is used to top up the battery on the run.
What's it like?
Entirely conventional to operate, which is exactly what Volkswagen says its customers demand. The technology behind the Golf GTE may be startlingly complex, but it doesn’t demand any significant change in driving style. You simply step in, belt up, press the starter button and set off.
Configured to start in E-mode when there is sufficient charge within the battery, the new Volkswagen moves off in relaxed silence. With 101bhp and 243lb ft of torque the moment you depress the throttle, the electric motor is strong enough to propel the new Volkswagen up to typical city speeds with real conviction.
The driveline is impressively refined with inherently smooth qualities. The unruly shunt we detected in earlier prototype versions of Volkswagen’s first ever plug-in hybrid model were no longer evident on the first of the production models we drove in Zurich.
Unlike the pure electric e-Golf that uses a single speed gearbox, the Golf GTE relies on a conventional six-speed dual clutch transmission to deliver drive to the front wheels. Thanks to the instantly usable torque qualities of the electric motor the new Volkswagen proves encouragingly nippy while direct steering makes it quite entertaining in urban surroundings.
When the battery charge is depleted the petrol engine is automatically started to provide the main source of propulsion. Alternatively, you can depress a button marked GTE on the centre console to bring about a similar shift in reserves. The integration is excellent. There are no untoward jolts as you switch between power sources.
So configured, the Golf GTE proves a highly satisfying drive. Despite tipping the scales at 1524kg, it is reasonably swift out on the open road with a flexible delivery, solid mid range shove and an enjoyable exhaust note when worked hard.
On its own the petrol engine delivers 148bhp and 184lb ft of torque. In kick down mode the electric motor provides an additional 53bhp and 74lb ft, taking the available reserves up to 201bhp and 258lb ft. The maximum torque output is limited to less than the combined output of both sources, in order to prevent overworking the clutch packs in the transmission.
By comparison, the standard Golf GTI’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder direct-injection engine offers 217bhp and the same torque loading.
With its 120kg lithium-ion battery mounted low in the structure and the rear ward mounting of the petrol tank serving to provide it with a front-to-rear weight distribution described as being better than its petrol, diesel, natural gas and all-electric siblings, the GTE is among the best balanced of the seventh generation Golf models. Granted, it is not as sweet handling as the Golf GTI. However, it is a rewarding steer. It also rides well, too.
And what of that claimed consumption? On a drive route taking in urban running, motorways and country roads, we saw an average of almost 73mpg. While way short of the claimed 188mpg, it proves the combination of petrol and electric power provides worthwhile real world savings.
Should I buy one?
On sheer ability alone, it is easy to recommend the Golf GTE. It delivers excellent economy and decent performance along with ease of driveability and outstanding levels of refinement. In fact, you could argue that it is the most complete Golf ever built. About the only downside is its slightly compromised boot capacity.
Success for the new car looks likely to hinge on whether buyers are prepared to stump up the hefty premium it commands over more traditional versions of the Golf. UK prices are due to start at around £28,000, meaning this plug-in hybrid Golf will be anything but cheap.
Volkswagen Golf GTE
Price £28,000 (est); 0-62mph 7.6sec; Top speed 135mph; Economy 188mpg; CO2 35g/km; Kerb weight 1524kg; Engine 1.4-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol, plus synchronous electric motor Power 204bhp; Torque 258lb ft; Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch automatic