What is it?
The new Volkswagen Golf Plug-in Hybrid is the result of what the German car maker describes as its most ambitious new model project to date – bigger in scale and funding than any existing petrol or diesel engine model.
By adopting elements of the less-advanced hybrid system used by the American-market Jetta Hybrid in combination with its latest in plug-in know-how, Volkswagen has created the first series production petrol-electric Golf with an impressive blend of performance and economy, including the ability to operate purely on electricity for a worthwhile distance.
It is propelled by a transversely mounted 148bhp 1.4-litre four-cylinder direct-injection petrol engine and a 107bhp electric motor that sits within the forward section of the gearbox – a combination also used by Audi in its recently unveiled A3 e-tron.
Drive is channelled to the front wheels through a specially adapted six-speed dual clutch gearbox. Among the developments is a decoupling mechanism to permit drag free coasting. Volkswagen considers this a more efficient use of kinetic energy than the recuperation systems used by rivals.
Electric energy to run the electric motor is provided by an 8.8kWh lithium ion battery sited underneath the rear seat in the place usually taken up by the fuel tank in the conventionally powered models – a position aimed at providing the Golf Plug-in Hybrid with the best possible centre of gravity, with the 125kg mass of battery mounted as low as possible. The fuel tank is relocated beneath the boot floor, meaning no loss of cabin space.
What's it like?
The efforts of the petrol engine and electric motor endow the Golf Plug-in Hybrid with genuinely convincing performance properties despite a 1530kg kerb weight well above any existing Golf model. It is not quite in the same league as the Golf GTI for outright accelerative ability, but with a claimed 0-62mph time of 7.6sec, it is not far away.
Solid reserves of torque from the get-go provide urgent step off qualities away from traffic lights and a flexible nature to the delivery on the run, making the new Volkswagen completely fuss free to drive. Mechanical refinement is excellent, with excellent cruising ability over longer journeys.
It is possible to choose electric-only running by pressing an e-mode button on the dashboard, in which case there is 107bhp and 243lb ft at your disposal. This is also the default mode during step off, although only if the battery is sufficiently charged. The electric range varies depending on the driving conditions and the state of auxiliary systems such as the water pump, air conditioning and seat heaters.
In optimal conditions Volkswagen says the Golf Plug-in Hybrid can whisk along in near silence for up to 31 miles at speeds up to 81mph, making it perfectly suited to a city driving environment with constant stop/start traffic. By comparison, the Jetta Hybrid only provides one mile of electric propulsion.
Backing up its suitability for city driving is light but direct electro-mechanical steering. It provides the latest Golf with highly manoeuvrable qualities, allowing you to take advantage of the low end acceleration to duck in and out of spaces in the traffic. Less satisfactory is the ride, which in the early pre-production version we drove proved quite firm, lacking the overall compliance and fluency of other recent Golf models.
When the energy stores run low, an electronic management system engages the petrol engine as the main form of propulsion and subsequently uses the electric motor as an alternator to generate energy for the battery, ensuring there is always some charge for electric running. The workings of the plug-in hybrid system are displayed on a series of displays that can be called up on a centrally mounted touchscreen monitor.
As its plug-in billing suggests, the Golf Plug-in Hybrid’s battery can be charged on household mains electricity, with the socket hidden behind the badge within the grille. Volkswagen claims a full recharge takes under four hours on a regular 240 volt, 10 amp system and just over two hours on a more robust 240 volt, 16 amp supply. Based on the European test procedure, official consumption is put at nearly 190mpg. But, as our first drive around Wolfsburg revealed, the real word figure is more in the region of 70mpg.
Should I buy one?
The Golf Plug-in Hybrid delivers a broad range of capabilities that should see it appeal both to those seeking usable everyday performance and those concerned more with economy.
The key to sales success will be pricing, which is something Volkswagen has yet to make official and isn’t likely to until closer to a planned UK launch during the second half of 2014. By which time, the all-electric e-Golf should also have also made its showroom debut.
Petrol, diesel, electric or hybrid. That’s the decision that now faces prospective Golf buyers.
Volkswagen Golf Plug-in Hybrid
Price tbc; 0-62mph 7.6sec; Top speed 135mph combined, 81mph electric; Economy 188.3mpg; CO2 35g/km; Electric range 31 miles; Kerb weight 1530kg; Engine 4-cyl in-line, 1390cc turbocharged petrol, synchronous electric motor; Power 148bhp (petrol engine), 107bhp (electric motor); Torque 184lb ft (petrol engine), 243lb ft (electric motor); Combined system power 201bhp; Combined system torque 258lb ft; Gearbox six-speed dual clutch