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Plug-in hybrid Golf arrives with the same power output as the GTI - can it prove just as entertaining?

This second-generation Golf GTE has a lot to live up to. The 2014 original set the standard for front-driven PHEV hatchbacks, running the same petrol-electric drivetrain as the Audi A3 e-tron but benefitting from a longer list of equipment and being priced much more agreeably.

This new model continues down the same engineering path: it’s positioned as an eco-friendly alternative to the Golf GTI, with a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and gearbox-mounted electric motor working through a six-speed DSG gearbox. With a newly developed battery of 13.0kWh capacity compared to the 9.0kWh of the old car, it also offers an additional 7.5 miles of electric range – at 38.5 miles altogether.

The handling is then genuinely impressive, though it is not, understandably, quite as sharp or sweet as the new GTI

While that increase might not sound like much, Volkswagen says the real world driving range is significantly increased, owing to greater efficiency from the electric motor and brake energy regeneration system. Meanwhile the combustion engine, updated with new fuel injectors operating at a higher pressure than before, continues to deliver the same 148bhp. The electric motor, which adopts measures already brought to the larger motor found in the ID3, provides an additional 9bhp for 107bhp in total, together with 243lb ft of torque.

Together, they deliver a combined 242bhp and 295lb ft, which is 41bhp and 37lb ft more than you’ll find in the new Golf eHybrid – a second plug-in hybrid model that, curiously, is not planned for sale in the UK.

As before, the new lithium-ion battery sits beneath the rear seat, with the 40-litre fuel tank relocated to a position underneath the boot floor – a layout Volkswagen claims provides the Golf GTE with a more favourable front-to-rear weight distribution than the GTI. However, the battery contributes 135kg to the car’s 1624kg kerb weight, and altogether the GTE weighs some 176kg more than the GTI.

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Charging, which is now undertaken via a port in the car’s flank rather than its nose, is claimed to take 3hrs 40mins using a 3.6kW wallbox, or 5hrs on mains power.

The modernity of the driveline is matched by the GTE’s so-called Innovision cockpit. It consists of a 10.3in digital instrument panel with unique blue hue graphics and a 10.0in central touchscreen display for the infotainment functions. There’s then an endearing simplicity to its overall operation that makes the Golf GTE easy to get along with. 

There are two basic modes. E-mode, in which the powertrain operates exclusively on the electric motor, and Hybrid, where it chooses the best power source – petrol, electric or a combination of both. Economy also benefits from a range of fuel-saving and energy-creating measures, including trailing-throttle engine shutdown and brake-energy recuperation.

In E-mode, the plug-in Golf proves nippy, with strong torque and almost silent operation. There’s a distant hum as you get underway, but it comes from a sound-generator rather than from the electric motor, as part of new pedestrian-safety regulations mandated by the EU. Frankly, on electric power alone the Golf GTE feels more than adequately swift and responsive for city driving. And smartly, the driver can specify how much electrical energy is used through four different levels, allowing you to save electricity for later use.

Switching into Hybrid mode instantly increases performance, though it comes at the expense of refinement, most notably with the unpleasant drone of the petrol engine on light-to-moderate throttle loads, which proves a bit excessive at times. There’s plentiful torque, however. Throttle-response is excellent and in-gear acceleration thereafter feels determined. Volkswagen claims 0-62mph in 6.7sec, which is only 0.4sec slower than the Golf GTI.

Elsewhere operation of the dual-clutch gearbox has been smoothed out and there’s less shunt under light throttle loads in stop-start traffic. Downshifts remain hesitant, mind.

The handling is then genuinely impressive, though it is not, understandably, quite as sharp or sweet as the new GTI. There’s good response from the steering and it’s matched by the chassis balance, though ride-quality is neither as supple nor as cosseting over coarse road surfaces as other Golf models.

VW is yet to finalise the CO2 figure for the GTE, but it could be as low as 26g/km. Company-car drivers will therefore benefit handsomely from this PHEV driveline, which delivers GTI-shadowing performance and even more electric range than before.

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What they and private owners will trade for such versatility and frugality is character. The new GTI has it in abundance, but the GTE is more subdued. As ever, which one to go for will come down to how well you can utilise the electrical portion of the GTE’s slick powertrain. In every other respect, it’s an extremely capable and convincing effort.

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