What is it?
The facelifted VW Golf GTE plug-in hybrid performance hatchback – which, compared with other Golf derivatives, hasn’t actually changed an awful lot as part of Wolfsburg’s recent mid-life revision to the Golf family. While the Golf GTI gets a hit more power and the e-Golf a dose more power and more electric range, somehow the car that represents the ideal combination of both gets neither.
The GTE has received a hefty price cut, however. Where the previous range-topping car pushed £36,000 before the Government’s old £5000 low-emissions plug-in hybrid (PHEV) grant was factored in, the new top-of-the-range GTE Advance is priced from just north of £32,000 – not including the more modest £2500 subsidy now on offer from Her Majesty’s coffers. VW’s estimate is that, accounting for extra standard equipment, the GTE is now more than £3500 better value than it was before.
It’s also now cheaper than an equivalent Golf GTI DSG 5dr (after that new Government discount), which feels like a more comfortable position for the GTE to adopt within the hot Golf range than where it used to reside. You get the same 201bhp of peak power, coming from a combination of 148bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and 101bhp electric motor, as you did before, and the same 8.7kWh lithium ion drive battery. Performance claims are unchanged, as is VW’s 31-mile electric-only range claim.
What's it like?
Buying a Golf GTE guarantees you a Golf with some of the equipment that Volkswagen added to the car this year in as much as the car comes with LED headlights and tail-lights, and an Active Info Display digital instrument screen, as standard. The former include more eye-catching blue detailing up front, which does give the GTE a little bit more distinctive visual identity, while the latter has several instrumentation modes to compliment the car’s various drive modes (E-mode, Hybrid, Battery Charge and GTE) and ultimately makes the GTE a little bit easier to drive.
Having said that, the Golf GTE remains one of the easier PHEVs to get to grips with in any case. In E-mode it’s got plenty of electric motor power – enough that you can easily nip around town and up to B-road speeds without ever rousing the combustion engine without meaning to. Even in electric mode, the Golf feels swift and responsive – and will generally cover anything from 18 to 25 miles on a full battery charge.
Deplete the car’s drive battery and select GTE mode – which is the car’s shorthand for ‘sporty’ if you hadn’t quite cottoned on – and there’s a recharging period to wait out before the car has restored enough charge to be ready for maximum performance. It’s not a long one, though; and once the powertrain has completed its scavenge mode, there’s a spirited and energetic amount of acceleration to tap into.
With electric as well as turbo petrol torque to consider, VW’s six-speed DSG can be hesitant in deciding when to kick down in D, so quicker road miles are better spent in manual mode, using the GTE’s wheel-mounted paddles to shift gears. But once you’ve established that much, there’s plenty of mid-range torque to deploy here and good response when you call for it. The car could sound better in GTE mode, the 1.4-litre motor lacking the growl of a proper performance engine – but it’s a relatively minor criticism.
The GTE’s ride and handling isn’t quite on a GTI’s level for adhesion, handling balance and B-road composure – primarily because the GTE’s a relatively heavy car. It makes that weight felt more often in its ride than its handling, crashing over broken bitumen a little and sometimes struggling to keep its body from deflecting vertically over bigger lumps and bumps. Our test car had VW’s optional DCC adaptive dampers fitted, which gave it a relaxed motorway ride in Hybrid mode but were less convincing in GTE mode. Lateral body control is generally good, but the car’s steering can load up a little too much when cornering hard and its front wheels don’t cling on quite as hard as they might in a really hardcore front-driver.
Should I buy one?
It depends if you’re looking for the outstanding affordable performance machine of the future, or just a very classy, moderately quick and potentially cost-efficient company car in which to spend a few years.
As the former, there are one or two problems with the GTE’s CV. Given that plenty of performance options offer 25 percent more power, and considerably more performance, for £5000 less outlay, it’s hard to take the GTE seriously as something really intended to excite. There’s just a bit too much weight here, and not enough poke, grip, incisiveness and poise, to be totally convinced that now is the time to electrify your hot hatchback.
However, given the transcendent position the go-faster Golf has long maintained – leaving its more thuggish competitors behind and defining itself as much as a classy, aspirational choice for young professionals as it is a pure performance car – it’s easy to see where the Golf GTE’s following would come from. The car’s combination of a medium-hot driving experience with a desirable badge and a bargain benefit-in-kind company car tax liability should keep buyers rolling up for the foreseeable. And the fact that this remains one of the best-executed affordable PHEVs of any sort, that benefits from all of the Golf’s acknowledged strengths, makes its popularity well-earned.
VW Golf GTE Advance Specifications
Location Feltham, Middlesex; On sale now; Price £32,145 Engine 4cyls in line, 1395cc, turbo petrol; plus electric motor Power 201bhp at 5000-6000rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1600-3500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd twin-clutch automatic; Kerbweight 1615kg; 0-60mph 7.6sec; Top speed 138mph; Economy 156.9mpg; CO2/tax band 40g/km, 9% Rivals: Audi A3 Sportback eTron, BMW 330e