Volkswagen may get around to pairing this mild-hybrid powertrain technology with a manual gearbox, but for now it comes only in combination with the higher-output 1.5-litre TSI Evo and a dual-clutch auto. Perhaps that’s wise because, as we learned when we road tested the latest Ford Puma earlier this year, a hybrid powertrain that’s managing its own energy-recuperation ‘engine braking’ while allowing the driver precise control over clutch and brake actuation seems to open itself up to more numerous drivability quirks than one that’s doing all of the above by itself.
That statement is just another way of doffing our cap to VW’s engineers for the slick job they’ve done on the installation and tuning of this engine and gearbox. It engages drive predictably and smoothly; it runs quietly (although seemingly almost never under electric-only power); and it feels usefully more torquey at lower revs and in higher gears than you expect. This is without doubt the refinement-first option in the Golf Mk8’s powertrain armoury, and very pleasant indeed it is – although it returns very creditable fuel economy as well.
The ‘hybridness’ of the powertrain is kept fairly discreet. The car has the low-rpm performance level of something like a lower-order GTI (although it doesn’t rev like one beyond 4500rpm) with what feels like 25% more than the advertised torque. In give and take motoring, you can put on 10mph of roll-on acceleration quite easily, and in a high gear and with only a moderate dip of your toe.
The engine does take the opportunity to shut down when it can – when you’re descending a gradient at a cruise, for example, and the navigation system’s data has instructed the ECU to expect no throttle demand for 15 seconds or so, or when you’re approaching a junction and slowing down. The way the system restarts the engine in the latter case, blending up energy recuperation unprompted in order to slow you to a crawl at just the right moment, is a little unintuitive, though.
With a little more on its plate than a DSG gearbox generally has, this seven-speeder is perhaps a little slower shifting in manual mode than we’ve known it in other cars. When you use ‘S’ mode, it tends to hold ratios just a little too long under hard acceleration (for effect, perhaps) than it ought to. Otherwise, though, there is very little missing here from what you’d expect from a mid-level powertrain, and plenty to praise.