What is it?
The Passat GTE is set to rival the new Volvo S60 Plug-In Hybrid and BMW 330e and is Volkswagen’s latest attempt to secure a piece of the increasingly competitive plug-in hybrid market.
Sharing elements of its advanced driveline with the Golf GTE, the Passat is essentially two cars in one: an electric car with an extended zero-emission range and an efficient hybrid capable of continent-crushing distances. It’s a compelling combination that’s becoming increasingly popular with consumers. In fact, in just three years - from 2013 to 2016 - the number of plug-in hybrids registered in the UK has increased from 3500 to more than 75,000. Clearly, it’s important that VW gets the Passat GTE right.
Under the bonnet sits a transversally mounted 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that’s good for 154bhp and 184lb ft. For a car with the iconic ‘Gran Turismo’ badge, those primary figures appear rather feeble, but combined with a sizable electric motor, the overall system output of 215bhp and 295lb ft looks altogether more impressive.
A specially developed six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox channels the combined reserves to the front wheels, as well as providing the driver with a choice of five driving modes: E-mode, GTE mode, battery hold, battery charge and hybrid. In fully electric mode, Volkswagen claims a range of 31 miles at speeds of up to 81mph. Combined, that figure rises to a diesel-rivalling 622 miles. Impressive stuff.
What's it like?
Despite being packed with complex technology, the GTE is no harder to drive than a regular Passat. Press the starter button, drop the car into drive and the GTE pulls away in complete silence because it's configured to start in E-mode if the battery has sufficient charge. The electric motor is impressively flexible and can power the car up to motorway speeds with minimal effort. With instant torque on tap, the unassuming Passat has enough shove to beat almost anything away from the lights, too.
Drive the GTE long enough to deplete the battery and the engine will fire into action to provide the main source of propulsion. Alternatively, you can depress the GTE button located on the centre console or select Hybrid mode from the infotainment system. The integration of the petrol unit is seamless so the change in power source does little to upset the serenity of your progress.
In Hybrid mode, apart from the suspension becoming a little firmer, the GTE retains its refined mannerisms. Throttle response is progressive and the combination of the two power sources working together endows the Passat with plenty of mid-range shove.
However, for maximum performance, you’ll want to select GTE mode. This stiffens the suspension, sharpens the throttle response and allows the six-speed ’box to hold on to gears for longer. Granted, the added weight of the hybrid system is still evident despite the GT-tuned chassis, but the car performs admirably on fast, flowing B-roads. The steering is direct, the uprated suspension provides impressive body control and the brakes are strong, despite feeling a little spongy and artificial under foot.
Handily, once you’ve stopped playing around, you can get back to monitoring your remaining electric range via the GTE’s interactive instrument cluster. Where you’d normally find a rev counter, you’re instead treated to a power meter, which displays your power reserves and the effectiveness of the regenerative braking system. It’s a genuinely useful addition that encourages you to eke out every last bit of range from the battery.
Elsewhere in the cabin, there are other subtle changes that help differentiate the GTE from its lesser siblings. Blue stitching on the steering wheel, gearshift gaiter and seats matches the flashes of blue on the exterior of the car, and the prolific use of GTE badges ensures that you won’t forget what you're driving.
Otherwise, the interior is typical Passat: great visibility, an excellent driving position and a luxurious cabin. The GTE also receives Adaptive Cruise Control, City Emergency Braking, Discover Navigation, Bluetooth and parking sensors as standard. And if you opt for GTE Advance trim for £3655 extra, you also get the excellent Active Info Display, an 8.0in navigation screen, nappa leather and 'premium' LED headlights.
Should I buy one?
If you have a passion for new tech and live within 30 miles of your charger-equipped workplace, the Passat GTE could be for you. The idea of using your car for a whole week without ever having to rely on petrol power will be a compelling prospect for some and, unlike a pure-electric vehicle, range anxiety is effectively non-existent.
However, if you're covering long miles on a frequent basis, you’ll rarely see the benefit of that electric motor. It’s also hard to ignore that this impressive technology comes at a price. The base GTE starts at £34,025 (including the government plug-in car grant), which is significantly more expensive than an equivalent diesel model.
Nevertheless, the GTE is a truly exciting piece of engineering that provides almost all of the benefits of an electric vehicle with very few of the downsides.
2016 Volkswagen Passat GTE
Location Surrey; On sale October; Price £34,025; Engine 4 cyls, 1398cc, turbo, petrol; Power 215bhp; Torque 295lb ft; Gearbox 6-spd automatic; Kerb weight tbc; Top speed 140mph; 0-62mph 7.6sec; Economy 166mpg; CO2/tax band 39g/km, 7%