The styling changes aren’t the most daring or noticable, but this hardly comes as a shock. Under the bonnet, meanwhile, the biggest Passat development will come when VW’s new 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI Evo diesel engine arrives later in 2019, bringing active cylinder shutdown to the diesel side of the engine range. Meanwhile, the latest GTE’s mechanical makeup has hardly changed. According to a VW product expert, that’s because there’s little to be gained on real-world fuel economy or emissions by substituting the 1.4-litre turbo four-pot engine of the GTE’s hybrid powertrain for VW’s newer 1.5 TSI Evo – until, that is, there is the opportunity to also add 48-volt technology, a more powerful electric motor, or both at the same time.
For that reason, this car sticks with what we know – although a change in battery cell makeup has boosted drive battery power from 9.9kWh of gross capacity to 13. VW says that the bigger battery has boosted electric range from 31- to 43 miles on like-for-like terms. I suspect you’d do well to get more than 30 from it in real-world use, but there’s enough electric-only performance to easily get you up to 50mph without rousing the piston engine, so driving the car under electric power is certainly a pretty easy and pleasant thing to do.
Otherwise the Passat GTE remains, in the broadest sense, much the same practical, comfortable, sensible family car now as it was last year. While VW made a reasonable amount of noise about this car’s warm performance ambitions when the GTE sub-brand was first introduced, that badge feels like it’s being applied more as a trim level now. And so the Passat GTE isn’t daubed with go-faster styling touches inside or out. It rides comfortably. It’s as refined and easy-to-drive as any Passat when you want it to be, too. And yet the 215bhp and 295lb ft that its hybrid powertrain can make when you’re using ‘GTE’ mode still feels like more than enough to pique your interest in what else the driving experience offers.
Sadly, on outright handling dynamism at least, there still isn’t a great deal of depth or purpose to unearth in this car – although there’s certainly more than enough grip, body control and agility to allow you to enjoy a brisk stride on a flowing road. The GTE is front-driven and relatively heavy by compact estate car standards, and although VW’s smart componentry layout puts the car’s heavier drive battery low down and within the wheelbase, with the lighter fuel tank behind it, that’s not quite enough to make the car a really convincing driver’s pick.
Nevertheless, the six-speed twin clutch gearbox’s manual mode gives you an effective level of control over the powertrain when you’re in the mood. It also blends petrol and electric power cleverly when you’re using the car’s more laid-back driver modes to maximize real-world fuel economy – and, now with the help of data from the navigation system (assuming you’ve got a route plotted), it can best decide when to run the car on its electric motor, when to run it under petrol power, and in exactly what proportions to mix the two in order to deliver you to your destination as efficiently as possible.
It’s a shame, however, that the car’s battery regeneration behaviour can feel a little unpredictable from one moment and environment to the next. At times, the car coasts with no ‘regen’ at all, while at other times it hauls down your prevailing speed quite hastily on a trailing throttle – and it’s not always clear which you’re going to get next. The car’s lack of consistent brake pedal feel from one mode to the next is another notable bugbear. And drivability shortcomings like that aren’t VW’s style.