Like the look of the Golf GTI but are intrigued by the idea of a plug-in hybrid drive system? Volkswagen has the answer in the pert form of the Golf GTE. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Volkswagen Golf GTE promises some faintly absurd-looking efficiency measures, emitting 35g/km of CO2 and managing 188mpg on the NEDC fuel economy tests. Of course, in the real world, this plug-in hybrid probably won't make anywhere near those numbers, but with 204PS on tap, it's got the muscle to back up the sporty styling. Keep your eye on this one.
The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf hasn't exactly been short of plaudits. Just about every award that could have been bestowed upon it has been and the range is shot through with excellence from the bottom to the very top. Petrol, diesel, manual, twin-clutch automatic, hatch, estate; it's all good. The Golf is one of those very rare cars where you could walk into a dealership negotiate a deal on any car that they have available and drive it away knowing that you haven't been sold the runt of the litter. To this mix, Volkswagen has added a fascinating plug-in hybrid version, the Golf GTE. If you're the sort of buyer who might have previously been steered towards the economy of a Golf GTD diesel but secretly hankered after the smoothness of the GTI, the GTE could be the perfect solution.
The GTE is powered by a combination of a 150PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and a 102PS electric motor. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you get 252PS. When used together, they nevertheless deliver a useful 204PS - and the torque figure of 350NM can't be sniffed at. When both power units are running in parallel, the GTE will accelerate to 62mph in a crisp 7.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 138mph. It can even hit 81mph using electric power alone. Naturally, the GTE's battery packs put it at a weight disadvantage compared to a GTI. The extra 120kg of lithium-ion batteries and the 80kg of electric motor lift weight to 1,520kg but the additional bulk is mounted very low in the vehicle which means that the GTE will feel planted and well-resolved in a corner. Mind you, this is a front wheel drive car, so deploying all 350Nm of torque when accelerating out of a tight corner is going to induce a little torque steer. The GTE uses a six-speed DSG gearbox with a triple-clutch system specially developed for hybrid vehicles.
Design and Build
A big part of the GTE's appeal is that it doesn't look that different to a GTI. Visually, the Golf GTE combines elements of the look of the e-Golf and the GTI. The front bumper features C-shaped LED daytime running lights, like those on the e-Golf, as well as aerodynamic horizontal fins, like those on the GTI. Where the GTI features red, the GTE has blue accents, including across the radiator grille and into the headlights. The headlights, along with all lights on the GTE, are LED. In the UK, 18-inch 'Serron' alloy wheels are fitted as standard and the car is sold in the five-door body style only. Inside, as on the outside, the Golf GTE features blue highlights where the GTI has red. This includes stitching on the steering wheel, gear lever gaiter and seats, plus a blue stripe in the tartan pattern on the sports seats. You still get the flat-bottomed steering wheel with its circular hub and deep dish with audio, telephone and cruise control buttons mounted on two of its three spokes. There's also a set of drilled pedals and a big alloy foot rest. The vehicle speedometer and tachometer are familiar and the latter is supplemented by a power meter in the central display, which shows the status of the battery, whether or not power is being used and the intensity of any regeneration.
Market and Model
The biggest obstacle the Golf GTE has to overcome is one of customer perception. More specifically, it's that most people hear 'plug-in hybrid' and translate that to mean 'massively overpriced vehicle that will never justify its cost'. The thing is, the GTE prices at around £28,000, which isn't that far off the cost of a GTI. Okay, so it is a little slower off the mark, but when it comes to running costs, there's no contest. An 8-inch Discover Pro satellite navigation system with DAB radio and Bluetooth is standard, and includes bespoke functions for electric vehicles, including the ability to identify potential destinations on electric range, and electric charging points. The GTE also features an e-manager which allows the driver to preset vehicle charging, as well as interior cooling or heating. These functions can also be operated remotely using the Volkswagen Car-Net app on a smartphone: a three-year subscription is included in the UK.
Cost of Ownership
The published figures for the GTE look faintly unfeasible. Volkswagen claims a combined fuel economy figure of 166mpg and emissions of 39g/km. These really point to the deficiencies of the NEDC economy tests for measuring cars like this, rather than the real world abilities of the GTE. In pure electric mode (activated at the press of a button), the Golf GTE can travel up to 31 miles, depending on conditions, and the electric power can also be saved - for example when driving to a zero-emissions zone. The 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery can be charged in around three and a half hours from a domestic mains outlet, or two and a half hours from a domestic wallbox. Residual values ought to be extremely good. Golfs already hold their value very well, and adding super low emissions and monster fuel economy to the mix ought to make the GTE the best of the bunch for clinging onto its retained value. The idea of being able to undertake a 30 mile commute to work and back without having to pay for a penny of petrol is hugely appealing, although one suspects that in typical city traffic, that range will drop quite markedly.
With a petrol GTI and a diesel GTD in the range, it would appear that Volkswagen has covered its bases reasonably comprehensively when it comes to quick Golfs. Is there adequate breathing space for this plug-in hybrid GTE? Yes. If the pricing can be kept sensible, then the GTE should be able to carve a niche for itself, offering the torquey muscularity of the diesel with the smoothness of the petrol. We'll have to crunch some real world numbers to bring you the definitive gen on actual running costs but the initial signs look extremely promising. The GTE offers the tantalising prospect of a Golf Mk 7 that's quick and fun to drive with the running costs you'd normally associate with a stunted citycar. If ever you needed evidence of technology as an enabling factor in vehicle development, you couldn't do a lot better than this.