Volkswagen Golf GTE First Drive

Volkswagen Golf GTE First Drive

Everybody knows about the Volkswagen Golf GTI (Grand Tourer Injection). In its seven generations those initials have usually stood for a car of surprising speed, handsome aesthetic, and disproportionate practicality.

In 2009 Volkswagen launched the GTD (Grand Tourer Diesel), which added freakish fuel economy into the mix at the expense of just a little power and all-round enjoyment. It’s a model that has become hugely popular in the UK.

Now we have the Golf GTE (Grand Tourer Electricity), which Volkswagen says all but matches the GTI for thrills but canes both it and the GTD in terms of fuel consumption. How? By using a torque-rich electric motor alongside a turbocharged engine, all in the same Golf package most of us know and love. A plug-in Golf: that sounds promising.

The engine is a 1.4-litre four-cylinder TSI unit that develops a meaty 150 bhp while the addition of an electric motor takes peak output to 201 bhp. Careful drivers will be able to squeeze 600 miles of driving from a fully charged battery and a full tank of unleaded fuel, so while the car has pure electric capabilities, range anxiety is not an issue.

Like the pure electric e-Golf we recently tested, Volkswagen has made the complex technology in the GTE as intuitive as possible. There are analogue dials and a gear selector similar to the one you’ll find in any automatic Golf.

In fact, the only way you’ll know the GTE is something a bit different is by its blue tartan seats and that it defaults into electric mode when the ‘engine’ start button is pressed. It pulls away in silence every time, in other words.

First deliveries are expected to commence in December, by which time the GTE’s luxurious sister – the Audi A3 e-tron - will have also hit the roads.

How good is it?

On paper there can be no complaints. A market-leading electric range of 31 miles in ideal conditions means that the majority of British drivers will be able to commute during the week without spending a penny on fuel. The other side of the plug-in hybrid coin is that performance is only narrowly shaded by the iconic GTI when both power sources are on song.

However, it can’t replicate the GTI’s thrills, no matter how many times your dealer tells you it can. The GTI feels noticeably quicker in the sprint to 60 mph, has more responsive brakes (blame the GTE’s regenerative stoppers), and is more agile through corners. The GTE is also more heavily damped than the nimble GTI, because of the weight of its 120 kg battery pack, which lends the car a more relaxed character (which may well appeal to wider cross-section of drivers).

The GTE is still a quick car, though – activate kick-down and it will sprint to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds before reaching a top speed of 138 mph in GTE Mode. As a device for overtaking on the crowded British roads, the powertrain’s peak 258 lb ft of torque will certainly make life easier. Grip, or lack of it, is unlikely to ever be a problem, either, even though the engine is mounted largely ahead of the front axle.

With performance out of the way we can focus on the GTE’s party piece: crushing versatility. It can be fast when you want it to be (and in GTE Mode will emit a proper hot-hatch rasp) but really that’s just a disguise.

In hybrid mode, where the car’s computer expertly blends power from the electric motor and engine for maximum efficiency, the GTE is more refined than any other Golf, frequently (and seamlessly) shutting down its engine during coasting and rolling along in relative silence where it can. As a car to drive day-in-day-out we’re struggling to think of many better, given the Golf’s already considerable arsenal of appealing qualities.

While urban routes will always be much more efficient under electric propulsion, a top speed of 81 mph means that the GTE will happily tackle short motorways stints in zero-emissions mode. However, it may be preferable to recharge the battery on the move, particularly if your final destination is metropolitan, and in Battery Charge Mode the Golf will do just that. Be prepared for a drop in fuel economy. 

Worth a test drive?

That depends on what you’re looking for. Those tempted by the GTI and rivals such as the Renault Megane 265, Seat Leon Cupra 280, and Ford Focus ST should probably look elsewhere. The GTE isn’t as visceral as those cars and is down on power on the GTI (which is already some way behind the others).

However, anyone with a short to medium commute who needs a practical car but appreciates a bit of shove will be drawn to the GTE. That Volkswagen has given it all the best styling cues from the GTI and pure electric e-Golf is an added bonus, because really this car is all about cutting-edge technology. 

There’s also charging. If you don’t have a driveway or garage on/in which to install a charging station then you’ll never get the most out of the GTE. More and more employers are offering workplace charging, which, given the Golf’s potential charge time of two hours, is a viable option, but without these facilities a GTD is by far the better option. Charging from a regular 240-volt outlet takes roughly four hours.

One last thing to consider is the GTE’s slightly compromised boot space, which is 108 litres down on the standard car’s 380 litres. That’s not a huge discrepancy, but it’s enough to be inconvenient if you’re cramming luggage for four people onboard.

Of course, if you can’t stomach the anticipated £28,000 asking price then this is all academic. The Golf GTE is hugely impressive, largely due to its versatility, but that comes at a cost. Given the generous standard kit the car comes with, however, we think many will see it as a price worth paying.

Volkswagen Golf GTE First Drive

Volkswagen Golf GTE First Drive

Comfort          4 stars

Style                5 stars

Handling         4 stars

Depreciation    3 stars

Economy         5 stars

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