The Volkswagen Golf GTE plug-in hybrid aims to offer a driving experience similar to a Golf GTI but with economy of 166mpg and 39g/km CO2 emissions – along with low BIK company car tax liability of just 5%.
Regardless of what people may think about it, all our cars have to get greener. The best solution to achieve lower emissions along with practicality at the current time is using plug-in hybrid technology – in the case of the Golf GTE this means a petrol engine combined with an electric motor powered by a battery. The tricky bit when using this technology is to ensure you end up with a desirable driver’s car. Volkswagen believes it has the answer, by combining the concept of a Golf GTI with an electric car. This sounds good in theory, but what’s it like to drive in real-life?
The Golf GTE is a plug-in hybrid. It has a 150PS 1.4-litre TSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a lithium-ion battery (weighing 120 kg) and electric motor. There’s also a six-speed DSG gearbox specially developed for hybrid vehicles. The two powertrains result in a healthy combined torque figure of 350 Nm – all channelled through the front wheels.
There are five operating modes: ‘E-mode’, ‘GTE’, ‘Battery Hold’, ‘Battery charge’ and ‘Hybrid Auto’. In pure electric mode, the Golf GTE can travel up to 31 miles and at speeds of up to 81mph (but not both at the same time). Battery Hold mode allows the battery charge to be retained by using the petrol engine, for example when approaching an urban area.
The GTE has styling cues from the GTI, and with its 18-inch wheels it looks desirable. It has all the practicality and space of a regular Golf, within a compact footprint.
For a car with an official fuel economy figure of 166mpg, the Golf GTE is excellent to drive. Is it as good to drive as a Golf GTI? No, not quite, but the point is that the GTE combines a GTI-like driving experience with the potential for 100mpg+.
During our week with the car, we spent the first few days driving relatively short distances, all within the electric range, so we ran on purely electric power and didn’t use any petrol.
When driving on electric power, the Golf is like most other electric cars – quiet and refined, with strong, linear acceleration. With the DSG effectively being an automatic transmission, the GTE is ideal for urban driving.
After these initial days driving what felt like a pure electric car in urban areas, we headed out on a much longer drive. Select GTE mode and the car transforms to be a genuine driver’s car. There’s lots of power and torque, but the interesting thing is that the GTE handles better than the Audi A3 e-tron, even though both cars are almost identical underneath in terms of powertrain and chassis. Both cars are carrying a significant weight penalty in terms of the battery, electric motor and associated electronics, yet the GTE feels lighter and more agile, and has less body roll during cornering.
Extensive questioning of the experts at Volkswagen suggests that the only reason for the handling variation is the difference in suspension tuning between VW and Audi. Whatever the reason, it results in the GTE being the better car for driving enthusiasts.
The six-speed DSG gearbox is generally effective, and you can change gear manually using steering-wheel mounted paddles, however on occasions you can experience CVT-like revs from the system under acceleration. So it lacks the direct responses of the GTI.
To select the different driving modes you either have to reach for the GTE button that’s hidden behind the gear selector (on right-hand drive cars), or delve into the touchscreen to select other options. A more conveniently positioned switch offering all settings would be a better system.
The official NEDC fuel economy figure for the Golf GTE is 166mpg, along with official emissions of 39g/km CO2. For a car with the level of performance of the GTE, these are impressive figures. And of course the reason for this is that the official economy and emissions figures are the result of a very short driving cycle in a lab, with gentle acceleration, where the battery will be used more than the petrol engine.
The official NEDC all-electric driving range for the GTE is 31 miles. As with the official economy figure, this is not likely to be realistic in real-life driving. We averaged between 15 and 23 miles of electric range on a fully charged battery in normal driving.
The GTE does have an excellent and very efficient petrol engine, and without any battery assistance we averaged 48.6mpg at 70mph on the motorway – in ‘B’ mode, which increases the level of regeneration when decelerating and braking.
Overall, after a week with the car, we averaged 44.5mpg. This was comprised of around 50 miles of pure electric running and 500 miles of long distance driving – so you can see the potential to improve on this figure with more all-electric journeys.
To charge the GTE you press the VW badge on the grille to access the charging port and plug it into either a domestic socket, which will take 3 hours 45 minutes for a full recharge, or if you recharge from a wallbox this will cut the time down to 2 hours 15 minutes.
The Golf GTE costs £28,035, after the £5,000 government plug-in car grant. This is around £2,000 cheaper than the Audi A3 e-tron. However our test car cost £36,210 (excluding the grant) due to having options such as a Discover Navigation Pro touchscreen navigation/DVD radio system (£1,765); keyless entry (£360); winter pack (£360); park assist (£150); and metallic paint (£540).
So the GTE is fairly expensive, but savings can be made on running costs (electricity is around one-fifth of the cost of petrol), it’s exempt from VED and the London Congestion Charge, and Company Car BIK is just 5%.
A lease quote for a GTE over three years based on 10,000 miles per year is around £388 per month with an initial payment of £1166 (including VAT). Based on three years and 20,000 miles per year this rises to around £450 per month with an initial payment of £1360 (including VAT).
There are of course many other models in the Golf range, including petrol, diesel and pure electric powertrains – although Volkswagen admits that sales of the pure electric e-Golf are very low.
The Volkswagen Golf GTE does a very good job of combining a GTI-like driving experience with an ability to enjoy 100mpg+. It has all of the benefits of the regular Golf including that it’s a spacious yet compact quality product.
The transmission can be a bit revvy under acceleration and it’s more expensive than the average Golf. However this car can also save you money. The more you drive on electric power, the cheaper the fuel costs will be. It’s exempt from VED and from the London Congestion Charge. For business users, the BIK rate of 5% is likely to save significant money in tax.
But the main issue with the Golf GTE is the same issue common to all plug-in hybrids: you may come close to enjoying 166mpg if all your driving matches the NEDC test cycle – ie. short distances and very gentle acceleration. It’s very unlikely that the average person will have such a driving cycle, but if you are able to recharge the car and mainly drive the GTE on electric power, as well as using the car for occasional longer journeys, then you’ll get the best out of the vehicle and its technology.
In summary, the Volkswagen Golf GTE is the future; and because the future is so promising to drive, it’s awarded a Green-Car-Guide rating of 10 out of 10.