If you want a plug-in hybrid estate then you’re in luck – the Volkswagen Passat Estate GTE offers electric driving for up to 33 miles, with a petrol engine for longer journeys.
The Volkswagen Passat Estate GTE was on sale and then, like many plug-in hybrids, it went off sale when the new WLTP fuel economy and emissions test was introduced. It’s now back, with a longer electric-only range, 43 miles based on the old NEDC test (34 miles according to the new WLTP cycle), compared with 31 miles (NEDC) of the old model.
The Volkswagen Passat Estate GTE has a plug-in hybrid powertrain which consists of a 156 PS, 184 Nm four-cylinder, 1.4-litre TSI turbocharged engine and a 13 kWh lithium-ion battery and electric motor. The GTE has a six-speed DSG gearbox and front-wheel drive. The Passat is a large car so it’s spacious, and the Estate has a large boot.
There’s quite a lot to decide when you get in the Passat GTE. Once you’ve found the drive mode buttons, which are partially hidden on the far side of the gear selector, you need to choose whether or not you want the GTE (ie. sporty) setting (the top button), or whether you want to select Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport or Individual (the central button), and then if you want e-mode on or off (the bottom button). If you don’t select e-mode, then the only other option is hybrid, ie. the car decides for itself whether it uses the petrol engine or the electric motor.
Despite there being a lot of options available, there are two important options that aren’t on offer – the ability to save the battery charge, and the ability to charge the battery from the petrol engine during driving.
So if, like us, you’re driving from Manchester to Bristol, then despite all best efforts, you’ll find that the full battery that you started the journey with is depleted after all the roadworks and delays on the M6 and M5 and you get to Bristol – where you want a full battery – with no battery charge left. Many other PHEVs have a battery save function, which allows you to carry out a long motorway journey on the petrol engine, saving the battery for use in a city such as Bristol at the end of the motorway – but not so in the Passat.
But the Passat does give you the option of GTE mode, which makes the driving experience GTI-like, and there’s even a simulated sporty noise to go with it. However with up to 218 PS of power and 400 Nm of torque going through the front wheels, it’s easy to result in wheelspin when accelerating enthusiastically on cold and wet winter roads.
The Passat is very refined overall, but especially when in all-electric mode, and it’s generally quiet, with a comfortable ride. The last generation Golf was also available in GTE guise, which was a fun car; the Passat is longer than the Golf and therefore doesn’t feel as agile, and the engine, battery and electric motor result in the car weighing 1760 kg, so it’s more about an ‘all-round, practical car with the potential for low emissions’ than a ‘sporty, fun handling car’. You can select Sport mode and e-mode together, which gives good responses when using electric propulsion.
Yet another choice on offer is with the transmission – it’s a 6-speed automatic DSG ‘box, which can be used in D-mode, or you can pull the selector down for B-mode, ie. to gain increased levels of brake regeneration, and you can also change gear manually using the steering wheel-mounted paddles. It’s helpful that there’s a B-setting for increased brake regen, as the brake pedal doesn’t feel particularly confidence-inspiring.
Another area for improvement includes the way to disengage the lane departure warning system – you need to press four buttons on different screens to do this, which, compared to just pressing one button on the dashboard, will probably end up with you crashing the car when being distracted trying to find the buttons in the screen sub-menus. If you don’t disengage the LDW system, then the car will try and wrestle the steering wheel out of your hands when pulling back into the left lane without indicating after overtaking a car on the motorway, despite the Police Drivers Handbook saying that you don’t need to indicate when doing this.
The infomedia system has a large, high definition screen, with clear mapping, bit it’s very slow to start up – not ideal when you’re desperate to enter a destination into the satnav and get on your way. And there were a number of occasions when the satnav didn’t show a map, but instead just some lines and dots with latitude and longitude coordinates – not particularly helpful.
The infomedia system would also benefit from shortcut buttons around the screen. There are a couple of buttons, including ‘Menu’ and ‘Home’, but it just means that you have to press these as an extra step to get where you want. We don’t think that lots of button pressing on a central touchscreen while driving at 70mph is a particularly safe thing to do.
A final request is for a larger, clearer indication on the dashboard to show whether you’re in electric or petrol mode – although there’s a very small icon, it’s all too easy to be in electric mode using up all the battery charge when you don’t want to be.
The official WLTP combined fuel economy for the Volkswagen Passat Estate GTE is 180.8 mpg, with CO2 emissions (NEDC derived) of 39 g/km. The WLTP electric driving range is 33 miles.
As with all plug-in hybrids, the real-life fuel economy can vary between 30mpg and 300mpg depending on how much you drive on electric power. The benefit of the Passat GTE is that it’s relatively economical on a long motorway journey on its petrol engine, especially compared to a two-tonne PHEV SUV.
As explained above, the Passat was driven from Manchester to Bristol and back. There’s no way to save the battery charge, so a full battery was depleted on the 164 mile drive. The fuel economy was 51.2 mpg over this distance using petrol and a full battery. This left zero battery charge for driving around Bristol, or for the drive home: the petrol engine averaged 42.5 mpg over the return 164 miles. Both of these figures are reasonable for a large petrol estate at 70mph. After a week with the car, with a return trip from Manchester to Bristol and local journeys purely on electric power, the Passat GTE averaged 57.6 mpg.
In the real-world, the Passat was delivering 23-24 electric miles on a full battery charge. The full driving range on electric and petrol was 460 miles.
Volkswagen quotes the charging time as 3 hours 33 minutes using a 3.6 kW wall box. When charged using a 7 kW wall box the charging time didn’t appear to improve much on this.
The Volkswagen Passat Estate GTE Advance 1.4-litre TSI PHEV 218 PS 6-speed DSG (MY ’20) costs £40,860. This is around £2,300 cheaper than the previous GTE model. Our test car had options of area view and rear view camera (£800), 18-inch alloys (£300), Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) (£895), Tyre Pressure Monitor (£145) and Pure White paint (£370), taking the total price as tested to £43,370.
The Benefit in Kind (BIK) company car tax liability for 2019/20 is 16%. This will reduce to 14% in April 2020. This will mean significant savings for company car drivers compared to a conventional petrol or diesel car.
As well as the petrol-electric plug-in hybrid, the full Passat range in the UK is comprised of three petrols and four diesels. All engines on the Passat, including the TSI petrols, now have particulate filters.
There are also eight variants: SE, SE Nav, SEL, R-Line and limited-run, Estate-only R-Line Edition, alongside the Alltrack, GTE and GTE Advance.
The UK sales split is expected to be 78% fleet and 22% private, and GTE variants are expected to account for 1 in 4 UK Passat sales, compared with 1 in 10 previously. The Passat Estate outsells the saloon by 2:1 in the UK.
The Volkswagen Passat Estate GTE is an excellent all-round car. It’s refined, comfortable, spacious, it has the potential to drive up to around 30 miles on electric power, and it also has the GTE driving mode to deliver a GTI-like driving experience. It’s also reasonably efficient on long motorway drives for a petrol plug-in hybrid.
Although there’s lots of choice in terms of drive modes, the one thing that it lacks is a battery hold function, which means that if you drive from Manchester to Bristol, by the time you’ve arrived at your destination, you’ve got no battery charge left – something that Bristol Council won’t be happy about.
The Volkswagen Passat Estate GTE is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.