If you’re looking for a large electric estate car, with no driving range limitation thanks to an additional petrol engine, then the Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate is the only choice.
We’ll only mention this once, but Volkswagen has set itself some pretty steep targets in the wake of Dieselgate, and the Passat GTE is an excellent example of the sort of efficient vehicle that the brand can produce if it sets its mind to it.
The Volkswagen Passat GTE has a 1.4-litre TSI turbocharged petrol engine as well as an electric motor, which is incorporated between the engine and the six-speed automatic DSG transmission, and which is powered by a lithium-ion battery sitting under the rear seats. You plug the car in to recharge the battery.
Our test car was the Estate model which has a huge boot as well as masses of rear legroom, so all the mechanical kit has been packaged effectively, however there is a weight penalty – the GTE Estate weighs 1735 kg compared to 1474 kg for the diesel Passat BlueMotion Saloon.
Externally and internally there are a few design details that set the GTE apart, and thankfully it comes with a decent-looking set of alloy wheels rather than the eco-wheels found on models such as the e-Golf.
The Passat GTE has four driving modes: E-Mode, Hybrid, Battery Charge and GTE. Left to its own devices it will start off in E-Mode (pure electric). If the battery charge is depleted it will change to Hybrid mode, primarily using the petrol engine, and charging the battery under deceleration. Battery Charge mode will conserve the battery charge. For maximum power, GTE mode uses the petrol engine and electric motor.
You can also choose between Normal, Sport, Eco, Individual and Comfort. And you can choose to change gear manually – by using the gear selector or with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
All this means that there is a range of driving modes to suit most needs; you can drive in eco-friendly pure electric mode (up to 81mph) or in sporty GTE mode, when the car aims to rival the responses of a Golf GTI. However this plan is foiled somewhat by the 1735 kg weight of the Passat GTE Estate (the Golf GTE weighs 1599 kg).
However if you select Sport mode and the GTE button, it feels responsive – and not at all bad for a big, comfortable Passat Estate.
One issue carried over from the Golf GTE is that in right-hand drive cars the GTE drive mode and e-mode buttons are slightly obscured behind the gear selector.
And one other complaint is that there’s no light in the charging socket, making it difficult to plug in the charging cable in the dark.
The official NEDC fuel economy figure for the Volkswagen Passat GTE is 166 mpg. As impressive as that sounds, as anyone who reads these pages regularly will know, what that translates to in real-life depends entirely on a person’s driving patterns. If you drive the Passat mainly on electric power, then you might see 100mpg+. Drive it up and down the motorway on petrol power and it will be less than this. How much less? We’ll find out in a moment.
The Volkswagen Passat GTE has an official electric range of 31 miles. During our week with the car on test we had a perfect driving cycle for a plug-in hybrid. Every day was school run-type drives on electric power, with not one drop of petrol being used. Except for one day which involved a drive from Manchester to Warwick and back.
On the ‘electric days’ (all of which were cold autumn days), the range display mostly said 24 miles. However if you selected ‘High’ on the heating setting and had the windscreen demister on, the 24 mile read-out dropped to 14 miles. Nudging the temperature setting down resulted in a 24 mile range again.
So school runs – and all other urban driving – were carried out with zero tailpipe emissions, with zero impact on local air quality. But how about the motorway drive to Warwick and back? Many petrol plug-in hybrids that we test are SUVs – big, heavy SUVs in most cases. This is when the petrol plug-in hybrid powertrain strategy doesn’t work, as most 2 tonne+ SUVs will average around 25-30mpg at 70mph on the motorway on their petrol engines.
However the Passat, despite being an extremely spacious estate, has much better aerodynamics than an SUV, and it’s lighter, and has a very efficient 1.4-litre petrol engine. So it managed to return 47.5mpg on its long motorway run – which starts to make petrol plug-in hybrids look viable from an economy point of view.
Over the week as a whole the Passat GTE averaged 59.2mpg, which is good – and better than the 57.9mpg of the Passat BlueMotion diesel. This is likely to have been around 100mpg if we hadn’t done our normal trick of driving on motorways for around 80% of our mileage.
Interestingly, the maximum economy that the Passat can display is 300mpg – perhaps Volkswagen should increase this.
The GTE’s maximum theoretical range with a full 9.9 kWh battery and 50-litre fuel tank is 664 miles.
Passat GTE models have two charging cables. One is to charge from a domestic mains socket, and one is for a charging station or wall box. A wall box provides owners with higher charging performance and consequently shorter charging time than a domestic mains socket.
Using the standard mains charging cable, the Passat GTE recharges the high-voltage battery from a household socket in approximately 4 hours 15 minutes. Charging via a 3.6 kW wall box or at a public charging station takes around 2 hours 30 minutes.
The Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate costs £34,025 after the £2,500 government plug-in car grant. In comparison, the Passat BlueMotion 1.6-litre TDI 120 PS 6-speed manual costs £23,530.
Apart from the GTE, the Passat has been available in the UK as a diesel-only range, comprising of a 1.6-litre 120 PS, a 2.0-litre with 150 or 190 PS, plus a range-topping 2.0-litre bi-turbo with 240 PS, DSG and 4MOTION four-wheel drive.
In 2015 Volkswagen UK sold 9,326 Passat Saloons and 10,606 Passat Estate models, meaning that the more practical estate is the most popular choice. There’s now also an Alltrack version in the Estate line-up.
The Passat GTE – available as either Saloon or Estate – has two trim options – GTE and GTE Advance. The remainder of the Passat range has seven trim levels: S, BlueMotion, SE, SE Business, GT, Alltrack and R-Line. The best-selling model is the 2.0-litre TDI 150 PS with manual gearbox in SE and SE Business trims. Over 80 per cent are sold into the fleet market.
We recently tested the Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion diesel. It was extremely economical on the motorway, but if we were to be honest, we didn’t really enjoy driving it. However the Passat GTE has the potential to be just as economical as the BlueMotion diesel, if used primarily on electric power, but it is also excellent to drive. As well as being refined, and offering a sporty driving experience in GTE mode, it is also a large, practical car, and one that feels very high quality. If you’re looking for a large estate that will mainly be used for sub-30 mile journeys, when it will have minimal adverse impact on local air quality, with occasional longer trips – when it will still be economical – then the Passat is the only choice at the moment. This is especially true if you’re a company car user, when you can save money through lower BIK. Because of all this, the Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10.