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Volkswagen Golf GTE review

The Volkswagen Golf GTE is a lot more sensible in the real world than the fully-electric e-Golf, and for a company car driver the tax savings will be very appealing

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What is it?
The Volkswagen Golf GTE is a sporty plug-in hybrid version of the best-selling Golf hatch.

Key features
Impressive pace with minimal emissions and major economy

Our view
The Volkswagen Golf GTE is a lot more sensible in the real world than the fully-electric e-Golf, and for a company car driver the tax savings will be very appealing.

All of a sudden, the plug-in hybrid is becoming commonplace. The concept of matching a petrol engine to an electric motor that, rather than being simply charged by said engine, is replenished by being plugged into the mains, has grown rapidly in popularity.

The appeal of a plug-in is, principally, that the technology results in previously unheard of official efficiency figures, while also removing the range-anxiety factor that comes with a full electric car. And such vehicles appear to appeal to the public – Mitsubishi, for example, has seen rocketing sales for its SUV variant, the Outlander PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle).

Now Volkswagen joins the party with the Golf GTE – not to be confused with its fully electric sister the e-Golf, and unlike that car available through every VW dealer.

According to VW, the Golf GTE combines elements of the e-Golf with the model line’s famed lead model, the GTI, evidence that this is regarded, at least by its maker, as much a performance model as an efficient one.

The basis is a 1.4 TSI petrol engine of 150hp, which is matched to an electric motor of 101 horses, built into the housing of the mandatory-fit DSG gearbox and giving combined power of 201bhp. The GTI, for comparison, puts out 217bhp.

As a result the plug-in hybrid is a reasonably swift machine, though not to GTI levels, its 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 138mph comparing to the 6.5 seconds and 151mph of its sporty sister.

However the GTE leaves the GTI standing in terms of economy and emissions. Official combined cycle fuel economy is an astonishing 166mpg – just 122 miles more than the GTI, and while such laboratory-produced figures will never be replicated in real-life motoring, this car will go a lot further on a gallon.

Combine this with CO2 emissions figures of a mere 39g/km (GTI 148g/km) and the GTE suddenly offers very real appeal to particularly company car drivers who want performance in their daily drive but would also like to save money – as well as the obvious savings in such areas as central London congestion charging, the car offers rock-bottom benefit-in-kind tax rates.

So on paper it all seems good, but what is it like in the metal? In many ways, no different to the mainstream Golf. It is only available as a five-door, with GTI styling but with all the red bits of the performance model, such as the accents on the grille and inside the seat stitching, changed to VW’s eco-signature blue.

The major practical difference to the general Golf line-up is a compromised bootspace due to the need to accommodate the electric motor battery – it loses 100 litres, offering with seats up 272 litres.

There are differences ahead of the driver – incorporated into the dash rev counter is a power meter that shows the charge level of the battery and whether or not the electric side of the car is being used. More detailed info is offered on the touchscreen of the centre console display.

The GTE offers five driving modes. In fully electric E-Mode with a completely charged battery it will travel up to 31 miles with zero emissions.

Hybrid auto is the ‘standard’ driving mode, the system deciding a combination of engine and electric power depending on driving situation and state of battery charge.

In Battery Hold the engine is employed on its own, the electric motor charge saved for specific use, for example in urban areas, while the TSI petrol unit is also employed if the battery needs a significant top up in Battery Charge mode – this proved very effective on the fairly short road route on the launch event.

Plug-in charging of an exhausted battery, by the way, takes three hours 45 minutes using domestic mains, or two hours 15 minutes from a wallbox – a big improvement on EV charging rates of even a couple of years ago.

The final driving mode is GTE, when the car does its best to replicate its famed sister, engine and motor working in tandem to produce the best combination of power and torque.

Now, it should be stated that despite the styling and the perceived close relationship the GTE is not an electric GTI. It doesn’t have the same potency either on paper or in perception when driving it, but equally, it’s not by any means a slouch. Acceleration is swift and enjoyable, and while it can’t replicate the precision cornering of the GTI it is nonetheless entertaining and a fun car to drive.

The Volkswagen Golf GTE is regarded as a top-range model, so it comes with plentiful equipment, including 18-inch alloy wheels, a touchscreen infotainment system with DAB radio and Bluetooth, and specific to the model a three-year subscription to the Car-Net app. This allows one to control such elements as the car’s interior heating or air con, as well as pre-setting battery charging, remotely from a smartphone.

So who should buy it? It costs £28,650, once the Government’s £5,000 plug-in car grant is deducted, so private buyers will likely find the £3,000 cheaper standard Golf TSI more attractive.

The Volkswagen Golf GTE is, however, a lot more sensible in the real world than the fully-electric e-Golf, and for a company car driver the tax savings will be very appealing than the similarly-priced Golf GTI, which may be faster but will also be significantly more expensive to run…

Volkswagen Golf GTE – key specifications

Model tested: Volkswagen Golf GTE 1.4 TSI 6-speed DSG 5-Door
On sale: April 2015
Range price: £28,035 (after £5,000 government grant)
Insurance group: TBA
Engines: 1.4TSI petrol plus electric motor
Power (bhp): 201 (total)
Torque (lb/ft): 258 (total)
0-62mph (sec): 7.6
Top speed (mph): 138
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 166
CO2 emissions (g/km): 39
Key rivals: Audi A3 e-tron, Toyota Prius plug-in
Test date: April 2015

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.