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Volkswagen Golf GTE

Click to view picture gallery“On paper, the new Volkswagen
  Golf GTE looks like the perfect car —
  here
s a set of figures you won't
  find on anything else: 0-62mph
  in 7.6 seconds, 188mpg and 35g/km
  of CO2!”


YES: WOW! The Golf GTE plug-in hybrid is half hot hatch, half electric planet-saver. It has the performance of a Golf GTI (almost) combined with zero road tax and penny-pinching fuel consumption. And all for 28,000. Yup, that sounds pretty perfect to me.

But what is the reality like? Does the Golf GTE really live up to its 'perfect' billing? Of course, the story is not nearly so straightforward.

VW says the GTE has "GTI genes" and to some extent that's true. But the powerplant is very different to the GTI's. You have a 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine (with 148bhp) matched to a 100bhp electric motor (which is mounted in between the internal combustion engine and the DSG gearbox). Combined, the two motors generate 200bhp.

“In ‘E’ you can drive
up to 31 miles on battery
power alone,
at speeds up to 81mph.
Like most electric cars,
in pure E-mode
it
s a mighty impressive
machine, with strong
acceleration and a lack
of noise that
s most
beguiling...
That's what the Golf GTI had in its last generation, so it's no surprise to find the GTE is a quick car. But even though it's able to do 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds, it isn't quite as quick as the current Golf GTD diesel, let alone the GTI.

You have to be in GTE mode to get the best performance. There are in fact five modes in total E-mode (pure electric), Hybrid Auto (what you'll mostly use), Battery Hold (to save charge for later in your journey), Battery Charge (which you'll likely never use), and GTE Mode (for fun times).

In 'E' you can drive up to 31 miles on battery power alone, at speeds up to 81mph. Like most electric cars, in pure E-mode it's a mighty impressive machine, with strong acceleration, instant torque and a lack of noise that's most beguiling.

The batteries take 3.5 hours to charge at a domestic mains socket (less if you have a dedicated wall box) and charging at home or work is the key to low running costs, with a recharge costing about 1.50.

Switch to Hybrid Auto mode and the petrol engine joins in the party, enabling you to extend your range to well above 500 miles, although fuel obviously gets consumed; on a motorway journey you'll use fuel at roughly the same rate as a regular petrol-engined car.

Press the GTE button on the centre console and you might expect it to change character entirely. But it really doesn't. The steering and engine mapping become sharper, and there's a 'boost' function to give you maximum juice from the battery.

The biggest difference is the sound a more guttural growl with extra decibels, but that's entirely artificial as it's piped into the cabin; from outside you hear no difference at all.

The transmission changes in GTE mode, too, but unfortunately the normally lovely six-speed semi-auto DSG gearbox morphs into what suddenly feels like a CVT transmission. Hoof the accelerator and the engine revs up to maximum and stays there, all rather unpleasantly and robbing the car of refinement. Staying in regular Hybrid mode actually feels better all round.

Speaking of the DSG, it has paddles but it doesn't have the graded regenerative braking system of the e-Golf; instead it simply has 'D' (Drive) and 'B' (Brake) modes, the latter recharging the batteries as you go, and meaning you rarely need to use the brake pedal.

“The ride is actually very
good, even with 18-inch
alloy wheels, and
while the set-up is firm,
it’s never uncomfortable.
Like other members
of the Golf GT family,
there’s very little body
roll and plenty of grip,
and you won’t be
disappointed by the
handling...
The batteries themselves sit under the rear seat and boot where they steal a little of the boot space (but not much). Their weight (they weigh in at 120kg) makes this a heavy machine at 1,599kg (some 229kg heavier than the Golf GTI), and the batteries' positioning over the rear-end inevitably affects the ride/handling balance.

The ride is actually very good, even rolling on 18-inch alloy wheels, and while the set-up is firm, it's never uncomfortable. Like other members of the Golf GT family, there's very little body roll and plenty of grip, and you won't be disappointed by the handling but as sharp as a GTI? Definitely not.

The UK GTE spec will be fairly generous: 18-inch alloys, daytime LEDs, blue accents and stitching, tartan trim and a 6.5-inch touchscreen. However, SatNav is optional, as too are Dynamic Chassis Control and Adaptive Cruise Control. Priced around 28,000, GTE ordering opens this November with the first deliveries arriving in March 2015.

So, here's the question: Which sporty Golf should you buy GTD, GTE or GTI? If you do lots of motorway miles, get the GTD diesel because that will get you the best fuel economy. If you're a petrolhead with driving in your blood, it has to be the GTI.

But the GTE is for you if, (a) you have a short commute every day because battery power will makes it easily the cheapest to run; (b) you want to avoid the London Congestion Charge; (c) you're a company car driver and want to save a shed-load of benefit-in-kind tax.

At last, then, here's a car that does it all or very nearly. Fast, fun, and frugal. And not even that expensive.
Chris Rees

Volkswagen Golf GTE | 28,000 (TBC)
Maximum speed: 138mph | 0-62mph: 7.6 seconds | Test Average: 188mpg
Power: 200bhp | Torque: 258lb ft | CO2 35g/km