UK Drive: Volkswagen's Golf GTE electrifies the sports hatch range

By Jack Evans

What is it?

The Golf GTE has been designed to offer the exceptionally low running costs of a plug-in hybrid with the involving drive of a sports hatch. Powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine linked to an electric motor, the GTE has a claimed economy of 156.9mpg and yet, despite this, should crack 60mph in under eight seconds. Of course, being a Golf it also affords its owners a high level of build quality, along with a good dose of practicality.

What’s new?

The main talking point of the GTE is its powertrain. Underneath the bonnet sits a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which is combined with an electric motor to produce 201bhp and 350Nm. Power is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

(Volkswagen)

With a theoretical range of 580 miles, the GTE is ideal for those looking to do low-emissions, high-mileage journeys.

The exterior has also been updated to differentiate the GTE from the rest of the Golf range, meaning you’ll find C-shaped LED daytime running lights as well as blue accents across the radiator grille – replacing the standard GTI’s red version.

What’s under the bonnet?

As mentioned, the Golf GTE utilises a hybrid powertrain designed to give good levels of performance as well as lower emissions. As such, it should reach 60mph in 7.4 seconds before hitting a top speed of 138mph. However, thanks to clever fuel-saving technology it has a claimed combined economy of 156.9mpg and emits just 40g/km CO2 in this higher-spec Advance version. Figures are slightly lower at 39g/km CO2 in the standard GTE.

(Volkswagen)

The 8.7 kWh lithium-ion battery can be charged via either a conventional domestic socket or a wall-mounted charge box. It’ll take 3h 45m to hit fully charged from empty with the former, falling to 2h 15m in the latter. There’s also an in-built e-manager, which allows the driver to preset the vehicle’s charging time, as well as the car’s interior cooling or heating – these can be controlled via a smartphone app.

What’s it like to drive?

Anything with a GT badge in the Volkswagen range tends to inspire thoughts of a sporty, involving drive. This is partly true of the GTE with its well-weighted steering and eager turn-in. However, the car’s weight is a significant drawback, with those lithium-ion batteries contributing significantly to the car’s overall mass – the GTE weighs in at 1,615kg unladen, compared to the regular GTI’s 1,364. This is a considerable increase, and one which blunts the GTE’s feeling of sharpness.

The GTE is capable of reaching up to 81mph in all-electric mode, which means that all manner of journeys can be undertaken without troubling the petrol engine. That said, should you want a combination of both powertrains then the GTE button can be pressed, and this gives the best overall performance. However, even using this mode doesn’t transform the GTE into a B-road bruiser – the 1.4-litre engine doesn’t have quite enough character to it, while the gearshift can be a little sluggish in full auto mode.

(Volkswagen)

An overwhelming impression is road noise. Because of the GTE’s relatively quiet powertrain, the sounds generated by the large 18-inch tyres is extremely noticeable, particularly on the motorway. In addition, the extra weight makes it less able to deal with large potholes, and regularly crashes through surface inconsistencies in a way a standard GTI simply wouldn’t.

How does it look?

The GTE is a well-judged car in terms of styling. There’s just enough to make it different from the rest of the Golf range, without making it too out-there. The C-shaped LED daytime running lights fitted also feature on the all-electric E-Golf, but here help the GTE stand out even further. You also get blue accents replacing the GTI’s red versions – and you’ll find this running across the radiator grille and into the headlights.

What’s it like inside?

The GTE’s interior exhibits all of the trademarks you’d expect to find in the GTI – the tartan sports seats take pride of place inside (though use blue rather than the traditional red), as well as a flat- bottomed steering wheel. Everything feels well screwed together, and everything you touch is made to a high quality. The switchgear, for instance, operates with plenty of solidity while the buttons on the multifunction steering wheel are rugged enough for many years of use to come.

(Volkswagen)

Practicality levels are good, with plenty of headroom for those sat in the back and equally as much for those in the front. As a result of its hybrid powertrain, the GTE’s petrol tank is located under a raised boot floor, and this reduces the luggage capacity to 272 litres – more than 100 litres less than the regular car’s. Also, because the GTE’s batteries are located under the rear, you can’t drop the seats completely flat.

What’s the spec like?

As one of the more ‘premium’ specifications in the Golf range, the GTE comes with a decent amount of standard equipment. Our Advance-spec car came with Volkswagen’s latest Discover Navigation infotainment system, heated front seats and 18-inch wheels. The satellite navigation is also in-built with the ability to identify potential destinations within the car’s all-electric range, as well as charging points nearby. In addition, you get DAB radio included as well as Bluetooth connectivity.

(Volkswagen)

Prices for the GTE start at £29,635 inclusive of the government’s £2,500 grant. However, our Advance-spec car came in a little higher at £31,485 including the grant – this is down to additional options such as a rear-view camera and LED headlights.

Verdict

The Volkswagen Golf GTE is somewhat of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s very economical, offers a decent enough electric range and is thoroughly well built. On the other, it lacks the poise or precision that you’d expect from a hot hatch. If you’re after a truly involving and sharp to drive hatch, you may want to look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking to keep running costs low while doing so in a smart, well-styled and practical hatchback then the GTE could be for you.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: Volkswagen Golf GTE Advance
Price: £31,485 (inclusive of £2,500 government grant)
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol with electric motor
Power (bhp): 201bhp
Torque (Nm): 350Nm
Max speed (mph): 138mph
0-60mph: 7.4 seconds
MPG (combined): 156.9mpg
Emissions (g/km): 40g/km

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