Volkswagen isn’t mincing its words: the GTE is a plug-in hybrid that thinks it’s good enough for GTI styling, detailing and its sporting chassis. Yet it comes with scarcely believable efficiency numbers. Still want that Chevy Volt? We didn’t think so…
Model driven: Volkswagen Golf GTE Prototype
Engine: turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, electric motor
Transmission: six-speed DSG automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 35g/km
Combined economy: 188mpg
Maximum power: 200hp
Maximum torque: 350Nm
In the Metal:
Somewhat fittingly the Golf GTE draws visual inspiration from both the car it uses technology from (the new e-Golf) and the one it aspires to be (the GTI). Like the e-Golf it wears a closed off front grille with a blue stripe, which mimics that of the GTI in design, if not colour, yet it also has C-shaped daytime running lights, which will be unique to the EV and hybrid versions of the Golf. These are joined by the horizontal strakes from the GTI/GTD wardrobe department.
Whereas the e-Golf we tested drove on aerodynamically efficient 16-inch alloy wheels, which look… well, efficient, the GTE wears much sportier looking items not too dissimilar to those found on the flagship hot hatches. The attendant Volkswagen engineer was keen to point out however that the GTE we tested was a pre-production prototypes so the styling has not been completely set in stone.
Not that you would guess that this is anything other than a production ready car when you step inside. All the usual GTI hallmarks are there; from the flat-bottomed steering wheel (with blue stitching and GTE badge) to the tartan upholstery for the sport seats (again in blue), this looks like a finished car.
Aside from the new wave of plug-in hybrid hypercars (and maybe the Volkswagen XL1), cars using the technology are best described as worthy, but dull. The GTE should change that. Under its bonnet is a 150hp version of Volkswagen’s tried and tested turbocharged 1.4-liter TSI engine, which is joined by a 100hp electric motor. Combined, these two powerplants deliver up to 200hp and 350Nm of torque. To put that into perspective, the standard Golf GTI produces 220hp and 350Nm, but cannot come close to the GTE’s quoted fuel economy figure of 188mpg and emissions rating of just 35g/km. Could the GTE be the best of both worlds?
Well it is certainly not slow anyway – ok its 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds means it is slower than not only the GTI, but also the GTD, but it is the way that the GTE gets up to speed that impresses. Start the car up and it will default to EV mode, in which it can travel 30 miles and at speeds of up to 50mph. The petrol engine only joins the party when you ask for more power than the 8.8kWh battery can provide to the motor. You can also select hybrid mode by using the ‘e-mode’ switch on the centre console.
In this guise the GTE drives much like any other hybrid: it’s docile and quiet, but not particularly quick, even with the electric motor’s access to torque from 0rpm. For that you have to select ‘GTE’ mode. This setting wakes up the active exhaust system for a start, which certainly makes it sound like a GTI. It also sharpens up the throttle response and weights up the steering, while the engine and electric motor work together to deliver the most power with the electric motor also filling in the gaps in the engine’s arsenal. There is no lag while the turbo girds its loins and while the gearchanges from the six-speed DSG automatic transmission are quick there is no discernable let up in acceleration when you ask for another ratio, as the electric motor plugs the gap.
As our drive of the car was limited to a short time on the apron of Templehof Airport we cannot truly comment on the handling of the GTE, though it should be noted that the electric motor and all its ancillaries do add about 300 lbs. to the weight of the GTI. Much of this is placed low down however. We will have to wait to drive the production model on a proper road before delivering a definitive verdict.
What you get for your Money:
This is the six-million dollar question. As a day-to-day machine the GTE possibly makes more sense than the e-Golf, however the GTE will of course carry a GT premium, but that’s already stepping on the toes of the GTD.
Unlike the e-Golf, which has its charging socket behind the standard fuel flap, the GTE has to hide it somewhere else (that space is still used for pumping in petrol). So the GTE socket is hidden behind the grille badge. Once plugged in, a full charge of the 8.8kWh battery (about a third the size of the one in the e-Golf), should take three and a half hours. The car will also top up the battery while you are driving via regenerative braking, which you can keep an eye on via the unique dash instrumentation and flow-meter on the 6.8-inch touchscreen.
The Volkswagen Golf GTE seems like the ideal combination: amazing frugality for the Monday to Friday slog with the performance of a Golf GTI (almost) when the mood takes you. It is likely to appeal to many but a lot will hinge on the price, which as yet, is unconfirmed. So will it come to the U.S.? The official word as of today is that it won’t, but never say never.
Author: Paul Healy