Volkswagen’s Golf GTI and GTD have offered practicality and performance for decades, but now, there’s a third option. Powered by a petrol-electric powertrain, the Golf GTE adds a dose of extra frugality to the family hatchback’s sporty ‘GT’ repertoire
Volkswagen pretty much invented the performance hatchback category in the mid‑1970s with the original Golf GTI. Those three little letters became synonymous with offering all-round performance and practicality, and Volkswagen introduced its first hot diesel Golf in the early 1980s. This offered all the go-faster looks with the promise of better fuel economy. Now in its seventh-generation, the latest Golf GTI is still an accomplished player in the performance hatchback market. The GTD meanwhile, is popular in the fleet market with 60 per cent of sales going to company car buyers. Up until 2012, a total of 223,838 petrol-powered Golf GTIs had been sold in the UK alone, so the model is of significant importance to Volkswagen. Now, there’s third performance Golf family member – step forward the GTE.
Performance with frugality
Taking an old Audi name from the early 1970s, the Golf GTE aims to marry performance with frugality like no Golf has done before it. A plug-in hybrid model, Volkswagen clarifies its place in the Golf line-up by stating that the ‘I’ in ‘GTI’ stands for ‘injection’, the ‘D’ in ‘GTD’ signifies ‘diesel’, while the ‘E’ in ’GTE’ signals ‘electricity’. And that’s exactly the pair of existing Golf variants the GTE straddles. Taking its cue from the all-electric e-Golf introduced in 2014, the GTE takes this car as a starting point and adds a performance-orientated twist in the vein of the Golf GTI, combined with a frugal appetite such as that of the Golf GTD.
The bare figures are certainly impressive for a hybrid hatchback. Volkswagen quotes a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds (GTI 6.5s, GTD 7.5s, both with DSG semi-automatic gearbox) and a 138mph top speed. That takes care of the performance bit, but, things get really interesting when the company also states that the GTE is capable of CO2 emissions of just 39g/km and 166mpg (GTI DSG 148g/km, 47.7mpg; GTD DSG 119g/km, 67.1mpg). Its’s a seemingly perfect combination. But it’s not just about the figures: the Golf GTI is known for its refinement and usable practicality, so what improvements, if any, can the GTE offer?
Volkswagen makes the specification choice easy. Only available in one model, the five-door GTE starts at £28,755 once the government’s £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant is taken off the list price. The Golf GTE is powered by a 1.4-litre TSI direct-injection petrol engine with 148bhp, along with a 103bhp electric motor integrated into the car’s gearbox housing. Combined power of 202bhp gives a theoretical range of 580 miles according to VW, while maximum torque is 258b ft (350Nm). That torque is needed, too, as with the extra bulk of the battery, the Golf GTE’s weight balloons to 1,599kg (GTI 1,370kg, GTD 1,377kg). Volkswagen quotes an all-electric range of up to 31 miles for the Golf PHEV.
The Golf GTE is only offered with a six‑speed DSG semi-automatic gearbox specially designed for use in the company’s electric and hybrid vehicles. Other technical highlights include a battery charger and power electronics module sited near the battery, as well as a more energy‑efficient electro-mechanical brake servo and electric air‑conditioning compressor. Volkswagen is confident in its latest technology – the Golf GTE harbours an eight-year, 99,360‑mile (160,000km) warranty for the battery alongside the company’s standard 3-year, 60,000‑mile guarantee. Charging time for the 8.8kWh lithium-ion battery from a domestic mains outlet is 3 hours and 45 minutes, while that drops to 2 hours and 15 minutes when the car is plugged into a Volkswagen-recommended and British Gas-supplied wallbox.
To drive, the GTE feels unsurprisingly similar to the Volkswagen ’s own e-Golf when in all-electric e-mode. Silent running and eager acceleration (with an 81mph cap) thanks to the electric motor’s slug of torque make the GTE feel sprightly. Press the ‘GTE’ button near the gear lever however, and the experience changes. Using both the petrol engine and the electric motor, the GTE’s performance is substantially increased. Gear changes convey a more sporty feel, kicking down much earlier, and drivers can attune their driving experience to their needs via the Tiptronic manual mode which allows for manual changes. There is more noise – at times a strange whirring-like aural soundtrack – and the whole car feels less like the ultimate eco-warrior it appears to be when powered by electricity alone. Refinement is as any other Golf in the sense that the GTE has a generally relaxing, quiet and comfortable demeanour. Dynamically, the GTE does a passable impression of the GTI, even if it is slightly more muted in its responses.
The transition between the two power sources is seamless. A graphic display in‑between the instrument dials shows which power source is being used. A charge meter sits inside the colour-divided rev counter which allows the driver to determine power usage and regenerative charging cycles. As with conventional fuel-powered Golfs, mpg readings are also displayed ahead of the driver, while the cars’ s 5.8-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system in the central console shows a plethora of energy source information. A driver profile function offers up five driving settings: E-mode, GTE mode, battery charge, battery hold and hybrid. For ultimate efficiency, the gearbox is decoupled from the engine and provides drag free coasting or kinetic energy recuperation.
An E-range Monitor shows all-electric range as well as power remaining to each source. As with the instrument binnacle computer, a whole spectrum of fuel consumption information is available to be digested. An e-manager function also allows the driver to preset the car’s charging settings as well as the interior cooling and heating options. Remotely accessible via Volkswagen’s smartphone Car-Net app, a three-year subscription comes as standard.
Externally, the GTE is easily recognisable as a member of the Golf ‘GT’ family. Blue highlights and grille strips replace the red items of the GTI, while a GTE styling pack unit sharing the ‘C’-shaped LED running lights of the e-Golf. LED headlights and tail lamps are standard. The final additions to the petrol-electric Golf are a unique rear spoiler, a smattering of GTE badges, and 7.5J x 18 ‘Serron’ alloy wheels with 235/40 R18 tyres. One thing worth noting on a practical level is the reduced luggage capacity of 272 litres (down by 108 litres) when compared to conventionally-fuelled Golfs, thanks to the siting of the electric motor and 40-litre fuel tank.
The best of both worlds?
Volkswagen says that the Golf GTE is ‘The best of both worlds, at the touch of a button’. Both a zero-emission and long distance vehicle in one, the Golf GTE does offer the all-electric benefits of the e-Golf, but with none of the range anxiety which may put off drivers who haven’t experienced electric cars before.
As befits its technology, the GTE sits at the top of the Golf tree, costing £1,890 more than the e-Golf after the Plug-in Car Grant is deducted from the price. Both sit in VED Band A and are tax-free, but if more long distance journeys are to be undertaken, the GTE makes for a more compelling option.
The next best fuel-efficient Golf GT model, the GTD, starts from £26,935 and is has a VED rate of £30 per year. While the GTE’s BIK rate is much lower – 5 per cent compared to the GTD’s 19 per cent – it could still take many years to make up the cost difference, despite the proposed lower per mile running costs. However, if mileage-munching motoring with in-town emission-saving is a priority, there is now at least a – very accomplished – option. There’s still a way to go make it feel as performance-orientated as the Golf GTI, but Volkswagen has succeeded in building a very competent and accessible eco‑car, with a little less emphasis on the eco.