VW Golf GTE First Drive
Volkswagen has been giving its Golf range a refresh with extra equipment and some nice styling tweaks. Thankfully, the Golf GTE hasn't been missed out, with VW even dropping the price of the PHEV Golf at the same time. Next Green Car takes the plug-in hybrid Golf GTE for a spin around Bedfordshire to see how the changes have been implemented.
Review by Chris Lilly
Before you get excited about a longer range and greater efficiency - or more power and faster acceleration, whichever takes your fancy - the new model's powertrain is unchanged from the non-updated Golf GTE Mk VII. The rest of the car has been subjected to VW's tweaks though, which means drivers will get slightly sharper styling front and rear, and improved equipment inside. The styling changes are slight, made up mainly of new LED headlights, bumpers, and blue GTE stripes along the front of the car. However, they make up an effective whole, with the Golf in general looking a little more aggressive, and the high-end models looking more so still. The most noticeable differences are to be found inside with a new infotainment system and instrument display.
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
The GTE is pitched alongside the fast Golfs - suffixed with GTI, GTD, and R. To directly compare the Golf GTE to these longer-serving names would be fair but missing the point a little. Although the GTE is a kind of hot-hatch, the driving dynamics aren't on a par of the famous Golf GTI for example. It's not at all bad though, and far from a soft, wallowing hatch without any joie de vivre. In fact, I really like VW's decision to bring along plug-in technology with a performance slant to it. It's a more appealing option than just picking a PHEV on cost and efficiency grounds.
With that in mind, think of the Golf GTE as a warm hatch by modern standards, rather than the full hot-hatch experience offered by the GTI, or the near sportscar ultra-hatch offering of the Golf R. Handling is very good, though not pin-sharp, and acceleration is excellent in shorter bursts thanks to the torque provided by the electric motor. With a number of driving modes on offer, for the most thrilling experience, drivers need simply press the 'GTE' button to get the full effect of the combined powertrain. Acceleration is brisk to put it mildly, taking 7.6 seconds to complete the 0-62mph sprint, and it is only the car's heavier weight that blunts that time from being faster really. Power figures top out at 204 hp, with the Golf GTI by comparison boasting 220 hp and an acceleration time 1.1 seconds faster than the GTE, despite having the same torque figure of 350 Nm.
The benefit from having a softer ride than the GTI is that the GTE is better behaved around town and on rougher surfaces. It settles down better at motorway speeds too, and is generally a more usable car, even if it won't beat the superb Golf GTI down a twisty road.
WHAT'S IT LIKE INSIDE?
The new infotainment system from VW is excellent, and of a standard not found before in this class of car. There is the option to go for the full 9.2-inch Discover Pro system which incorporates gesture control - an innovation that is really only the preserve of large exec saloons like BMW's 7-Series. It's not really worth it though unless you're a sucker for new tech, with the simpler set-up of touchscreen and physical buttons easier to use on the move. What is definitely welcome though is the appearance of VW's digital instrument screen, or Active Info Display as the company calls it. It allows the driver to configure the instruments differently depending on taste and need, with a large navigation map able to take up the space between the digital dials, or a raft of other information instead.
All the screens are crisp, clear, and easy to read, and the rest of the cockpit is largely unchanged. That's no bad thing though since the Golf in general has a very good interior, and the Golf GTE looks great with the blue 'tartan' seat fabric. It's comfortable, ergonomically laid out, and there is plenty of space for four adults and luggage, so the GTE continues the tradition of fast Golfs of being both quick and practical.
HOW GREEN IS IT?
So you can have a bit of fun in the new Golf GTE, and there are some nice new toys to play with inside, but how green is the plug-in hybrid VW? Put simply, it's just the same as before. With an 8.7 kWh battery pack offering an all-electric range of around 20 miles (officially 31 miles), the Golf GTE will do a decent distance in zero-emission driving, and defaults into e-mode when you turn it on. Also, VW has added predictive hybrid strategy, which links the powertrain's brain to the sat-nav system, and will switch to electric-power when possible when entering urban areas. This all helps to provide a CO2 figure of 36 g/km. Driving modes include e-mode, hybrid, GTE, and battery charge, and with the car's brake energy recuperation system, an experienced PHEV driver can get some excellent economy figures from the Golf GTE. We are yet to give the new model an extended test, but using the car's 'B' mode can help eake out those electric miles too.
IS IT THE BEST IN CLASS?
The Golf GTE is a very good PHEV, a true all-rounder with the ability to be driven spiritedly or lazily depending on how the driver feels. It's practical, easy to drive, and nicely balanced between sporty and comfortable. The equipment levels are excellent now too, but apart from this last point, the new Golf GTE reads very like the summary for the previous Golf GTE (largely because it's a very similar car). However, the most important change has nothing directly to do with the car itself, but is a positive move from VW. The German giant has knocked a few thousand pounds off the list price, which means a Golf GTE can by yours for a little under £30,000 after the Plug-in Car Grant of £2,500 has been included. Coming in under this threshold makes it one of the cheapest PHEVs on the market, and is only beaten by the new Toyota Prius Plug-in - itself a beneficiary of a price cut. The Golf GTE is a more conventional hatch and more fun to drive than the Toyota - though not as efficient.
It's still a lot for a Golf, but the GTE is now available for the same sort of price as a GTI or GTD. Granted you'll get a faster car petrol or diesel versions, though they will cost more to run and are no where near as green. Private buyers will need to be convinced of the multi-faceted capabilities of the Golf GTE enough to ignore the price. But fleet and company car buyers will be easily swayed by the low BIK rates and other business-use benefits. It's not perfect, but the VW Golf GTE is an exceptionally good all-round car.
Model tested: VW Golf GTE Advance
Body-style: Five-door hatchback
Engine / CO2: 1.4 litre petrol with electric motor / 36 g/km
Trim grades: GTE, GTE Advance
On-road price: GTE range from £28,135. Price as tested £29,635
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 Stars