21.10.2016VW Passat GTE Estate review
Volkswagen has expanded the GTE range to include the Passat, turning the refined model - in this case the estate - into a plug-in hybrid. Sharing the same powertrain as the more established Golf GTE, the Passat GTE shows VW is serious about making green technology mainstream in its range. With a week behind the wheel, Next Green Car finds out how the Passat GTE gets along.
Review by Chris Lilly
As with all plug-in hybrids, the Passat GTE can run on electric power only, but usually relies of a blend of petrol and electric to drive along. The 1.4 litre TSI petrol engine combines nicely with a 113bhp electric motor to offer performance figures including a top speed of 140mph and a 7.6 second 0-62mph time. It's certainly no slouch then, and the Passat GTE feels fast when you want to get somewhere in a hurry. Take it more sedately though and the Passat GTE shines, with the natural refinement of the electric powertrain making the Passat GTE relaxing to drive. The electric motor and petrol engine combine or operate independently to create a car that is at home in built up areas or on shorter dual carriageway runs, with far more refinement than a conventional petrol or diesel model. The instant punch of the electric motors will get you out of junctions easily for example. The Passat GTE - like most PHEVs - struggles to make quite the same easy transition to motorway cruiser as diesel, but it still performs well. The revs settle down at pace, and the Passat GTE can more than keep up with traffic. It's worth remembering that under the bonnet is a small petrol engine, so it doesn't have the same capabilities as a diesel when cruising without electric power to help. The switch-over from petrol to electric, vice versa, or combining the two, is always seamless.
VW has cleverly given its plug-in hybrid range a boost by making it part of the GT line-up. With the famous GTI and increasingly popular GTD instantly adding cache to the GTE badge, the plug-in models link in nicely to the Volkswagen performance line-up. The Golf GTE shares many of the GTI's characteristics, and I wondered before driving the Passat, how VW were going to do the same with its popular large family car range. The answer is that it hasn't - and that is largely good news. The Golf GTE is incredibly flexible in the sense that it can run around like an EV model such as a Nissan Leaf, while also combining all the powertrains together when needed to provide hot hatch thrills. The Passat GTE never turns into a chuckable-hot-estate though, and instead uses the electric/petrol combo to improve refinement than performance. The VW doesn't wallow into corners, and the handling is good on a twisty road. It won't dart down said road with the same verve as the Golf GTE though. The steering is precise and there is plenty of grip available. The VW will lean a little when cornering though, probably because of its extra weight thanks to the battery pack.
I think that the Passat is one of the most stylish cars on the road - though granted, in a very understated manner. The Bauhaus-style design looks great and adds plenty of class to the Passat, which has long sat between mainstream and executive models. The GTE continues this though features a few styling touches to single it out from the rest of the Passat range. VW's C-shaped LED running lights - reserved for plug-in models - feature, as does discreet GTE badging, blue trim highlights and brake calipers, and a largely closed off grille. The Estate model is still very spacious, even if a little of the rear load space has been reduced by the addition of the car's battery. You still get a very useful load lugger though, and there isn't the step that the likes of the Mercedes C350e estate has.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The comfortable nature of the Passat GTE's driving experience translates well to the interior too. The seats are first class, beaten only by more premium pews from the likes of Volvo in terms of comfort. There is loads of space front and rear too, and the Passat has an air of prestige about it as soon as you settle in behind the wheel. The dashboard is stylish but overall functional, while the model on test had VW's version of the Audi Virtual Cockpit, where you could adjust the display in the instrument binnacle to prioritise dials, navigation, eco motoring etc. All switchgear feels good to use and as though it will last well. The VW touchscreen infotainment system is intuitive, and the Passat GTE uses VW's excellent DSG gearbox, which driving very relaxing.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
All PHEVs have officially quoted fuel economy figures, though these are largely useless and depend greatly how the owner drives. For example, the Passat GTE has an official electric-only range of 31 miles, though I found that to be 24-26 miles in the real world. Anyone who has a 10-15 mile commute would be able to get to work and back on a single charge and not use any petrol. Even a 40 mile round-trip commute would have 25-30 petrol-free miles. Even so, the Passat GTE's official fuel economy figure is 166 MPG - which is good to help compare it against other PHEVs if nothing else. The electric range from the 9.9 kWh battery is one of the largest available from the current crop of PHEVs, which is one of the biggest attributes in the market. This helps with the Passat GTE's official CO2 figure of 39 g/km CO2, putting it in VED Band A, costing nothing to tax each year. Out in the real world, the VW averaged 67.2 MPG MPG during my time with it, though that was hindered by a number of longer trips. On shorter runs, the average was much higher, at around 80 MPG, exemplified by my 100 mile round-trip commute with a charge at home and work.
The Passat GTE's biggest chunk of green technology comes in the form of its PHEV powertrain. This allows a number of zero-tailpipe emission miles to be driven, which if used with regular charging, can create a huge saving in both fuel costs and emissions. Helping this is the car's regenerative braking system, which recuperates much of the energy normally lost under braking and using it to top-up the battery. Under normal 'D' driving mode, the regen is weak, letting the car coast more than recharge. Pull the gearstick back though to 'B', and the regen is much stronger. VW has a very good brake regeneration system, with different strengths available by knocking the gearstick left (stronger) or right (weaker). With practice and careful driving, the use of the brake pedal can be dramatically reduces, almost to nothing, with the benefit being lots of 'free' recharging. Other green features include a more aerodynamic body, low rolling resistance tyres, and the ability to recharge without using the engine via a Type 2 connector - plugged in behind the radiator. Charging can be programmed to activate at night when electricity prices might be cheaper, and you can connect to the Passat GTE via an app, to alter charging times on the move, or pre-condition the car, saving the air conditioning from draining the battery while it is on charge. The car's driving modes can be selected to suit what's needed too. 'Hybrid' lets the car decide what blend of petrol and electric is best, 'E-Mode' keeps the Passat GTE in electric power only, and 'Battery Charge' will use the engine to top-up the battery while on the move. This last mode will drop the fuel economy significantly, but means you will have charge later in your journey, such as entering a city. The final mode is GTE, which throws everything the powertrain has at the wheels for full power and maximum sportiness. According to our calculations, the tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 33.
Standard equipment is very good for the Passat GTE, though you would hope it would be for the price. GTE design trim, 18-inch alloy wheels, touchscreen infotainment system, parking sensors front and rear, adaptive cruise control, climate control, and keyless entry and start are just some of the features. Standard PHEV features include two charging cables - three-pin and Type 2 - charging management, and three year Car-Net e-remote services subscription. Step up to the Advance trim tested and leather seats, an upgraded 8-inch colour navigation system, panoramic sunroof, and Active info display (digital instruments).
Volkswagen has taken a very good plug-in hybrid system and placed it in an excellent model. The Passat GTE works very well as a car for all but those who regularly drive long distances - in which case a diesel Passat would be a great option. Because of the high price most Passat GTE's will be bought by company car drivers who will make significant savings on with low BIK rates. And they will be getting an excellent car for their money - a five star model had the cost not put it against the likes of the Mercedes C-Class, VOlvo V60, and BMW 330e.
Model tested:Volkswagen Passat GTE Advance
Body-style: Five-door estate
Engine / CO2: 1.4 litre TSI petrol engine & 103 kW electric motor / 39 g/km
Trim grades: GTE and GTE Advance
On-road price:Passat GTE range from £34,250, Estate from £35,825, Price as tested £39,480 (all inc. Cat 2 PiCG)
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles - battery warranty: Eight years / 99,360 miles (160,000 km)
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 Stars