2015 Volkswagen Golf GTE plug-in hybrid Test Drive

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTE is, at first glance, just another Golf. But take a peek under the bonnet and you'll see an internal combustion engine and an electric motor

Overall Score
82 / 100

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTE is, at first glance, just another Golf. But take a peek under the bonnet and you'll see an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. In other words, the Golf GTE is a hybrid, and a plug-in to top things off. That means you can charge the batteries at home and drive for up to 31 miles (50 km) in all-electric mode, and when you run out of juice the gas engine kicks in to take you further. In theory, at least.

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IN BRIEF
  • Recommended for:
    sales agents
    young and single
  • Created for:
    highways
    urban driving
  • Hats off for:
    comfort
    safety
  • Bang for the buck:
    good


Drive
Powertrain
8 / 10
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The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTE combines a 1.4-liter TSI engine that makes 148 horsepower with a 101-horsepower electric motor. Total output is 204 hp and 350 Nm (258 lb-ft), which is more than the diesel-powered GTD, and almost as much as the sporty GTI. In fact, Volkswagen says the new GTE is sort of a sibling to the two aforementioned models, with the twist of having an electric motor to carry you around town in zero-emissions mode.
Power goes to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox with manual mode, and I have to say that when you put your foot down, things get pretty interesting for a plug-in hybrid.
The electric motor provides loads of torque even from a standstill, and the automatic transmission fairs well in normal traffic conditions, although it's not really as smooth as the unit found in the GTI. On the other hand, though, it beats all the annoying CVTs used in most of the hybrids on the market today.
Switching between power sources is acceptable, and you do notice it because the internal combustion engine sound isn't the sweetest in the world.
There is a total of five driving modes available, but there is a chance you won't notice at least one of them because it's hidden in the menus. Next to the gear selector there is the E-Mode button that gets you three choices on the infotainment screen – E-Mode (100% electric), Hybrid (the internal combustion engine and the electric motor work together) and Battery Charge (the 1.4-liter motor works to power the wheels and also charge the batteries). There is also an option in the menus to keep the battery charge level unchanged, called Battery Hold.
Then there's the GTE button that gets you into the sportiest mode available. With this, acceleration is fairly impressive, with a 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) time of 7.6 seconds. Top speed isn't something to brag about but keeps the specs nerds happy: 135 mph (217 km/h).
In theory, the lithium-ion 8.7-kWh batteries located under the back seats offer a maximum electric range of 31 miles (50 km), with a total charging time of under 4 hours. In real traffic conditions, things aren't so optimistic, but acceptable nonetheless. After 74 miles (120 km) in all types of traffic (urban, country roads and motorway), the car told me that I drove 50% of the time in all-electric mode, which is definitely something to keep in mind.
In Hybrid mode, the internal combustion engine kicks a bit too early and kind of spoils your bragging rights, while the all-electric E-Mode is quite impressive, allowing you to drive with zero emissions even at highway speeds. The Battery Charge mode is not economical at all because the 1.4-liter unit tries to keep the wheels moving and charge the batteries, but it can be a solution for those who don't want the hassle of charging the car at home and then use the all-electric mode when driving around town. When testing it, I traveled 7 miles (12 km) at around 43-50 mph (70-80 km/h) and the battery range went from 12 miles (20 km) to 19 miles (30 km).


Handling
8 / 10
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The Golf GTE weighs 1.6 tons, and that means it's about 200 kg heavier than both the GTI and GTD. Obviously, the batteries and electric engine are to blame for this, and although the German company thinks this car is sort of a hot hatch, it really isn't. The car handles fine all roads, with good manners and sufficient feedback from the suspension and steering, but it just doesn't feel like a hot hatch. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, except the ambitions of the manufacturer.
It's just a Golf, but with a little twist. And that's perfectly fine.


Safety
10 / 10
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The ordinary Golf was tested by Euro NCAP and scored the maximum five-star rating for impact protection, with a 94% score for adult occupants, 89% for children, 65% for pedestrian safety and 71% for the safety kit available.
Standard equipment includes ABS, electronic stability control, adaptive cruise control, automatic post-collision braking and airbags all around the interior.

Interior
Comfort
8 / 10
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The Volkswagen Golf GTE is like any other Golf, and that's a very good thing when it comes to interior space. There are bigger cars around, but the Golf offers one of the best packages, if not the best. The seats are, like always, a bit hard, but on long journeys you get used to it, and the great lateral support comes in very handy when you get to some bendy road bits. On the rear bench seat, there's room for three people but beware of the hump in the centre of the floor, which can make the passenger in the middle a bit uncomfortable.
Knee room is a bit tight if you're tall, and the amount of head room should be sufficient for everybody.
Around town, the interior is extremely well insulated from outside noise, but at motorway speeds you can hear the wind as it passes over the wing mirrors.


Quality
10 / 10
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Everywhere you look there's plastic, but it's the kind of plastic you wish you saw in every compact hatchback. Soft touch materials are where they should be (on the dash and centre console), while everywhere else there are solid, quality plastics.
This is a well-sorted cabin, make no mistake about it.


Practicality
7 / 10
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There are large door bins in the front and rear, and a couple of smaller storage spaces around the gear selector.
The boot offers 272 liters (to lower window; 9.6 cu ft) of cargo space, which should be enough for your daily shopping, but the regular Golf has 380 liters of cargo space in the boot, so that's something to think about. Also, there is no spare wheel because the batteries are under the rear seats and the petrol tank has been relocated to the rear of the car, under the boot floor, and there is no specially designed space for all the charging cable bags you get, so they wander around the boot floor all the time if you carry them with you.


Infotainment
8 / 10
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The GTE comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen display on the centre console, CD-player, DAB radio, SD card slot and an eight-speaker audio system. The infotainment system works well, without major hiccups or annoyances. Optionally, you can get GPS navigation with voice-activated commands, an eight-inch touchscreen, a 64 GB hard-drive for storing music and live traffic alerts.

Budget
Efficiency
7 / 10
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The specs sheet claims that the Golf GTE returns an amazing 157 mpg (1.5 l/100 km) and emits just 35 grams of CO2 per kilometer. In real driving conditions, at the end of the test drive, the on-board computer told me the average fuel consumption was 5.4 l/100 km (43 mpg), with 50% all-electric driving and 50% petrol-powered driving. All in all, these figures won't blow you away, but they are very close, if not lower, than similarly powered diesel hatchbacks.


Equipment
9 / 10
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On the GTE you get a pretty generous standard kit, with a 6.5-inch touchscreen on the center console, 18-inch allow wheels, airbags all around the cockpit, and a host of safety features. On the option list, there are things like Bi-Xenon headlights, high beam assist, a rear view camera, GPS navigation with traffic alerts, and even the choice to remotely monitor and control your car with a smartphone app.


Acquisition
7 / 10
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The model I drove was about €47,000, but that's without the potential government grants. In the UK, you can slice the final price by ₤5,000, which gets you to ₤28,755, and that's a fair quote, but you should also keep in mind that a base Golf GTI starts at ₤27,500 in the UK.

Photo credit: Iulian Dnistran

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