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Volkswagen Golf GTE 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Tim Robson road tests and reviews the Volkswagen Golf GTE with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian preview drive in Germany.

Tim Robson road tests and reviews the Volkswagen Golf GTE with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian preview drive in Germany.

If there's one single idea can sum up the current state of play in the field of alternative vehicle powertrains at the moment, it's that no one has a single idea where it will all end up.

Sure, there are a handful of pure EVs around, along with a growing number of plug-in hybrids – but none of them are especially affordable.

Volkswagen has made a bold directional play, announcing that it wants to sell a million electric cars by 2025 – a figure that currently stands at well less than 100,000 worldwide. The debut of the I.D. electric concept at the recent Paris motor show is a first step towards that lofty goal.

But VW actually has had a pretty compelling argument for alternate power in its overseas catalog for a couple of years now.

VW has deliberately underplayed the GTE's green credentials by keeping the ‘look at me' badging to an absolute minimum.

Five doors? Check. Uncompromised cargo area? Yep. Conventional looks? You bet. A little bit of zing? Absolutely...

That's because the Golf GTE is, for all intents and purposes, a regular Golf – except for its extra engine.

Design

We all know and love the stylishly underplayed lines of the five-door Golf GTI range, and VW has deliberately underplayed the GTE's green credentials by keeping the ‘look at me' badging to an absolute minimum.

In fact, the best way to tell the GTE apart from the GTI is via the subtle blue highlights around the exterior badging.

Tap on the VW badge on the GTE's nose, and the other big external difference – a socket for a recharging cable – is revealed.

Otherwise, the low-key bodykit, standard 18-inch rims and familiar silhouette are all Golf.

Practicality

Again, the GTE stays true to its ethos of a non-confrontational approach to the idea of a partly electric car.

Some in the past – like the Holden Volt, for example – shouted its alternate message via a dash that looked like it was derived from a smartphone, or lashings of sheer white plastic fascia.

The GTE merely, and cleverly, nods to its warmed-over hatch credentials by using a blue version of the GTI's famous red Clark tartan trim on the seats, and there are a couple of extra buttons next to the conventional gear shifter.

That's it. Sliding behind the wheel is exactly like every other car in the Golf range; all the instruments, the controls, even the multimedia system are all exactly the same.

There is room space for six bottles fore and aft, for example, while a USB port up front, along with a second 12v socket in the cargo area, are both welcome additions.

Underfloor batteries, too, don't compromise the luggage space, though there's no room for a spare of any description under the boot floor.

The petrol tank loses 10 litres to the GTI, though, at 40 litres in capacity.

Price and features

Volkswagen Australia is only considering the GTE at the moment; the Mark VII Golf is mid-way through its life cycle, which makes the sums hard to stack up.

There's internal debate, though, about whether or not it should be brought in on a low-key trial basis. Right-hand-drive GTEs are already sold in the UK, so sourcing isn't an issue – and if the company is serious about establishing itself as a mainstream player in the EV game, it needs to get skin in the game sooner rather than later.

If it were to come to Australia, the GTE it would need to sit somewhere near or below the Golf R's $60 grand price tag.

The German-spec car we tested was thoroughly well sorted with spec, including an underbody battery array that nestles in front of the rear wheels. LED headlights, cloth trim and a full suite of safety aids including automatic emergency braking and radar cruise control.

Engines and transmission

The magic comes from the addition of a small 75kW electric motor that's hidden within the six-speed DSG gearbox, which supplement's the 110kW of the car's 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine.

It's the same system that's used in Audi's A3 e-tron hatch.

It equates to a total output of 150kW of power and 350Nm of torque, 330Nm of which can be accessed via the electric motor from standstill.

An 8.7kWh battery nestles under the floor, and helps to give the GTE a pure EV range of up to 50km at speeds up to 130km/h.

The battery can be recharged via the petrol engine, regenerative braking or plugging into a wall socket; it'll take four hours to refill from a home plug or two hours via fast charger.

A GTE-labelled switch on the centre console brings both motors into perfect performance harmony, while deepening the exhaust note via an actuator.

The drivetrain gives a net 100kg weight gain to the Golf, with the 125kg battery array offset by the lighter 1.4-litre engine.

It'll do 0-100km/h in 7.6 seconds, and we can happily confirm it'll knock over its claimed top speed of 222km/h on a German autobahn.

Fuel consumption

Economy for the Golf GTE is rated at a stunning 1.5L100km on the combined European cycle, with a carbon dioxide output of just 35g/km.

A day of high-speed autobahn touring and low-speed city crawling saw us realise a dash-indicated fuel economy figure of 2.4 litres per 100km – and this was with a depleted battery from the start of the day.

With a 40-litre fuel tank, VW claims the 1572kg Golf GTE has a range of 939km.

Driving

The expression ‘hybrid car' doesn't lend itself to visions of backroad heroics and blazing cross-country jaunts – but it's worth remembering that the world's powerhouse performance car makers - including Porsche, McLaren and Ferrari - all have hybrids in their ranges.

In its own way, the Golf GTE has a similar ability to change the direction of the hybrid car conversation. It proves that being parsimonious and planet-aware doesn't have to come at the cost of real-world performance and driving pleasure.

The GTE only lacks the very last little bit of finesse and pace of a true GTI, but damn… it runs it close. The extra weight of the battery pack is perfectly located along the base of the car, which gives the GTE a more secure, planted road feel and adds a measure of calmness to the ride.

Its low- and mid-range acceleration is one of the GTE's most impressive features, with the electric engine chipping in absolutely invisibly to bolster the petrol engine when required. It's impossible to tell when e-power kicks in.

Its steering is indistinguishable from the regular GTI, and the (admittedly artificial) exhaust noise in GTE mode is perfectly executed. The gearbox response is a shade softer than that of the GTI, perhaps, but it's an observation, not a complaint.

And to waft silently through traffic in electric mode is an absolute joy and a brilliant side effect of the hybrid drivetrain. We were unable to definitively test the range claims, thanks to the discharged battery.

We gave the GTE a solid high-speed thrashing in rain and dry weather, and it did not miss a single beat, flash a warning symbol or feel like anything but an integral part of the already entertaining Golf GT clan.

Safety

The Golf GTE features all of the safety features that grace a Golf GTI, including seven airbags, rear-view camera and sensors, traction and stability control, and post-collision braking.

The often-optional Driver Assistance Package was fitted to our tester, which includes additional active and passive safety electronics including automatic emergency braking.

Ownership

There is a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty on Australian Golfs, and the GTE would be no different while service intervals of 15,000km or 12 months are recommended.

VW's capped price servicing peaks at $1211 for a 60,000km/four-year service on the GTI, and the hybrid parts of the GTE's drivetrain would need little if any special servicing treatment.

Verdict

It's easy to be cynical about VW's reasons for spruiking the Golf GTE, in light of its diesel emissions scandal and the subsequent need to reinvent its environmental credentials to a skeptical market.

The GTE, though, was released in 2014, a year before the scandal, and the MQB chassis underneath it has been ready for EV tech since its inception earlier in the decade.

Would you consider a GTE if it were made available in Australia? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing guides

$20,990
Based on 405 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
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$13,487
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Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
118 TSI Exclusive 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $20,900 – 28,380 2016 Volkswagen Golf 2016 118 TSI Exclusive Pricing and Specs
110 TDI Highline 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP $19,000 – 26,510 2016 Volkswagen Golf 2016 110 TDI Highline Pricing and Specs
110 TSI Highline 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $18,200 – 25,410 2016 Volkswagen Golf 2016 110 TSI Highline Pricing and Specs
92 TSI 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $11,500 – 16,830 2016 Volkswagen Golf 2016 92 TSI Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Tim Robson
Contributing Journalist

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