Plug-in Hybrid Golf has GTI DNA
Volkswagen has a big problem on its hands. Diesel models made up more than 20 percent of its sales in the U.S., and now the company’s wide-reaching emissions scandal has put a stop to that cash flow—maybe for good. VW has to take its cars in a completely new direction if it wants to get through this crisis, and that direction is electrification. Volkswagen has dabbled in hybrids and EVs before with models such as the Jetta hybrid and e-Golf, but not every electrified VW has come to the North America. We were recently handed the keys to a Golf GTE, the automaker’s sporty plug-in hybrid for Europe (the Euro-spec model is pictured here).
We have two sporty Golf variants in the North America, the GTI and Golf R, but in Europe they have the diesel-powered GTD and now the plug-in GTE. The latter car uses a turbocharged 1.4-liter gasoline engine in conjunction with a 101-hp electric motor and liquid-cooled, 8.8-kW-hr lithium-ion battery pack, which produces a total system output of 201 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The engine is mated to Volkswagen Group’s ubiquitous six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. The hatchback’s specs are virtually identical to those of the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, which the North America is getting. Like that car, the GTE has the ability to plug in and run on electric power alone. However, because Volkswagen didn’t bring the adapter for the GTE’s Euro-spec plug, we can’t tell you what the charging experience is like. VW says the GTE takes 2.5 hours to fully juice up on a Level 2 charger and that the car is capable of driving 31 miles (50 km) on electric power alone. That estimate is based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) testing procedure, which differs from EPA’s methods for estimating range. Our best indicated range was 20 miles (32 km) at what we think was a full charge. In heavy traffic, I was able to travel 15.6 miles (25 km) on battery power after leaving home with 17 miles (27 km) indicated and less than a full charge.
Besides the Euro headlamps and taillights, the first thing you notice about the Golf GTE is the blue accents in the grille, headlight housings, and VW badges. There’s also blue-tinted ambient lighting inside the cabin, including blue-illuminated kick plates sporting the GTE logo. If that’s not too much blue for you, then you’ll also appreciate the attractive blue plaid pattern on the seatbacks and cushions. Another highlight of the interior is the new MIB II infotainment center. The high-resolution touchscreen is very fast and responsive, and the drive modes are easily accessed through the menus.
Although the system is fast and easy to use, I wish there were physical buttons for all the modes. To the left of the shifter are buttons for GTE and E-Mode, but I wanted a button for Battery Hold mode since I didn’t have the ability to charge externally and I was trying to save battery power for testing the next day. The GTE defaults to E-Mode at startup, so I would always have to go through the infotainment center’s menus to switch to a mode that didn’t use the battery. The car also has a Battery Charge mode, which, as you might guess, uses the gas engine to charge the battery. That feature works well enough, charging the battery indicator to full in a couple hours of driving.
The GTE rides stiff like the GTI, and just like its sporty gas-only sibling, it takes corners well on the street. The hybrid’s MQB underpinnings really showed their worth on our figure-eight course. The GTE posted a time of 25.9 seconds at an average of 0.71 g, just 0.4 second slower than a GTI with the six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The car exhibits sharp turn-in and good steering response, and it’s fun to toss around when the stability control is turned off. However, you’re constantly aware of the battery pack’s added weight, and that detracts from the at-the-limit driving experience. The GTE weighs in at a substantial 3,481 pounds (1,580 kg), 258 pounds (117 kg) more than a dual-clutch GTI.
The Golf GTE feels relatively quick on the street. E-Mode is particularly zippy, with the electric motor doing what it does best at slow speeds but dying off gradually as you approach highway pace. With that said, all-electric mode is best saved for city driving or heavy traffic where you can dart around at slower speeds and reap the benefits of regenerative braking. Despite the regenerative brakes, the brake pedal feels smooth and linear. In B mode, the brakes have a bit more bite and the car decelerates somewhat aggressively once you come off the throttle.
In acceleration testing, the Golf GTE recorded a 0-60 mph (0-96 km/h) time of 6.5 seconds, much quicker than VW’s estimate of 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) in 7.6 seconds. The Euro-market hatch completed the quarter mile in 14.9 seconds at 96.5 mph (155 km/h). Compared to the GTI, the GTE is half a second slower to 60 and 0.3 second slower in the quarter mile. Although there aren’t any sporty hybrid hatchbacks to compare it to, the GTE is about as quick as a Honda Civic Si coupe with the six-speed manual, which posted an identical 0-60 time and a 15-second quarter mile.
Our car came with a good deal of tech as well as performance. Volkswagen’s lane assist system does a good job of keeping the car in its lane but is very particular about the driver maintaining a firm grip on the wheel at all times. If your hand is only lightly holding onto the wheel, get ready to be scolded with a loud, shrill chime and a message telling you to take over steering. The radar-based adaptive cruise control works well, adjusting the car’s speed smoothly and reacting quickly to cars in front. Our tester also had attention assist, which was able to detect when I was getting tired and recommend that I take a break. It was impressive and also a little bit freaky.
It isn’t exactly the electrified version of the GTI, but the GTE still offers more than decent performance for a car you can plug in and drive exclusively on battery power for most of your commute. It wouldn’t wash away VW’s emissions-cheating sins, but assuming it’s priced right and the charging experience is as user-friendly as other plug-ins, the Golf GTE would be a welcome addition to the North American Golf lineup.
|2015 Volkswagen Golf GTE (European Spec)|
|BASE PRICE||$33,000 (est)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$33,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.4L/148-hp/184-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 101-hp/125-lb-ft front electric motor; 201-hp/258 lb-ft combined|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed twin-clutch auto.|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,481 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||168.1 x 70.5 x 57.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.9 sec @ 96.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||109 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.89 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.9 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||80/70 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.44 lb/mile*|
|EPA EV RANGE||31 miles (est)|