The Volkswagen Golf GTE is the first plug-in hybrid car from VW, and adds to the growing array of options in the Golf range, which include pure electric, as well as conventional petrol and diesel engines.
The GTE is powered by two engines: there's the familiar 148bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine, combined with a battery-powered electric motor, all going through a six-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox. This alliance is good for 201bhp; by comparison the standard Golf GTI produces 217bhp and the diesel GTD has 181bhp.
The GTE can travel 31 miles on electric power alone, or up to 580 miles if you run the petrol tank dry, and will take 3.5 hours to charge on a three-pin plug, or 2.5 hours on a domestic wallbox. Company car drivers should be more interested in the 35g/km CO2 emissions that will equate to seriously low tax bills.
As the name suggests, VW is billing the GTE as a hot hatch, and the 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds and 135mph top speed suggest fruity performance.
The GTE is available only as a five-door hatchback, and its styling is also heavily modelled on the GTI's, albeit with a mildly different front end, with C-shaped LED daytime running lights, blue details in place of the GTI's red accents and bespoke 18-inch alloy wheels as standard.
What is the 2014 VW Golf GTE like to drive?
You can run the Golf GTE in three modes. If you hold it in pure electric mode it behaves just like the e-Golf, so there's a seamless, swift and silent power delivery that's perfectly good for zipping through cities and suburbs.
However, most of the time it's easiest to run in normal hybrid mode, with the 1.4-litre petrol engine being assisted by the electric motor.
Like all the best plug-in hybrids, there’s a seamless transition between petrol and electric power, and you barely detect when either is doing the bulk of the work.
It’s fast, too. Despite the extra weight of the batteries (it weighs just under 130kg more than the GTD and 155kg more than the GTI) it's almost as urgent as a standard GTI. It takes 7.6 seconds to get from 0-62mph and the instantaneous nature of the electric motors means it is particularly rapid away from a standstill.
The handling is also confidence-inspiring and assured, despite the extra weight. In many ways it feels much like an ordinary Golf; there is the occasional jolt that makes it into the cabin when you go over harsh bumps, but otherwise it absorbs normal road surfaces with ease.
Despite Volkswagen's claims that this is a sporty car, it isn't as fun as the GTI. Although it is entertainingly rapid, it doesn't have quite the same sharpness of steering and handling in fast corners.
As with most hybrids of this type, there are several different modes in the Golf GTE, including one that runs it solely on electric, one that aims to save the battery for use around town and one that will aim to recharge the battery where possible. At the other end of the spectrum is the ‘GTE’ button, which sharpens the throttle responses and gives you a more conventional GTI-style exhaust note. This note is rather artificial, though, and is at odds with the otherwise silent nature of the GTE.
As well as the GTE button, there is also a physical button for switching into electric, but neither button gives you the option to return to plain hybrid mode - this has to be done through the standard-fit touch-screen and is a slightly fiddly process.
What is the 2014 VW Golf GTE like inside?
Think standard GTI and you won’t go far wrong. There are several distinctions, though. Where there are red trim flashes on the GTI, these are coloured blue for the GTE. You also get a unique display and functions in the central screen which shows battery range and which of the two power sources is operating.
Most of the rest is up to the standards set by every other Golf. You get the same levels of space and comfort in the cabin, with room for two adults in the rear and ample storage dotted around the cabin.
Equipment is generous, too, with a DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and a 6.5-inch colour touch-screen all as standard. You can also get a smartphone app that allows you to remotely check how much charge the car has, among other useful functions.
What is less impressive, but is a necessary evil with a car such as this, is the boot space. The fuel tank is positioned directly under a raised boot floor, which means the luggage space with the seats up is more than 100 litres smaller than the standard Golf's, at just 272 litres.
The space under the rear seats is taken up by the batteries, so you can't drop the seats totally flat either, meaning the GTE is not as practical as the petrol or diesel Golf models.
Should I buy one?
The Golf GTE makes far more sense for most people than the pure electric e-Golf. Plus, with an expected price of around £28,000 (after the £5000 Government grant), it doesn’t cost much more to buy. Nor does it cost a lot more than a standard Golf GTI.
The problem private buyers will face is that the 1.4 TSI engine with cylinder-on-demand technology and a DSG gearbox is also entertaining to drive, and is around £3000 cheaper and comes with a similar level of equipment.
The GTE will make a lot more financial sense if you're a company car driver, or can benefit from free central London congestion charging, when you may also want to consider the Audi A3 e-tron, which has the same plug-in hybrid system.
There’s an obvious appeal to a hybrid that has been dressed to look like a hot hatch and, in some ways, drives like one, too. The Golf GTE is also undeniably far more practical, if less avantgarde, than a BMW i3 Range Extender, although the i3's superior electric range will tip the balance for some.
So, if you are attracted to the technology and it can fit into your life and financial situation, the GTE will be worth serious consideration.
What Car? says
Toyota Prius Plug-in
Volkswagen Golf GTE
Engines 1.4-litre petrol and electric motor
Price £28,000 (est) after £5000 Govt grant
Power 201bhp (combined)
Torque 258lb ft
0-62mph 7.6 seconds
Top speed 135mph
Maximum electric-only range 31 miles