Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The GTE’s electric motor is paired with Volkswagen’s 154bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine, to provide a combined output of 215bhp. Thanks to the way electric motors deliver their power, there’s a considerable amount of torque at low revs, giving you that electric car sensation of instant power when you ask for quick acceleration. In fact, the Passat GTE is one of the fastest models in the Passat range. Its performance figures aren't quite as strong as other plug-in hybrid executive cars like the BMW 330e, but with 0-62mph taking 7.4sec in the saloon and 7.6sec in the estate, it's by no means slow.
The plug-in-hybrid system allows you to select fully electric mode or leave the GTE in its smart hybrid setting, in which it automatically makes the best use of both power sources to optimise electric range and minimise fuel consumption. If you set a route on the sat-nav, this system is even clever enough to work out when to use the electric power the most on your journey; using electric power around town and preparing to recharge the battery on the motorway. Whichever setting you use, the transition between petrol and electric power is so smooth that you’ll barely notice it. However, although the Passat’s all-electric range is an impressive 34 miles, it’s worth noting that the BMW 330e is claimed to manage even more, at 37 miles.
Cars fitted with the optional Dynamic Chassis Control allow you to adjust the suspension’s firmness between Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual modes. Select Comfort and the car has a relaxed, supple feel, particularly at speed. Move to Sport and the ride becomes a bit more unsettled, the car thudding over potholes and motorway expansion joints. There’s also a ‘GTE’ mode, which takes the Sport setting one step further to use the most potent combination of petrol and electric power to unlock the full 215bhp. This mode also sharpens up the accelerator and gearbox response and adds weight to the steering.
Despite the weight of its hybrid battery, the Passat GTE handles well on the road, with minimal body lean and confident handling that’s precisely weighted and reassuring at all speeds. The steering is responsive and gives you a reasonable sense of connection to the front tyres, and, even in the heaviest Sport setting, the steering is still light enough that parking and manoeuvring are a breeze. However, while the GTE can be hustled along happily enough, the 330e is even more fun to drive.
Predictably, the GTE is also very refined. When running on electric power alone it’s eerily silent, although road noise is apparent at higher speeds. Even when its petrol engine is running, this is the quietest Passat you can buy – and the Passat is one of the most refined cars in its class. In GTE mode, there is a synthesised engine sound added to add a hint of sportiness, but thankfully it isn't too offensive.