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 make it a match for rival plug-in hybrid executive cars, including the BMW 330e and Mercedes C300de.
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 you’ll barely notice it. However, it’s worth noting that although the Passat’s all-electric range is an impressive 34 miles, the BMW 330e claims even more, at 37 miles.
Cars fitted with the optional Dynamic Chassis Control also let you adjust the suspension’s firmness between Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual; Select Comfort and the car has a relaxed, supple feel, particularly at speed. But move to Sport and the ride becomes a bit more unsettled and the car will thud 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 with plenty of feedback to tell you where the car is on the road, and, even in the heaviest Sport setting, the steering is still light enough that parking and manoeuvering are a breeze.
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 give it an extra sporty impression.