After driving the MQB based Seat Leon when it launched and soon after, it’s posh sister the Audi A3, there was one more car in that group I needed to drive, the Golf. Well, the Tame Geek can never be accused of doing things by halves, I have now, not only gotten my hands on two of the latest generation Golfs but most importantly, on the most interesting Golf since the GTI W12-650. The Golf GTE.
Ok, so quick note, from the line above there. Yes, I’ve driven two Golfs recently, the GTD and the GTE. Why no review on the GTD? Well, honestly, It’s a great car and the engine gives a spirited level of performance for something that is designed to give people with company cars a bit of fun.
The GTE however is a car I’ve been wanting to get my hands on since it was announced last year and since it’s posh sister, the A3 e-tron hit the road. The Golf GTE is a bit of a big deal for VW, being the first sub £100,000 hybrid they have realised and the car that will lead the way in an electrification of the entire range of models.
Being both a car and a technology showcase means that this review is going to get split in to some different sections than usual. Firstly, We’re going to cover how it works and then we’re going to cover how you use it.
How it works
The Golf GTE has two forms of propulsion, a 1.4 litre four cylinder turbocharged petrol engine developing 148 bhp and an electric motor putting out 103 bhp. When these two work together, they have a peak output of 201 horsepower and an 258 lb of torque. Speaking of that peak power, it delivers a car that can get to 62 mph in 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 138 mph.
Those performance figures are closer to the GTD’s than the GTI’s. Its a full second slower than the GTI, but the GTE can do something the GTI and GTD can’t. Drive for 30 miles at speeds up to 81 mph without using a drop of petrol. Yep, that’s a good trick.
With that in mind, perhaps I should explain more about what’s under the bonnet of the GTE. In here we have the two engines that drive the GTE. The 1.4 litre unit is a reworked and optimised version of the TSI engine that has been used across the VW group range for a couple of years and is mated to a 6-speed (DSG) dual clutch gear box. Sat next to the petrol engine is the electric motor that feeds in to the drive train.
In the boot of the car, the fuel tank has been raised and next to it, there’s a battery pack which powers the electric motor. The battery pack is what helps separate the GTE from other electric vehicles and range extended EVs. In those, the the battery pack forms the back bone of the car and in doing so is massive. The GTE however is built on the MQB platform and as such, has a considerably smaller battery pack that sits in the back of the car, rather than the spine. That means that it’s never going to give you the same electric range of say, a Tesla or a BMW I3. The GTE’s pure electric range is up to 31 miles. That may not seem like a lot, but when you consider that it only takes 2.5 hours to fully charge it from a wall box or public charger (or 3.75 hours from a home wall socket), it’s not so bad. What get’s better though is why the petrol engine is there and why the DSG is important. The engine can charge the battery as you drive and the gearbox can help charge the battery though braking.
This brings us on to the driving modes which is the core of how this car works. There’s the main driving modes:
Pure electric vehicle mode.
- Braking Mode
Pure electric vehicle mode where, when you brake and when you ease off the accelerator waste kinetic energy is sent back to the battery.
- Auto / regular mode
This is where the petrol engine will work when the electric motor needs more assistance in acceleration or will kick in to charge the battery.
- Electric Hold
This holds the electric motor off and keeps the battery’s charge at it’s point until you need it at another point in your journey.
The best of everything. The petrol engine works with the electric motor to deliver the full 201 Bhp and also charge the battery.
That’s right. Five modes! It’s not exactly simple motoring. Realistically, I can see most people only ever actively using three of these modes. The E-mode, Auto / regular and GTE. That’s because these are the easiest ones to use. GTE and E-mode have buttons and the auto mode is what the car starts in when you start it up. The other two modes are activated in different ways. The braking mode is at the bottom of the gearbox where the sports mode usually sits. The battery hold, well, I can’t really remember! I think it was activated accidentally by pressing the E-mode button to many times. That’s why I don’t think most users will use all these modes.
Apart from the propulsion, there’s a couple of extra bits of nice tech in the GTE. The instrument cluster is cool and informative. The media display has the cool distance detection for when you’re moving your hands to the touchscreen.
How you use it
With vigour! But we’ll come to that.
When I started the GTE, there was one very noticeable difference between this and other electric cars I’ve driven. There was no creep. Usually an EV will start moving off the line but the GTE didn’t until I started to depress the accelerator. As I did, the GTE moves away in what, is to me at least, is the familiar smooth and quiet glide away.
The GTE does an exceptional job at proving that clichés about the VW Golf will never go away. One such example is that the GTE is ‘every bit a Golf’. What do I mean by that? Well it’s comfortable, smooth and refined.
The refinement of a car can easily be discussed by things like engine and road noise, but in electric cars, manufacturers don’t get this opportunity to hide their shortcomings. They have to work harder to produce a better car and let’s face it, this is VW, build quality is not something they often fall short on. The MK7 Golf is the standard bearer for build quality and the GTE matches the Audi in it’s fit and finish. When traveling in pure E-mode, all of this is welcome. The GTE feels like ‘a car’ in the sense that nothing is out of place and it moves as you’d expect it too.
The E-mode lets you float along in the 30 and 40 mph zones comfortably and then enter in to a 70 mph area without felling like you’re getting in the way of other traffic. Far from it in fact. If you lived with in 15 miles of where you worked, you could drive from home to work and back with out using petrol.
When I was driving the GTE though, when I pushed on the acceleration a bit, the petrol engine woke up and gave a little bit of assistance to speeding up and then quietly went away again. It was at this point the VW representative said it would be a good idea to try out the braking mode on the next stint of road. So we did.
Braking mode is where things started to get weird. You pull back on the gear stick and rather than a reassuring sports mode where the car goes faster, the GTE slows down! The braking mode means that when you ease off the accelerator the car simulates engine braking but to a more extreme extent. This mode is really weird, but considering you can use it to add charge back to the battery, it would be really useful with some practice.
After this some what new and experimental mode, it was time to press the fun button. GTE. As with all good buttons, this one lights up when you press it. When you press the GTE button, a number of things happen to the entire car. Firstly, the petrol engine engages and links in with the electric motor, the gear box paddles become sharper on response and the XDS electronic differential engages. With all of that, the GTE becomes something fantastic, it becomes a GTI.
This is where there’s another cliché to be fired our, ‘it drives like a GTI’. When you push the GTE it responds with a turn of pace that makes you forget it’s got an engine 0.6 litres smaller than it’s faster stable mate.
The gears snap away as you burn up two rev ranges. That’s no typo, two rev ranges. The first is the rev range for the petrol engine and the second is for the electric motor.
The petrol engine’s rev range is inside the main electric one. The electric one shows how much of the power is being used in percent, but there’s something far better under that. Anything in a car that says ‘Boost’ in full capitals has to be good. In the GTE it is. The boost shows how much the electric motor is helping the petrol engine. And boy does it help! It works, almost like the one in the McLarren P1 and functions as a torque fill. It’s like having two turbos worth of power.
This is the second odd sensation of the GTE, it doesn’t initially feel as fast as it is. Where you’d expect the GTD to run out of poke, the GTE just keeps pulling up the road. It’s only when you look down do you see that the car is ‘moving in a swift manor’. Up until the point where you have to slow it down for some corners. That’s where the XDS diff comes in and keep the front of the car pointed at the apex of every corner. The only excuse for a corner going wrong in this car is cos you screwed up. The GTE has the battery pack in the boot which helps quite a bit with the rear traction as well.
There’s another cliché that the GTE fulfils ‘it’s the best handling hot hatch in the class’. The GTE handles like GTI and arguably it could be a little better depending on your driving preference.
After having some fun, it was time to head back to base with a motorway jaunt to be the final proof point that the GTE has the potential to be every bit of car you need. Comfortable, quite and beyond adequate at handling the day to day driving tasks that you would usually think you would be better off having a diesel engine for.
Coming back in using the pure electric mode which had been topped up whilst having some time in ‘attack mode’. The GTE had really started to make me think differently about what the future of motoring can be.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been of the belief that the future of motoring would be pure electric drive with some form of on-board generation. Cars like the i3 and the Volt do it with combustion engines and there’s the fabled hydrogen powered cars that have been 5 years away for the last 15 years.
Cars with a mated hybrid system have always seemed like a stop gap solution. The Prius, the Insight and others have never really been smart or efficient or refined. VW Group have changed this massively with this drivetrain.
It’s smooth, refined and from what I saw on my drive, efficient. For all it’s some what confusing with its modes, it’s actually quite smart. The way it drives in GTE mode, using everything in the car’s arsenal to deliver performance and the fact that it can become a smooth electric car at the touch of a button, is smart and has changed my mind on what the future could be.
The GTE may not be perfect car for me, that would be a Sirocco GTE and I’d be broke, as there’s few things that could stop me having that drivetrain in a MQB based Sirocco. I fear for my bank balance in 2017.