Volkswagen Golf GTE: the plug-in hot hatch

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The Volkswagen Golf GTI is synonymous with the hot hatch genre, offering giant-killing performance in a hatchback that can be used everyday. Now, with the Golf GTE, Volkswagen has shifted this idea sideways a little.

If you haven't guessed it already, the 'E' in GTE stands for electric, with the 242bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine in the GTI making way for a hybrid power unit. This consists of a turbocharged 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine and a 75kw electric motor, which when working together produce 204bhp.

That's enough to get you from 0 to 60mph in a pretty rapid 7.6 seconds, just over a second slower than the car's GTI stablemate. 

It looks like a GTI too

We drove

Volkswagen Golf GTE Advance

Engine: 1.4-litre 4-cylinder petrol with 75kw electric motor

Power output: 204bhp

Max speed: 138mph

0-62mph: 7.6 seconds

Price: from £32,135 (model as tested: £33,985)

With 18-inch 'Marseille' alloy wheels, horizontal fins on the front bumper, a rear roof spoiler and side sills, as well as a rear diffuser and chrome twin exhausts, the Golf GTE shares many of the GTI's flourishes. It's subtly different though, with C-shaped LED daytime running lights borrowed from the all-electric e-Golf and blue accents dotted round the body, rather than the red ones found on the GTI. 

The blue detailing continues inside too, in the stitching on the steering wheel, gear lever and seats. The cabin itself a very nice place to be; it might not be quite as futuristic as you'd expect for a hybrid, but the quality of finish and ergonomic design are hard to fault for a car at this price. 

There's an 8-inch touchscreen in the central console (our Advance model featured built-in sat-nav), and a 12.3-inch customisable digital instrument display, which, as well as providing the traditional driving info, also displays power flow from the battery and the amount of charge left, among other things.

The boot space has been compromised a little though. This is thanks to the addition of the battery packs that have been placed under the rear seats, forcing the fuel tank to take up a bit more boot space and resulting in a sacrifice of around 100 litres of capacity compared to a standard Golf.

Pull away and there's... silence

Press the start button, and while you might expect a little bit of drama when a VW Golf fires into life you're met with silence instead, as the car will always start in full electric mode (provided there's enough charge). Knock the 6-speed DSG gearbox into 'drive' and you can waft away in almost complete silence.

The Golf GTE will happily be powered completely by its electric motor if driven gently and at low speeds – perfect round town then – and can do 31 miles before needing to be re-charged. 

If that sounds like the antithesis of what a hot hatch should be, don't be put off. Speed up (to around 30-40mph) and the petrol engine will seamlessly kick in, and will also help to charge the battery. It does this by harnessing energy that would otherwise be wasted, such as when you're braking, allowing you to extend the range of the battery when you're at more pedestrian speeds.

Should you want to top the battery up to full, it'll take about three and a half hours from a household socket using a 3-pin plug (hooked up via a socket behind the VW badge on the grille).

So much for the E, but where does the GT part come in? Hit the 'GTE' button and the engine sound not only becomes more prominent, with a deeper exhaust note, but the throttle response is boosted and the steering sharpens up. As you'd expect though, driving in this mode with both the petrol engine and battery working together will drain the battery quite quickly.   

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What's the catch then?

With the additional battery weighing in at 120kg, the total kerb weight premium over a GTI is getting on for 300kg (don't forget you've got to factor in the electric motor that's hooked up to the GTE's gearbox), which obviously affects handling and fuel economy. If the 1.4-litre engine is working on its own without the aid of the electric motor, that's quite a bit of extra weight to lug around over a standard car, which will undoubtably see your mpg drop below that of a comparably-powered Golf.

If the battery is fully charged and working in tandem with the petrol engine, Volkswagen reckons it's possible to get 166mpg; we didn't get anywhere near that, but we still got an impressive 60-plus mpg with a mix of motorway driving, A-roads and around town. 

If that gives you pause for thought, then the £2,500 PICG (Plug-In Car Grant) contribution to the price might sweeten the deal a little. The GTE is also exempt from road tax, and if you drive into London regularly it's also exempt from the congestion charge.

Verdict

The Golf GTE might not be perfect, but if you want a hybrid hatchback that will put a smile on your face when you want to blast along a A-road, as well as ghost near-silently, and economically, through city streets, the Golf GTE is easily the best of the bunch.