Blog Personal - New Volkswagen Golf GTE 2015, Volkswagen Group chief Martin Winterkorn is euphoric. Speaking in front of a group of international journalists in a greenhouse-cum-restaurant in Zürich, he reminds us of his promise that Volkswagen would demonstrate technology leadership in electric mobility. "Today, the mission is accomplished." Winterkorn is referring to the new Golf GTE, a plug-in hybrid fitted with a 1.4-liter gasoline turbo four-cylinder and an electric motor for a combined output of 201 horsepower. With its E suffix, this Golf suggests a blending of efficiency and sportiness. The GTE is touted as a sibling of the fun-to-drive Golf GTI and GTD models.
At first glance, the performance data seems convincing. The sprint from zero to 60 mph takes an estimated 7.5 seconds; top speed is listed at 138 mph. VW says the GTE can travel for a full 31 miles on electricity only, sparing inner cities the toxic fumes of its gasoline engine (actually, as a Euro 6–compliant engine, it is ultraclean), and in the combined European cycle, it is rated at a mind-boggling 157 mpg. That number, of course, will vary substantially according to the distance traveled and your driving style, not to mention a testing method that places a heavy emphasis on electric-only driving. If a short commute is all you do, you may rarely need the gasoline engine. Driven sharply or over long distances, however, fuel consumption will be more in line with conventional gasoline cars and might not even beat the efficiency of a GTD.
À la Modes
The GTE's engine, electric motor, and transmission are fully shared with the recently introduced Audi A3 e-tron, but VW was the leading partner in the development of this powertrain. As with the Audi, you can choose a pure E-mode for electric-only operation; a wide-open-throttle boot will override it should you find yourself needing to make a swift departure. There are four additional modes, all of which involve the dreaded internal-combustion engine: Hybrid Auto, which blends the gas engine and electric motor to maximize fuel economy; Battery Hold, which keeps a charge for entering electric-only areas (of which none exist at this point, to the chagrin of E-mobility advocates); Battery Charge, which is terribly inefficient but is offered as a "comfort feature" for drivers who want to use the gas engine to keep the battery topped off and prefer to skip the plug-in process; and GTE mode, which offers the full support of the electric motor to maximize performance. You can forget about efficiency in GTE mode, but it is fun.
The GTE’s performance does, however, suffer from the car’s considerable heft: This porkiest of Golfs tips the scales at some 3350 pounds. And although the powertrain is always responsive to driver input, it is tough to predict what exactly the response will be. The GTE is fitted with VW's DQ400E six-speed dual-clutch automatic; the changing of gears is clearly noticeable and rather irksome when accelerating hard in electric mode. And despite the aid of the transmission's ratios, electric-only acceleration is hardly Tesla-quick. The GTE's braking system is efficient, but pedal feel is not comparable with the GTI’s.
It’s a clever marketing move to call this plug-in hybrid the GTE, and while its dynamic qualities don't come close to those of the GTI or the GTD, it certainly looks the part. The front fascia is highlighted with futuristic, C-shaped daytime running lights; the rest of the interior and exterior resemble those of its sportier siblings. The trim pieces that are red on the GTI and silver on the GTD are executed in blue on the GTE. Unfortunately, it’s far pricier than both of them, exceeding even the fully electric E-Golf (while, admittedly, offering far more flexibility). A U.S.-market launch of the GTE is possible but not very likely. "It depends on regulation," we are told.
Regulation, it seems, is the driving force behind the GTE anyway. The fuel-consumption rating system for plug-in hybrids in Europe is heavily tilted in their favor, and carmakers need to shove them into the market in order to meet aggressive fleet-average targets. That said, the GTE is perhaps as rewarding a plug-in hybrid as we’ve experienced. Compared with, say, a Toyota Prius plug-in, the GTE simply plays in another league. But when the cameras are off and the microphones stowed away, a less euphoric picture emerges. Having contrasted the complexity of plug-in hybrids with their potential to make a meaningful impact on the environment, we are advised by a VW executive to "tell that to the politicians."