The Volkswagen Golf, it needs little introduction, the brand is over 40 years old now and has accumulated 30 million sales in that period to back up its continuing popularity. Just think about that, 30 million people from around the globe have purchased a Golf that’s like a free word of mouth marketing budget in itself.
Part of the Golf’s success is to move with the times or more to the point the EU has been telling every car manufacture in Europe to make less polluting cars with the additional threat of incurring large fines for not doing so.
So here is the result of all that proven political bullying, the Plugin-Hybrid Golf GTE. It looks like a normal Golf from the outside, it even feels like a normal Golf on the inside.
It’s all nicely put together, this is the first time I have driven a Golf for nearly 5 years and it now feels roomier, more mature, certainly better built, better designed. Better everything.
The current Golf range is huge it’s like choosing from a menu in an all American Diner, in Bognor Regis. The Golf has an equally long spec list so you won’t be spoilt for choice or trim levels.
A move upmarket means the price tag has also moved up, the bog standard Golf starts at £17k, the high performance Golf R retails for £30k all in. The GTE goes a step further and will set you back an eye watering £33k. Advanced progress comes at a cost, although you do get a £5k rebate thanks to a government subsidy for electric cars.
The GTE joins the pure electric e-Golf to form a new green alliance within the Golf family, you see what I mean about the choice? So what is the GTE Hybrid about? Its about two opposites combined to give the best of both worlds.
The Golf GTE Hybrid combines a 1.4-litre 150 PS TSI direct-injection petrol engine with a 102 PS electric motor. This combined strength gives a total power output of 201bhp and 350Nm of torque.
The electric motor is housed within the six speed triple shift gearbox the latter has been specially developed for the GTE, it’s a kind of analogue-electric mash-up, better for efficiency they say. The brake servo is electro-mechanical and the electric air-conditioning is designed for improved efficiency without sucking the batteries dry when in pure electric mode.
There are five driving modes E, GTE, Battery Hold, Battery Charge and Hybrid Auto. In this short test it was full on Auto for me.
OK so what’s it like on the move? Putting aside the technology, the Golf GTE didn’t feel that special to drive, the steering was light and this made for a permanent detachment of feel through the steering wheel.
This in turn made grip levels uncertain, for example when you enter a corner at a designated speed good handling cars reveal the grip like a loaded gun being fired. The Golf GTE didn’t relay anything. It felt like I was driving a car in a video game and its strangely at odds with what a Golf ‘GT’ is all about. If you use GT moniker on a Golf it has to at least handle like its performing a Vulcan mind-meld with the driver.
It could be to do with the stiffness of the suspension that extra battery technology bumps up the GTE’s weight to 1,599kg. To minimise body roll it seems VW’s engineers have stiffened up the suspension and anti roll bars.
Certainly the ride and handling was taught with minimal body roll, but as I said before it all felt rather detached. And you would expect the Golf GTE to ride badly but over the bumps and ridges of back streets littered with speed humps it didn’t it was super comfortable thanks to the suspension being superbly damped.
But that doesn’t gloss over the fact that I found the Golf GTE surprisingly disappointing to drive.
So that’s the analogue part out of the way, what is it like to live with a plugin-hybrid? Unfortunately this was a short test but Volkswagen claim the Golf GTE has a pure electric range of 31 miles. With moderate driving I managed to eek out 24 miles before the 1.4-litre TSi engine kicked in.
The top speed in electric mode is good for 80 mph say VW, I managed 71 mph. VW’s figures are based on laboratory conditions. In the real world there are no scientists with calculators just inclines, gravity and your right foot.
When the electric power is depleted the batteries recharge whilst on the move through braking and coasting, the engine can even act as a generator. This will never get you a full charge but you will be able to reclaim about 8 percent battery power if your journey is long, say 1hr.
Plug the Golf GTE into a wall to recharge the batteries and you will have to wait around 3 hours 45 minutes for the batteries to be fully topped up.
I don’t have any issue with how the Golf GTE performs under pure electric power, indeed it feels more responsive and powerful in EV mode than it does in pure petrol mode.
Yet you hardly notice or hear the difference when one power source switches to another. You do feel a subtle vibration in the drivers footwell and the petrol engine feels coarse in comparison to EV power the latter being direct and to the point.
Volkswagen claim the Golf GTE returns a combined mileage of 115mpg. In the real world I got 50.1 mpg and the total fuel range registered as being 200 miles. VW claim a theoretical range of 580 miles.
Spec wise the Golf GTE is actually based on the Golf GTi with subtle colour and trim changes. Where as the GTI prefers red accents the GTE likes blue interior and exterior colour accents. UK punters get all important 18 inch alloy wheels as standard. I’d be happy enough with that and air-con. However with the exception of leather seats, kit levels are generous, but you would expect that in a car costing £33k.
That’s £33k all in for a Golf that does less range than an entry level diesel variant. Electric cars aren’t about being as efficient as a diesel car even though the marketing campaigns say otherwise.
Just how much C02 does the Golf GTE emit? 39g/km and that’s a great tax saving moment, but you can also now get diesels that break the sub 100g/km bracket.
What Plugin-Hybrids are really designed to do is lower emissions, improve air quality and save the world from itself. The reality is they can not match more efficient, comparatively higher polluting diesels for overall range.
You see per kilogram, the number of joules inside gasoline is much greater than the energy content of a battery. For the time being at least gasoline powered cars are by far the most efficient way to travel, but they pollute like hell.
There is no golden goose, no holy grail to be found within plugin-hybrid vehicles in terms of being more fuel efficient. And if you look at how the materials are extracted from the earth, refined and then formed into their final sheet metal Golf GTE state then there is a debate as to just how clean a near zero emissions car is to manufacture.
Plugin hybrids represent advanced technology at its best, they are the future of motoring today but with limitations in the same way a turn of the century car was back in 1900. Look at the car industry now in 2015 and how far advanced it has become. But is the GTE and all other known PHEV’s truly advanced or even advanced enough?
Lets put it this way, if you used the Kardashev scale to measure the advanced technical state of the Golf GTE, and that includes all other PHEV’s on the market, then you could argue its at the Type 1 stage of development.