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There’s no better way of getting to know a car than spending around 6 hours a day across a week of driving it. This is exactly what I’ve done to put the Golf GTE to the hybrid test. Volkswagen’s new PHEV, the GTE sits alongside Volkswagen’s other Grand Tourers, the Diesel GTD and Petrol GTI, the hybrid has a lot to live up to. The GTD makes sense to accountants, the GTI is all about the heart. Where does this leave the GTE? The GTE is the future. Diesel’s have the range but electric cars have advantages for those who do an average daily journey of 20-40kms, who are looking for savings but without the risk of particulate filter issues from disjointed small journey use. 

Volkswagen hand me the keys and off I go, to the forefront of hybrid motoring. The journey begins on Irish Ferries MV Ulysses, a 50,000 grosse tonne ship with electric charging available on board. At time of booking you can select the electric car charging option available at no extra cost. Arriving at Dublin port, the car rolls up silently to the check-in and the relevant documents produced. After a couple of queries regarding the electric charging option we’re directed to the appointed lane. Once boarding begins we’re shown to the specified charging spot on a level wholly filled with trucks, the GTE and only one other car from what I can see. 

A very helpful technician walks over to assist with setting up for charging. It appears the plug supplied on the Ulysses is incompatible with the ‘nose’ adapter on the Golf. I then pull out the two cables supplied with the Golf, the standard PHEV charging lead and the other cable a PHEV portable 3 pin charging plug, which after acquiring an adapter from the ferry technician, we’re able to start the charging process. Pop out the VW symbol on the nose, plug in cable, charging success. 

I wouldn’t say Irish Ferries receive charging requests on every crossing but I would gamble that they will be seeing increasing demands for charging spots as the technology is further developed for longer distance journeys. Upon returning to the GTE after the three and a half hour trip across the Irish Sea, the car is fully charged and ready to roll.

Golf GTE

Onward bound to the first destination in Wales, Caernarfon. Having docked at midnight, sleep is now impending and luckily it’s only a short distance to the first night’s accommodation in this small rural port. The GTE’s gauge is showing 50km available from the three and a half hour charge. The journey only takes approximately 30 mins on the A55 out of Holyhead, it goes by quickly and the full charge soon dissipates. The accommodation hasn’t provided any charging options at time of booking but the Travelodge doesn’t provide parking either. There is parking nearby but no chargers are to be found. No problem, we still have a full tank of petrol to hand. There are a multitude of apps available that will direct you to the nearest charging point. Using PlugShare, the nearest point is some distance away. Again, a house plug can be used but no plugs are available in the local car park. 

Wales is beautiful, scenic and dramatic all at once. With Snowdonia looming in the distance, it’s time to pack up the gear and get going. The GTE easily hides all the travel bags in the boot along with the PHEV charging cables which aren’t a huge hassle to carry around. Packed up and ready for the day’s driving, this is the perfect test for a hybrid electric car, a long distance journey. 

VW’s DSG box is superb, the fluidity of gear changes and the quick tiptronic paddles it’s best features. As this is a 1.4-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine you’d expect an auto box to struggle with the weight (don’t forget it’s also carrying an electric motor). It doesn’t struggle, it’s quite assured in itself for the size. Together with the rest of the required onboard tech, that makes the claimed 1599kg unladen kerb weight a touch away from being 300kg heavier than the Golf GTI. 

The GTE moves from 0-100kmh in just 7.6 seconds, the sports suspension carries it smoothly,  it’s not quite a GTI but it beautifully resembles one. The best thing Volkswagen have done is to design the GTE as any other vehicle in their lineup. The features of this electric hybrid actually draw warranted attention, the lighting features in the bumper are cool, the GTE badge is cool, the blue brake calipers are COOL. This car lives without the constraints of hybrid car design.

GTE badge

The regenerative braking is interesting, once you adjust to it, you plan your corners around it. Diving into bends in the road at a steady speed there’s no need to hit the brake in advance, once you lift your foot off the accelerator the regenerative braking kicks in, it’s akin to clipping on a dynamo to your bike tyre, you can feel the engine pull back and slow the car down. Throughout the journey there are many winding roads to which the regenerative braking comes into force. It’s not long before the juice is used up but it all goes a long way to getting the most out of the energy you’re dispersing. 

Having mapped out a lovely winding route through Snowdonia National Park, ending up in the Brecon Beacons, this becomes a very enjoyable three and a half hour journey and the interior of the the GTE is a space to which you become quickly accustomed. The dash is the usual VW user friendly layout, with easy to reach buttons mixed well with some touch screen functions. It’s such a pleasant interior space to spend this much time in. The electric blue stitching replacing the GTI red is a nice touch. Blue is threaded throughout the seats, the door trims and the exterior design including brake calipers as well as on the GTE badge. The seats are comfy and the pedals well positioned for DSG automatic drivers.

After passing many hours and travelling hundreds of kilometres, destination London is in sight. I will miss the scenery and the pace of life of Wales, although I wonder will the London traffic break me, send me scurrying for the hills. Having always used public transport when navigating the UK capital, driving the city is both exciting and daunting. But no fear, the Sat Nav on board has thus far given me excellent direction, offering three routes when requesting map guidance; fastest, scenic and most economic. You can also request to avoid toll booths, motorways, ferries etc. 

Perfect for DSG automatic drivers

I believed ‘fastest route’ would include avoiding traffic but it appears it just takes an ‘as the crow flies’ approach. Google Maps with it’s live traffic updating capabilities with added in car bluetooth directed me around the capital with the least amount of pain. Both Google Maps and the onboard Sat Nav were invaluable in navigating one of the most congested cities in the world, with a population of 8.5 million people it’s amazing the coordination required to move that many citizens around successfully. Even when I was stuck in traffic, the GTE was utter heaven to sit in.

Where start/stop traffic would normally send a manual driver to early hip-replacement, the GTE takes hold of the situation and just sits there patiently waiting for you to depress the accelerator to move forward. The moment you press the brake pedal, the parking brake is engaged and you can fully remove both feet from the pedals, resting them comfortably while others stress and strain. The engine so quiet and refined in electric mode, you barely know it’s on and the steering so light it makes fun out of a chore, whipping through the (congestion charge free for the GTE driver) city streets. Daunting thoughts of traffic are dissipated, the GTE sends you jumping into the cockpit for more, bring it. 

The Golf GTE has a starting price of €38,495, €2,460 more than the GTI but over €150 less to tax. A superb hybrid drive system with the design chops for real world appeal make the GTE one of the most desirable hybrids available today. This car is built for the city commute and the weekend getaway whilst giving you more out of your mileage. The road ahead is electric and Volkswagen have shown us that it can be beautiful as well as green, economic and fun, all the things enthusiastic drivers wish for the future without going down the road ennui.  

GTE key

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