GTI? No GTE, a new example of Volkswagen’s take on future mobility available today. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTE is a plug-in hybrid that combines a traditional petrol engine with an electric motor. It is not the first plug-in hybrid launched by the company from Wolfsburg but for us certainly the most interesting one so far.

As the name tag suggests it also possesses sporty genes besides the ability to drive 100% electric, charged via a regular power plug or refueled with regular petrol. We went out to Switzerland to find out what the GTE is like to drive on a variety of roads – from the city of Zurich to the some beautiful mountain roads.

The Engines

Normally we write about the engine of the car but in the Golf GTE’s case you get two engines: one 150hp strong 1.4 liter turbocharged TSI engine and one 102hp eletric motor. Combined the hybrid system can deliver a peak performance of 204hp, just 16hp shy of the GTI’s 220hp. The GTE delivers 350Nm of torque, exactly the same as the GTI with the only difference that in electric mode the full torque is instantly available.

The GTE has a strong emphasis on efficiency and range. With a fully charged battery the range is 50 kilometers in full eletric mode and up to 940 kilometers in hybrid mode. Combined fuel consumption on the European test cycle is only 1.5 liters per 100 km although it will come as no surprise that when you have a sportier driving style this will be much more.

Performance

The Volkswagen Golf GTE does 0-100 km/h in 7.6 seconds and has a top speed of 222 km/h. In E-mode the top speed is limited to 130 km/h. That however is still significantly higher than the electric performance in most other (plug-in) hybrids.

Gearbox

The Golf GTE comes with a newly developed 6-speed automatic gearbox that incorporates the electric motor, disengagement clutch and Volkswagen’s DSG dual clutch gearbox. This helps to keep the size of the engine very compact and make use of Volkswagen’s MQB platform, a modular matrix that allows several models and drivetrains to be build on the same production line.

In comparison to a regular automatic gearbox the Sport mode is replaced by a B-mode. This B-mode will make use of energy regeneration when the accelerator is lifted. This also allows you to slow down without pressing the brakes and by doing so the battery is recharged to provide more electric power.

Drive Modes

The Golf GTE offers various drive modes, unlike most cars in this segment that only offer ‘normal’ and ‘sport’, the GTE offers: E-mode, GTE mode, Battery Hold, Battery Charge and Hybrid Auto.

Every time the car is started E-mode is automatically engaged. The GTE will run up to 50 kilometers with the electric motor only until the petrol engine is started. If you wish to maintain your current charge you can select Battery hold so you have enough electric range available for inner-city driving per example. Battery charge will use all available energy while driving to charge the battery back to 100%. Hybrid auto is a typical hybrid mode where the electric motor and the petrol engine work together to offer an optimal mix of range and efficiency.

Most interesting for fans of the GTI segment is the GTE mode. Here the electric motor is used to improve performance and offer the maximum output of 204hp. The throttle responds improves, gearbox will hold on to gears longer and the steering becomes more direct. With the optional dynamic chassis control the GTE button also sets the dampers to sport warranting a sportier ride.

Interior & Design

The Golf GTE features some unique design elements to emphasize its innovative drivetrain. Among those elements are blue details in the exterior, LED daytime running lights in the front bumper and an interior that shows its link with the iconic DNA.

Driving Experience

Volkswagen chose Zurich, Switzerland as the location for the introduction of the 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTE. Zurich lies nestled between mountains on either side and directly on the shores of the lake carrying the same. Inner-city congestion combined with beautiful country roads along the lake and surrounding mountains provide a good mix to test the cars diversity.

Our first engagement with the GTE took us from Zurich Airport to a hotel located in the hills on the outskirts of Zurich. A route which combined motor way with city driving, not the ideal stretch to test the GTE mode yet considering Switzerland’s strict road laws especially when it comes to speeding. But this did provide a good opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the GTE and the Golf 7 in general.

As you probably know at GTspirit we are focused on sports- and luxury car market and it has been a while since we drove a car in this segment. Of course there are differences with the higher segments and the interior is not as luxurious as that of a Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz. But the Golf GTE holds up very well when it comes to infotainment, safety and convenience systems. Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Assist? Check. Bluetooth Audio? Check. Navigation with live traffic? Check.

Especially in traffic the adaptive cruise control is a blessing, from a certain speed on the motor way it will even assist with steering to keep the car in the center of the lane. But this is not really what the GTE is about, the GTE is all about its new powertrain and drive modes. As a spokesperson for Volkswagen put it: We set out to built a vehicle that reaches new levels of efficiency without neglecting the fun factor.

For everybody that has never driven an electric vehicle before, go and give it a try! The moment you start the GTE it automatically starts in E-mode and behaves the same as the Volkswagen E-Golf that we tested briefly earlier this year. One thing that you will have to get used to is that the moment you press the start button there is no rumble of a diesel or petrol engine to indicate you are ready to go. Instead a small green ‘ready’ icon lights up on the drivers display.

Put the automatic gearbox in D just like you would with any other car, hit the throttle and off you go. The feeling of instant torque is a revelation compared to the non-electric torque lacking cars in this segment. And it doesn’t take long until traffic light sprints without making a sound put a smile on your face as if you are launching a V12 Ferrari of the line. You also leave bystanders looking in awe as you drive off with the sound of spinning tires and a light zoom from the electric engine but no petrol sound.

The range of the electric motor is enough for about 40 kilometers electric driving between charges. Charging itself takes between 2.5 and 3.5 hours depending on the type of power source you use (wallbox vs regular plug). If you want you could easily use the GTE as a full electric car during the week and use its long range hybrid functionality in the weekend.

Driving to the hotel in E-mode we would almost forget that this car is actually a GTE and not an E-Golf. So after a quick lunch we get back in the car and set out to discover the GTE’s sporty side. Again the car starts in E-mode but at a tick of the GTE button the 1.4 liter turbocharged petrol engine fires up and you have 204hp and 350Nm at your disposal. With the GTE button the sound also changes – where in hybrid mode the engine sounds like a typical screaming 1.4 liter engine – in GTE mode it sounds beefier and GTI like.

It also automatically engages the B mode to recover as much energy as possible in deceleration to aid the acceleration. In D the GTE sails and feels very resistance free, B is the exact opposite and feels as if you brake using the engine going down a hill. It is a feeling we have to get used to.

In GTE mode you can leave the gear lever in automatic mode or switch to manual to shift with the paddles behind the steering wheel. The support of the electric motor can clearly be felt under acceleration but in corners the GTE can’t match its lighter GTI and GTD counterparts.

Conclusion

Overall it is the combination of the electric range and the ability to have longer journeys that makes the GTE an interesting car. It also forms a great example of the future of mobility. Thanks to the modular matrix used in the Volkswagen Group’s production these drive-train systems can be implemented with ease throughout nearly the entire line-up in the next couple of years. And as the battery capacity and the customer demand increases the usability will improve and the price will drop making this form of mobility more interesting for large groups of car buyers.

For more about Plugin hybrids on GTspirit read our reviews of the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid and the McLaren P1.

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