You don’t need to be a car enthusiast to know that Volkswagen’s GTI badge on the Golf stands for a fun-to- drive hatchback that can still be used every day.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the GTD was developed along the same lines, but with a more sensible diesel engine under the bonnet.
Volkswagen added a third ‘GT’ badge to its roster last year with the launch of the Golf GTE and, though it takes a little more explaining, it’s not difficult to understand that it’s effectively the electrified version, using a plugin hybrid powertrain to, theoretically, deliver all the performance expected of the GT range, but along with an efficient side where it can run on battery alone for periods and return some temptingly low emissions figures.
Though there are no GT models in the rest of the Volkswagen range, the GTE badge is about to be rolled out across the line-up, using the same formula. The first recipient is the Passat GTE tested here.
Under the bonnet is a 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine, mated to a six-speed DSG automatic transmission and an electric motor powered by a lithium ion battery pack.
The latter can be plugged into a charging point for maximum efficiency, though there’s a simple battery recharge option in the settings to force the engine to operate as a generator and charge the battery right up, in preparation for later all-electric running.
Volkswagen claims that the Passat GTE can run for up to 50km on electric power alone with the top speed in that guise quoted as 130km/h. Because of all this, Volkswagen can quote an emissions rating of just 39g/km and official, combined cycle fuel consumption of 1.6 litres/100km (176.6mpg).
That’s only achievable if you spend a lot of time at low speeds and you regularly charge up the battery from an external source. For reference, we averaged close to 40mpg (about 7.0 litres/100km) in a few days of mixed driving.
But hybrid power needn’t be solely for economy; performance can be boosted by a hybrid setup, too. Combined, the petrol engine and electric motor in the Passat can produce up to 218hp and a chunky 400Nm of torque — the latter thanks in no small part to the torque characteristics of an electric motor.
Volkswagen quotes a 0-100km/h time of 7.4 seconds and the Passat GTE always feels fast, particularly so when you push the GTE button.
So there’s no doubting the impressiveness of this Passat’s numbers, but some buyers may want their range-topping car to look like one and we do wonder whether Volkswagen’s design department has been a little too restrained.
View it from the back and you’ll see nothing unusual. Move around to the side and you may notice the tasteful 18-inch Dartford alloys and discreet GTE badges in the front wings, but it’s only really at the front that there have been significant changes.
There’s a new chromed grille with a distinctive blue line across its top that runs into the LED headlights, plus a restyled front bumper with large C-shaped LED daytime running lamps. It’s all very subtle, if attractive, in line with the elegant Passat’s basic design.
The interior follows the same theme, though it’s more obviously a GTE when you glance inside thanks to the bespoke velour upholstery on the ergoActive seats.
There’s a smattering of GTE badges too and lovely blue ambient lighting that comes alive at night. Elsewhere, the Passat’s quality and style is maintained, a particular highlight being the long horizontal air vent detailing.
Look closer and you’ll spot a few specific buttons and switches for the GTE model, while the rev counter has been replaced by a charge meter, revealing when the battery is being charged up by brake energy regeneration or the motor is assisting the engine for maximum acceleration.
Buyers of the GTE will no doubt be educated as to the function of all the new settings, though most are self-explanatory. One that may take a little getting used to is the new B mode for the transmission, replacing the Sport setting for the six-speed automatic.
This enhances the regenerative braking effect for increased efficiency, which means that you hardly need to use the actual brake pedal when you get the hang of it, as, when you take your foot off the throttle, the motor acts as an electricity generator, charging up the battery while slowing down the car. Some won’t like the sensation, but knowing it’s helping with economy might convince buyers to get used to it.
Otherwise the driving experience is in no way unusual. The petrol engine is quieter than the default diesel option and the Passat GTE feels especially civilised when in pure electric mode.
This car’s pace certainly lives up to the GTE badging, though, oddly, selecting the GTE mode detracts from the experience somewhat. It primes the motor to assist the engine for maximum performance, but on a twisty road we found that it made it more difficult to drive smoothly, as the front tyres were easily overcome with torque at the slightest touch of the accelerator. It’s better left in its default setting.
Somewhat surprisingly, the GTE’s suspension is very much biased towards comfort. It’s great at soaking up poor road surfaces and controlling body movements over bumps, and its noise suppression is excellent. This is no sports saloon in the handling department.
While the GTE upgrades stop short of making this Passat one that car enthusiasts will long to drive, they do turn the Passat into an effortlessly fast cross-country saloon that makes for a subtle alternative to vehicles from the premium marques, one that also excels in an urban environment.
AT A GLANCE
The Car: VW Passat GTE
Pricing starts at €42,225 on the road
Engine: 1.4-litre fourcylinder turbocharged petrol and electric motor (218hp, 400Nm)
Emissions: from 39g/km (€170 per year)
Rivals: Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Skoda Superb
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