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VW Golf GTE long-term test: new tricks, new problems

Published: 16 April 2018

► VW Golf GTE long-term test
► Popular PHEV put under the spotlight
► Is it more Golf or more hybrid?

Month 3 of our Volkswagen Golf GTE long-term test review: poring over the details

We've spent the past few months living with the plug-in VW Golf. Time, then, to delve into the minutiae of playing electric Golf...

Don't forget, you still can't actually order a new plug-in Golf GTE. Owing to production shortages and the inability of the German factory to build sufficient numbers to meet demand, VW has paused UK sales. Find out more in our explainer here.

How exactly do I charge the VW Golf GTE?

Plugging in the VW Golf GTE

I’m spoilt in having a charger available in the office car park, but I have a lot to learn about charging mid-journey. The first time I tried it, at the Cherwell Valley services on the M40, I had my pick of a row of Ecotricity chargers to plug in to. But after I went through the registration process on my phone, the app told me that it wouldn’t recommend using that charger on that car. Baffling.

Why are the audio controls so tricky?

VW Golf GTE infotainment and touchscreen

The sound from the audio system is good. But the touchscreen-based system for operating the audio is rubbish. You can’t see the on and volume buttons in the dark. Hitting Source gives you some but not all sources – you have to go to Menu for that. And the USB port (singular) in the ashtray would be fine if you had tweezers for fingers.

Climate change

Heating and ventilation (HVAC) controls on our Volkswagen Golf GTE interior

Am I imagining this? In a rather nannyish insistence on saving electricity at all times, the GTE’s rear screen heater seems to switch itself off super-quickly. And the screenwash jets appear to be set at half power. But, absurdly, the car’s happy for you to leave both the heated seats on full power for ages, even if there’s no one sitting in them.  

The boot is tiny

Boot space and dimensions of the VW Golf GTE plug-in hybrid

There’s no hybrid version of the Golf estate or Golf SV, so if you want a hybrid Golf you get the hatchback, which has a much reduced boot compared to other engines: 272 vs 380 litres with the rear seats up, 1162 vs 1270 with them down. The Passat and Passat Estate are both available as GTE hybrids, with a lot more boot space than the Golf GTE, but I don’t like Passats – I like Golfs. 

Logbook: VW Golf GTE Advance 1.4 TSI

Price £32,135  
As tested £38,510 (not including £2500 Plug-In car Grant)  
Engine 1395cc 16v turbocharged 4-cylinder, 148bhp @ 2500rpm, 258lb ft @ 2500rpm, plus 101bhp e-motor (combined 201bhp maximum)  
Transmission 6-speed auto, front-wheel drive  
Performance 7.6sec 0-62mph, 138mph, 40g/km CO2
Miles this month 1725  
Total 5964  
Our mpg 37.2  
Official mpg 157  
Fuel this month £428.79  
Extra costs None  

By Colin Overland

Month 2 living with a VW Golf GTE: juggling the petrol vs hybrid power

Neighbour of mine loves his Lotuses, but his curiosity spreads to pretty much any car with a bit of go about it. The other day I was admiring the under-bonnet view of the Golf GTE, with all its orange electronics, when he wandered over for a chat. I started guffing on about the satisfaction you get from juggling the petrol engine and electric motor so that you maximise efficiency, and the pleasures of whacking it into B mode for some virtual engine braking and actual battery charging.

I was also going on about my habit of trying to get the battery reserve to hit zero the moment I roll into the work car park, knowing that I'll be able to plug it in and leave it charging all day. And how galling it is to find that all three charging points are occupied.

VW Golf GTE engine

And so on.

Turns out he'd driven a previous-generation GTE. He tolerated my waffle for a bit, and then got to the heart of the matter: 'Yeah, and then you press the GTE button and you get all the power at once, and that thing flies.' Ah yes, there is that. A guilty pleasure, among all the greenery, and an explanation for our not-so-good fuel figures.

By Colin Overland

Logbook: VW Golf GTE Advance 1.4 TSI

Engine 1395cc 16v turbo 4cyl, 140bhp @ 5000rpm, 258lb ft @ 2500rpm
Transmission 6-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Stats 7.6sec 0-62mph, 138mph, 40g/km  
Price £32,135*
As tested £38,510*  
Miles this month 2159
Total 4239
Our mpg 38.6
Official mpg 157
Fuel this month £310.50
Extra costs £0
*Plug-in car grant reduces prices by £2500

Month 1 living with a Volkswagen Golf GTE: paternity test required...

You'll be familiar with at least one of the many movie versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where aliens take over humans, but you can't tell by looking at them. (In the case of the Donald Sutherland version, he actually seems to become less alien after he's been taken over.) That's the worst-case scenario with the Golf GTE, the plug-in petrol-electric hybrid: looks like a Golf, isn't.

The best-case scenario is that it looks and feels like a Golf, with the same characteristics and charm and quality and practicality, but it happens to have an electric socket behind the VW badge on the grille. In the same way that diesels came to be an accepted part of the Golf family, why shouldn't there be a version with a powertrain that incorporates an electric motor?

VW Golf GTE PHEV: long-term test review by CAR magazine

Well, we'll see. I've driven it literally twice so far (after Phil McNamara had it for a couple of weeks, keen to compare it with his family Mini hybrid), and at this stage I'm full of questions. Pompous verdicts will come later, but first impressions are mixed.

Is it just like any other Golf? Head says yes, heart says no. The crucial difference is feel, the intangible quality that makes a Golf feel like a Golf and not like a Leon, Polo or Focus. Driven blind, I'm not sure I'd identify this as a VW, let alone a Golf. Compared to other Golfs, the steering is vague, the ride clunky, the brake pedal both clunky and vague.

And yet it has Golf seats and a Golf steering wheel and there's a Classic setting for the instruments that makes them look like the dials on any other Golf. But there are also some buttons offering all manner of baffling choices – E mode? B mode? GTE mode? WTF?

VW Golf GTE badge

There are instrument settings that make it look like the Enterprise in here. The infotainment guys have been having a whale of a time, as if they've tried to emulate some of the computer graphics from every sci-fi film they've ever liked. For instance, in the climate control screen, there's a button for something called Pure Air Climatronic. No idea. You press it, and there's an image of the cabin being slowly filled by an eerie blue light.

Parked up, you could spend a long time fiddling with screens and buttons. And on the road, you could easily distract yourself into a ditch by staring too long at the information coming at you from the many read-outs. I'm going to have to read the manual, or at least watch some videos on the website, before long.

If you want the car to recharge its own battery as it drives along, you can tell it to do that. If you want it to drain the battery, it can do that too. If you want it to reach a happy compromise – and I suspect that's where all this will end up – then you only need to ask, although as things stand I'm not sure how.

VW Golf GTE interior

I'm also unclear how to calculate the running costs. Electricity isn't free (although in this case it's coming out of our company car park's charging point, and I'm not going to be billed for it). Assuming that electricity comes from a clean source (and do I have any reason to assume that?), surely it's cleanest to do as many miles as possible using the battery. But which miles would be best: in town, uphill, or what?

Next month: some answers.

Logbook: VW Golf GTE Advance 1.4 TSI

Engine 1395cc 16v turbo 4cyl, 140bhp @ 5000rpm, 258lb ft @ 2500rpm
Transmission 6-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Stats 7.6sec 0-62mph, 138mph, 40g/km  
Price £32,135*
As tested £38,510*  
Miles this month 1004
Total 2080
Our mpg 59.4
Official mpg 157  
Fuel this month £174.54
Extra costs £0
*Plug-in car grant reduces prices by £2500

By CAR's road test team

Our reviewers: fresh perspectives for inquisitive minds