► The Mk8 goes hybrid
► Same power and torque as GTI
► Same fun?
The all-electric ID range might be gobbling most of VW’s marketing budget right now, but the Golf – and its trio of hotter GT variants – are still hugely important cars for Volkswagen.
Following the release of the standard eighth-generation Golf, we’ve now driven the petrol-powered GTI and this, the plug-in Golf GTE hybrid. With one foot firmly in the electric revolution and the other in the hot-hatch arena, the GTE promises the thrills you’d expect from the famous GT- badge, but in a greener and more economical package.
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Does it succeed? Read our review of the latest Mk8 Golf GTE hybrid to find out.
On the outside? Not that much. VW’s styling department didn’t want to tinker too much with one of its best-selling models, because the Golf 8 looks a lot like the Golf 7. The most obvious changes are the new light clusters at the rear and new headlights which are linked with a LED strip – but it’s all very subtle.
Those who want their hot hatches to have some aggression will already be searching for our Honda Civic Type R or i30 N reviews. To my eyes our white test car looked more like an appliance you’d exile to the lean-to, than something to rip up your favourite B-roads.
The interior sees more obvious changes, and whether it represents an improvement or not largely depends on your thoughts on touchscreens. Almost every function has been pinned to the Golf’s various displays and haptic surfaces, and it makes for a jarring experience that takes a while to get used to. Tasks that should be effortless – such as tinkering with the A/C or changing driving modes – aren’t that easy to find initially, and often require your eyes and attention to leave the road.
You can find more information about the Golf 8’s rather divisive infotainment system in our full review here.
What about the hybrid bits?
Like many of the hybrid cars rolling out of Wolfsburg, the Golf GTE uses a 148bhp, 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine and combines it with a 109bhp electric motor before putting the whole thing through a six-speed DSG ’box. Altogether the Golf GTE puts out 242bhp (electric and petrol peaks are in different places) and 295lb ft – both significant figures, because they’re identical to those made by the petrol-only 2.0-litre, four-cylinder GTI.
Battery capacity has been increased to 13kWh, which means an EV-only range of 37 miles, in speeds up to a more than motorway-suitable 81mph. That figure is also larger thanks to an intelligent navigation system that deploys your remaining charge at the most efficient times.
What’s it like to drive?
Driving around town the GTE doesn’t lack polish. In Comfort, the ride is smooth and bumps are taken care of with ease, while the steering is light and the electric motor keeps things serenely quiet. It’s clear this is the eighth generation of one of the marque’s most popular cars. But this is a GTE, which means the envelope – and expectations – are much larger than those of the standard Golf. And that’s when things begin to unravel.
After you actually find the driving mode selector, and then switch to Sport, a few things do happen; the steering and the ride firm up, the DSG transmission is a little more aggressive and more artificial sound gets pumped into the cabin. It’s a fair stab at the illusion of sportiness, at least.
But when you start to push, things feel numb and laboured – much like we found in the previous-generation GTE.
The brakes take some getting used to. As with the previous-gen GTE, the top of the brake pedal’s travel feels largely redundant. And while the car finds grip, it doesn’t really tell you about it – so you’re anxious to truly lean on the car.
Even in optimum conditions, the GTE promotes hesitation on turn-in, and then impatience on corner exit. The 1.4-litre turbocharged engine feels relatively asthmatic, even with the help of the hybrid power. There’s a sense of struggle when things get faster, and even the optimistic noise pumped into the GTE’s cabin can’t convince you otherwise.
Although it may develop the same power as the GTI, the GTE does so in different areas – and it also has to lug around a 135kg lithium-ion battery. The latter, along with its various ancillaries, means the GTE weighs 1624 kg: 176kg more than the GTI.
Overall, the extra weight and lack of feedback makes the GTE feel like a GTI dosed up on painkillers, and with a huge BoP rucksack on its back.
The new Golf 8 is a polished, well-thought-out product – touchscreen interfaces aside. It oozes quality, and at lower speeds on less demanding roads, the GTE hybrid offers an electrified version of a classic Golf experience.
However, like the previous Mk7 version, it’s hard to recommend the Golf GTE as a hybrid parallel to the GTI. It may produce the same performance figures as the GTI, but it adds too much extra weight – and lacks the feel or fun of its petrol-powered sibling.
As with the previous-gen model, the weight issue would be less evident if the hybrid had more power than the GTI, but it’s hard to see Wolfsburg doing anything as iconoclastic as that.