► VW Passat GTE reviewed
► We test new plug-in hybrid
► Can it really deliver 164mpg?
Volkswagen is busy reinventing itself as a purveyor of electric cars in the wake of the Dieselgate emissions scandal almost exactly a year ago. It’s an apposite time to be testing the new 2016 VW Passat GTE plug-in hybrid, then, driven here in estate guise.
It reflects the brand’s preference to showcase new propulsion technologies in its existing mainstream ranges rather than as standalone products, the route preferred by the likes of Toyota (Prius) and Nissan (Leaf). Okay, so VW’s sold the extraordinary one-of-a-kind XL1 high-tech missile, but its eco tech is typically lavished across more democratic, cooking models.
Here they’ve taken the sharp-suited new Passat and stuffed it with Wolfsburg’s latest PHEV plug-in hybrid powertrain. You’ll spot the GTE by its blue strip across the radiator grille and those distinctive C-shaped LED day-running lights up front.
Check out our Best Hybrids and Plug-In Electric cars list
Under the bonnet you’ll find a 154bhp 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol and a 113bhp electric motor. A 9.9kWh lithium-ion battery (warranted for eight years/100,000 miles) supplies power to the electric motor, for both assistance and pure EV drive modes. All in, the GTE is claimed to average 164mpg and emit 39g/km of CO2.
Another set of pie-in-the-sky figures from a hybrid, then?
Yes. And no. As with many plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), it all depends how you drive it. To get the best from this car you’ll have to top up the batteries overnight at home and potentially by day at work too.
Driven thus, with a full battery for most of your journey, you’ll power along on saintly EV mode and see some extraordinary efficiency figures. Volkswagen quotes a theoretical maximum range of 664 miles on one tank of unleaded.
During everyday pottering duties and commuting short- to mid-distances, we averaged 60-80mpg, the figure sliding the more depleted the battery becomes. That's only half of the ludicrous official claims, but still impressive for a 1735kg estate rammed with bulky batteries (the cells by the rear seats add an extra 125 kilos).
However, when we drove up to Manchester for a six-hour round trip, the economy figures tumbled to a more humdrum 30-40mpg as the Passat becomes a uniquely 1.4 petrol chariot. There’s no escaping that a decent TDI diesel option might suit high-mileage British drivers better.
How does the new VW Passat GTE drive?
Quite sweetly. The switchover between petrol and electric power is deftly juggled, with barely a murmur as the electronics manage the transition. If it weren’t for the Audi-style virtual instruments and their busy, confusing graphics, you’d sometimes never know what’s spinning the front wheels.
The GTE is simple to drive: simply slip the six-speed DSG conventional auto gearlever into D for Drive and off you pootle. There’s very little regenerative braking until you tug the lever down to B for Brake, allowing you to top up the battery as you – and largely skip the middle pedal altogether.
Comfort-ometer set to maximum
This is a very relaxing car to drive, cruising with a hushed refinement entirely in keeping with the Passat’s relaxed demeanour, helped by the coast function which uses a third clutch to decouple the engine in coast or electric modes.
Choose from E-mode (full electric drive), Hybrid (clever-clogs system deeming what’s best), Battery Charge (charges a flat battery from the motor; useful if you’re approaching a city centre where you can switch to EV mode); and GTE (which prepares systems for maximum sporty punch).
The busy controls detract from an otherwise logical, beautifully crafted VW interior. It might be devoid of design flair, but it’s certainly well made. And the seats in our test example were among the most supportive pews we’ve tested in a non-executive car, married to a comfy chassis defaulting to comfort over corner-carving.
How long to recharge?
There are two options for the Passat GTE: a three-point plug at home or work will take four-and-a-quarter hours to charge, while a faster-charge wall box will take two-and-a-half.
You simply pop open a flap hidden in the grille and charge up. To take advantage of cheaper overnight electricity, programme a time to charge via the infotainment system or VW’s app - which also lets you cool or heat the cabin remotely. Handy in deepest summer and winter.
This is a really slick hybrid car and one it’s hard not to be impressed by its slick execution. But the usual caveats apply: this PHEV will only suit people whose driving follows regular patterns in town with plentiful access to charging points. If your driving is like this, you’ll find a polished, puritanical estate with all the usual Passat qualities - and some brilliant tax breaks.
However… that purchase price. Yes, the Passat GTE Estate starts at a whopping £38,075. Which makes this a cripplingly expensive eco wagon (ours was specced to over £40k). Yes, you can lease it from around £460, according to CAR's leasing section. But the powerful 187bhp 2.0 diesel Passat starts at around £30,000 and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that’d be a smarter bet for many motorists.
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