We are continually being exhorted by the Government and others to abandon our disgustingly dirty gas-guzzlers and hop onto the electric car roundabout. Leaving aside the question of where all the electricity would come from if every one of us did so, the simple fact is that fully electric cars just don’t work for most people, because of their limited range. That is backed up by the registration figures for 2015, where despite claims that registrations of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV’s) increased dramatically last year, the Nissan Leaf, currently the best-selling fully electric car, managed only to sell a modest 5,236 cars, gaining less than ¼% of the overall British market.
…..plug-in hybrid models are rapidly becoming a must-have in every manufacturers range
That much-publicised gain in ULEV sales last year in fact came not from fully electric cars but from the plug-in hybrid models which are rapidly becoming a must-have in every manufacturers range. Whilst not enjoying the same range as their pure electric brethren, they nevertheless enjoy some degree of zero-emissions capability, whilst being free from the dreaded range anxiety.
Last year Autonews evaluated the best-selling Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in, and were impressed, as clearly were the 11,681 folk who drove one out of the showroom last year, to record an astonishing 118% increase in sales over the previous year.
Plug-in hybrids certainly seem to be the motor of the moment, which explains why we were particularly keen to spend a week with Volkswagen’s Golf GTE. This aims itself squarely at the GTI driver with green leanings, offering all the bells & whistles of the class-leading Golf GTI, itself remarkably environmentally friendly for a performance car, but with the added bonus of ultra-low emissions.
…….the GTE shares the understated looks of its petrol-powered relative
Visually, the GTE shares the understated looks of its petrol-powered relative, with subtle differences to set the two apart, principally blue highlights to replace the red of the GTI, even down to blue brake calipers.
Inside, the story is similar. The pattern of the classic but stylish tartan trim of the GTI is present, but again highlighted in blue rather than red. Blue also replaces red both on the steering wheel stitching as well as the LED accent lighting both at waist level on the doors and also on the sills. Other than that, you would be hard-pressed to identify which car you were sitting in, at least until the starter button is pressed.
On closer examination you might spot that a couple of the switches to the left of the gear lever are now marked GTE and E-mode, but that’s about it.
Things get a little different once you hit the starter button, of course. The dials in front of the driver light up, with their needles performing the traditional full sweep of the scale before settling back, at which point you realise that the left hand dial is not the traditional rev-counter but now serves as a power-meter, seemingly a must-have goody on any ULEV. At least this one is far more restrained than some of the garish and over-elaborate offerings from other manufacturers. Its scale shows essentially green, blue and white sectors, green denoting brake energy recuperation, where otherwise wasted brake energy is charging the battery, blue is the efficient driving range, whilst white is where you can expect to see the needle hover if you are using the performance to the full! Needle movement between them is nicely damped meaning that you can see easily just what is happening and, more importantly, how to drive more efficiently should you wish to do so. Sitting in the base of the power meter is a very small rev-counter, which actually gives the driver pretty well the only indication of whether or not the petrol engine is running or the GTE is motoring on electricity.
…..most users will doubtless just leave the car to manage its own distribution of electric and petrol power
Several operating modes are available, depending on how green you feel like being, the major ones being accessed by the two aforementioned GTE and E-Mode buttons. Other settings are available via menus on the touch-screen multimedia system: in truth these seem of limited value, and most users will doubtless just leave the car to manage its own distribution of electric and petrol power, a task it performs extremely unobtrusively. In GTE mode, both electric and petrol power work together to give maximum performance, producing 204hp and 350Nm of torque, a figure identical to the GTI.
The familiar nose-mounted VW badge – on the GTE outlined fetchingly in blue – is hinged to reveal a “Type 2” charging connection point. Two leads are supplied, one to fit a normal domestic 13 amp 3 pin socket, whilst the other is for connecting either to a dedicated 16 amp home charging point, if you want to have one fitted – and this can often be arranged quite reasonably thanks to subsidies from electricity supply companies – or to suitable roadside charging points. The charging cables are a useful 6 metre length, meaning that precision parking is not an essential prerequisite to charging!
We charged the GTE from a domestic 13 amp connection: fully charging the battery takes just under 4 hours; using a 16 amp charging point reduces this a little, to around 2 ½ hours. The battery itself is housed under the boot floor, resulting in some reduction in luggage space compared to the GTI, and also involves the loss of the spare wheel which is replaced by the now almost ubiquitous can of sealant and electric compressor. However, this represents just about the only packaging compromise to accommodate the hybrid drivetrain. Indeed, the remarkable thing about the GTE is how few compromises are involved, and this extends to the dynamics of the beast. We had expected the performance & handling to be blunted by the extra weight of batteries and control systems the GTE needs to lug around – the batteries alone add 120kg apparently. However, this was not the case, indeed having the battery pack mounted so low down probably reduces the car’s centre of gravity, minimising body roll.
VW claim that the GTE will cover 31 miles between charges when running purely in its electric-only E-mode; as with all other electromobiles this figure is very optimistic, and will depend heavily on the type of running, and how many accessories such as lights, aircon and the like are taking their share of the precious power. We achieved around 20 miles electric-only running, quite a reduction from the manufacturers claim but still enough for a reasonable amount of local running. And, boy, does it make you feel virtuous, nipping down to the shops in splendid silence rather than polluting the atmosphere after a cold start of an internal-combustion engine.
But VW are the first to point out that forcing the car to run in E-mode, electric-only, is not always the most economical or efficient way to drive it. Surprisingly, therefore, though, the car defaults to E-Mode on starting, running on battery power until no charge remains, before switching to what VW describe as “Battery Hold” mode. This, according to the manual, is where the battery charge is held in a constant state, using petrol power in preference to electric. We found, however, that in this mode the car did still run on electric power whenever it could, even gradually topping up the battery.
The transition from electric to petrol drive was almost invariably impressively seamless, the only time a slight hesitation was noted was when the battery ran right down to zero charge, forcing the petrol engine to take up the drive. But this was slight, and in truth was only noticed because of the smoothness of the gearshifts of the now well-proven DSG 6-speed transmission.
Performance in E- and Battery Hold modes was reasonable: not particularly GTI-like but certainly fast enough to keep up with traffic, unlike some electric cars where their acceleration in economy-type mode feels embarrassingly slow.
…….in GTE mode, a Golf GTI driver would not feel short-changed by the available performance
This all changes when that “Jekyll & Hyde” GTE button is pressed, however. This button does several things, most fundamentally harnessing the petrol and electric power together to give maximum acceleration capability. And in this mode that acceleration is pretty impressive. Whilst slightly slower than its stablemate GTI on the 0-62mph dash, at 7.6 seconds compared to 6.5, the GTE really comes into its own at lower speeds, thanks to the instantaneous torque available from the electric motor. As a result, in GTE mode it feels at least as rapid as the GTI. GTE mode also sharpens the steering and suspension, as well as triggering more sporting gearshift settings. Finally, just like the GTI, the switch injects engine sound into the cabin for added sportiness, although this may not be to everyone’s taste. So, in GTE mode, a GTI driver would not feel short-changed by the available performance.
How much does it cost to power the GTE? Well, you pretty much need a maths degree to work that one out due to the need to analyse the mix of electric compared to petrol driving, not to mention the cost, or otherwise, of the electrical charges.
Nevertheless, we have tried to put a few stakes in the economy ground, as follows:-
Running purely on electric, we believe the GTE will cover around 2 – 2 ½ miles for one unit of electricity (i.e. one kilowatt hour). The cost of this ranges from free (yes – really!) using the Ecotricity network of charging stations, to perhaps 10p from a domestic supply. So in full electric mode, the GTE will cost a maximum of say 4 to 5p per mile to run. This compares with around 12p per mile to fuel a Golf GTI, which typically returns around 38mpg. In E-Mode, then, a clear win for the GTE on running cost!
Things are much less clear-cut however when the battery charge is reduced and the GTE needs to draw on petrol power. We achieved around 45 mpg in Battery Hold Mode with an empty battery, meaning the car was running almost entirely on petrol. This is of course pretty similar to what you could expect from a Golf GT with its 1.4 litre engine.
With a higher state of charge, much-improved fuel consumption figures are recorded, 60mpg or higher being regularly seen. However, these impressive numbers need to be taken in context, as the cost of the electric charge needs to be considered as well, meaning that the actual operating efficiency could be closer to around 50mpg, or 9p a mile if you need to pay for every charge.
In GTI mode, much depends on how much use is made of your right foot! We again attempted the calculation however, and concluded that the running cost was probably about the same as for a GTI, at around 12p per mile.
So, does a GTE make sense for you in preference to a GTI? Much depends on it’s intended use. If you need to travel regularly into the London Congestion Charging Zone (and soon similar zones in other cities), then it’s probably a no-brainer, given the GTE’s exemption from the £11.50 a day charge thanks to its 39g/km CO2 rating. As a company car, favourable Benefit In Kind tax rates also make the GTE an attractive proposition.
…..just don’t expect to save your wallet as well as the Earth!
But what about the rest of us who need to use our hard earned cash to pay for, and run, the beast? Should you be adamant about saving the planet, then the GTE is a great way to enjoy your motoring without too much of a guilty conscience. If, however, your green ethics only kick in when accompanied by a matching cost-saving, the position is less clear. Unless you have easy access to a free-to-use charging station such as one of those in the Ecotricity network, and are prepared for an almost-daily – and rather slow – battery charging session, and rarely need to exceed the 20-odd mile electric range between charges, any cost-savings from using electric power could be fairly insignificant – don’t expect to save your wallet as well as the Earth!
Purchase prices for the two are similar: a 5-door GTI with DSG transmission costs from £29,870, whilst the GTE lists from £33,755, although the Government plug-in car grant reduces that to £28,755 at present (£31,255 from March). However, the GTE becomes much more attractive to buy if you are able to take advantage of the substantial on-line discounts presently being offered, with for example CarWow offering an impressive £8950 off, making the cost to buy a GTE some four grand cheaper than a GTI!
At that sort of price, the GTE becomes well worthy of consideration, offering all of its green virtues without losing too much GTI-level performance.
Interested: Find out more here: http://www.volkswagen.co.uk/new/golf-gte-vii