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2015 VW Passat GTE – first drive of the ultimate 149 mpg company fleet car [Review]

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If anyone needs proof that the world is slowly changing, look no further than the major car manufacturers. These lumbering dinosaurs are being forced, kicking and screaming, into the eco driven future to the extent that they’re even converting their major sellers into green machines. The latest example is this Volkswagen Passat GTE, a plugin hybrid (PHEV) which boasts ‘official’ consumption figures of 149 mpg and 31 miles of all electric range. And at a price which is very nearly the same as the diesel version it will presumably one day replace.

What makes this new car so special is the fact that 70% of all Passat sales go to fleet buyers, the faceless men who buy thousands of cars for their corporate, mile eating executives who spend their lives driving up and down the nation’s highways. These guys demand the best deal for their bulk buying, so when a hybrid becomes a part of the menu, you know that times have indeed changed.

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First impressions
The new Passat is an impressive saloon/sedan, no question. The sleek elongated bodyline looks every inch a motorway cruiser, and it’s clear that the company has its sights set on the BMW and Mercedes equivalents with the introduction of this new 2015 model. The car we tested had all the fancy trim and upmarket materials of a deluxe limo, thankfully with a character to match. Watch our video below to get an idea of how the car performs in practice.

In use
We’ve just finished a longer term test of a Golf GTE hybrid (report coming soon), so we have a direct comparison to make between similar models at different ends of the product spectrum. And what’s surprising is how different the Passat is as a driver’s car, compared to the smaller Golf variant. It’s not just the size, although that definitely makes a difference, it’s also the smooth interaction of the electric and petrol modes, and the smoothness of the whole package.

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On the face of it the specs are very close. Both cars use the 1.4 liter turbo-charged petrol engine, coupled with an electric motor hooked up to the gearbox housing, but the effect is completely different. Where the Golf feels a little more unsettled in terms of switching between electric and petrol in hybrid mode, the Passat is imperceptibly smooth and much more refined. The result is you can barely tell electric from petrol mode on the Passat.

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There’s also a much more relaxed driving position, and although the dash and controls are almost identical, the big airy cabin of the Passat again gives a much more comfortable feel. Perhaps it’s inevitable when you compare a hot hatch sized car, but it’s surprising how different it feels. Not that the Passat is a spongy sloth. When you demand performance, it delivers very nicely indeed, and since you get two forms of performance set up, GTE mode and a Sport setting, the former providing maximum power from both electric and petrol, the latter tightening up the suspension, you can definitely feel the difference.

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Road warriors with a need for lots of family space, will also find nothing to complain about in terms of legroom and luggage space. Even though the battery pack and fuel tank take up a goodly amount of space, there’s still acres of room to fit everything in, from a family set of golf clubs to an IKEA wardrobe. Drop down the rear seats and you can sleep in there.

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Interior in action

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The interior specification is also typically VW, with a nicely judged and comfortably ‘conventional’ look to the cockpit. No scary electric car controls and dials here, just a reassuringly standard speedo console, but with a battery gauge embedded in the tacho section. You instantly feel at home in this kind of environment, which we’ve seen with other VW electrics such as the Golf E and GTE.

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The centre mounted media and GPS navigation system (an optional extra we hasten to add) is also very nicely done, with simple clear buttons marking all the functions, and touchscreen additions for drilling down to important features such as fuel consumption, navigation and integration with a mobile phone. It’s all terribly functional in a Germanic way, and some may complain that it’s almost too boring, but we like it. The only thing we’re not fans of is the satnav function. Who on earth creates a satnav that won’t accept full postcodes, for Pete’s sake?

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Conclusion
We only had a very brief time to test out the car, but even so we came away very impressed. The combination of smooth (there’s that word again) German engineering, coupled with the ability to drive around in all electric luxury for up to 31 miles is very compelling. When you consider that 90% of all car journeys are under 20 miles, it also starts to make a lot of sense financially too. Keep the car charged up at night, and you have the possibility of extremely cheap travel during the day. Of course, you won’t get a real world 31 miles (nor 148 mpg, alas), but we returned a very respectable 51 mpg during our test, with all sorts of acceleration tests and other artificial journalist demands.

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We suspect that this car is going to grab a very large volume of fleet attention, once the economics and the benefits of dual mode driving become clear to all the parties concerned. Lower maintenance costs will please the buying department, and lower running and taxation costs will definitely make the driver happy. To show how carefully VW has thought out this product, there’s even a system in place to ensure that oil is electrically pushed through the petrol engine from time to time, to prevent any damage due to the car running mostly in electric mode. As well as special coatings on the relevant parts of the engine. Clever. All in all? This model is a definite winner for its class.

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Price: Unknown at the time of testing, but supposed to be less than £33,000 after government grant.

Specifications:
Petrol Engine: 4 cyl, turbocharged 1.4 liter, 115 kW
Electric Motor: 8.7 kWh, Lithium Ion, 85 kW, 4.15 min charge time stnd home socket
Gearbox: 6 speed DSG (direct shift gearbox)
Performance: 0 – 62 mph – 7.4 secs, top speed (petrol)- 139 mph, (electric) – 80 mph
Fuel Consumption: Official 148 mpg in hybrid mode
Total Range: 600+ miles (electric, petrol combined)
NEDC Consumption: 37 g/km CO2

Nigel is the managing editor of the Red Ferret, as well as a freelance columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper in London. Loves tech and fancies himself as a bit of a futurist, but then don’t we all?

Nigel – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.


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