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VW Golf GTE Hybrid – part oil, part electric family machine [Review]

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The march of the hybrid car continues as more and more manufacturers stake their eco claim by introducing vehicles powered by part fossil fuel and part electricity. The new VW Golf GTE is one such car, and it combines the typical practicality of a conventional Golf family car with the exotic performance and frugality of a hybrid. The result is rather pleasing. We tested one out for a period to see what it was like to live with.

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First impressions
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. A Golf is a Golf is a Golf. Not for nothing has this family hatchback become synonymous with practical motoring. The size, interior space, and sheer functionality of the whole package is a superb combination, and so it is with the GTE. At first glance very little is different between this electric hybrid and a standard Golf, you have to look very closely to see the changes. Check out our video below to see how it stacks up.

The first clue is the tiny GTE symbol on the back, the GT standing for Grande Teapot and the E for Elixir. Or something like that. Inside you will also notice the addition of a battery charge indicator on the tacho dial, and in the boot you may notice a slight loss of space since the battery sits under the floor there. But really, that’s about it.

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In use
What you miss in eco flash, is however more than made up for with the benefits of driving hybrid. Push the start button and you’re met with a deafening wall of silence as the electric motor sits there waiting for your command. The car starts rolling in all-electric mode, and can continue in that mode if requested up to a theoretical 31 miles of range. At which point it will switch to petrol. The range is actually dependent on a lot of things, including driving style, weather and load, but typically you should see around 25+ miles driven carefully.

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It may not sound a lot, but is should be enough to cope with most people’s daily drive, since the research shows that most journeys are under 20 miles or so. The great thing about a hybrid of course, is the fact that it offers the smooth emission free ride of a full electric but without the range anxiety. Once you’ve exhausted your battery, the car just switches to fuel. No fuss. It’s a nice feeling.

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The car also delivers a beautifully smooth ride, although not as sumptuous as the VW Passat GTE we tested a while back. There’s still a bit of Golf GTI jiggle to the suspension, and the marriage between the electric and petrol motors is definitely not as smooth. But it’s still good.

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And there’s the fact that you’ve got a very capable 5 door hatchback at your command. The drop down seats at the rear ensure that even though you’re driving a state of the art techno marvel, you can still get the chest of drawers in when necessary. Reassuring. In fact that’s the message of the whole car. Reassuring, no surprises here, except perhaps with your monthly fuel bill.

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The model we tested came with the luxurious central media and navigation system, which was also very practical. Although the fact that the satnav doesn’t accept full postcodes is absolutely bonkers, and makes finding a destination ridiculously complex. We gave up and reverted to Google Maps on the phone.

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But apart from that, and a very dodgy user manual, the whole experience was very pleasant. In fact it may be too pleasant for those looking for more of a Golf GTI experience. The car definitely doesn’t come with the ‘drive me’ feel of the classic hot hatch, either in handling or sportiness, but instead offers a decent enough experience, and to be brutally honest, probably more than enough for most wannabe Schumachers. 130+ mph and 7 secs or so to 62 mph is likely to be good enough for most.

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And of course it’s so practical. Did we mention that already? One of the more impractical aspects though is actually charging up. If you’re a city dweller it’s likely that you won’t have a driveway available, which does mean you’ll be stuck trailing a cable across the pavement/sidewalk, which could be an issue depending on where you live. But it’s not that big a deal, and with the increase in charging points in places like supermarkets and car parks, it’s getting easier and easier to keep electric cars topped up.

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Conclusion
The combination of hybrid motive power and gorgeous VW Golf practicality makes this a great car for all round family needs. It’s not super cheap, but then again neither is a GTI, so it should fit right in with that crowd in terms of buy appeal. It’s smooth enough on short journeys to make them less of a chore, and yet familiar enough to not scare the in-laws when they visit, which is a double bonus. Oh and even though it’s not that flamboyant, it still gets looks. Which is a testament to something, even if we’re not sure what.

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Our one wish is for the electric range of these new cars to rise to cover slightly longer suburban trips, and the price to come down as battery tech improves, at which point we can see them taking over the world. It’s just a no-brainer. If you’re looking for a future proof family car and your budget makes it this far North, you should really take a test drive of this hatch.

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Price (as tested): £36,995 before government rebate.

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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Managing Editor:
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