The Volkswagen Passat GTE plugin hybrid arrives at a difficult time for VW. The Dieselgate emissions scandal is hanging over it, which has caused distrust for buyers. But VW is expanding its portfolio by launching plug-in petrol-electric hybrids and pure electric vehicles to improve its eco reputation.
So where does the VW Passat GTE fit in? I spent a week at the wheel of a hybrid saloon to find out.
At first look, the Volkswagen Passat GTE plugin hybrid is just like any other Passat. It’s a smart saloon with sharp lines and a restrained overall appearance, thanks to VW’s latest design elements.
Get a little closer, and there are GTE design elements like the VW Golf GTE. There’s a blue pin stripe across the top of the grille and lights, and blue GTE badges on the front, rear and on the front wings. All of VW’s electric cars get C-shaped daytime running lights, and these are present on the Passat GTE. The wheels are the standard 18-inch Oxford rims you get on a Passat GT, so the only other clue to the GTE’s plug in tech is the charging flap on the nose next to the VW badge.
Inside, the TFT dashboard has blue highlights, there is blue LED strip lighting in the doors and a GTE button next to the gearlever. One neat trick is that the car senses if the passenger seat belt is in use – if not, the two-zone climate control only blows air at the driver to save energy. Aside from that, it’s pure Passat. That means there is lots of space for five passengers, and as the GTE is a top-spec model, it gets lots of standard kit.
Navigation, LED headlights, heated leather seats, adaptive cruise control and surround view cameras are all included on the GTE Advance model. But at just over £40,000, it’s £4,000 more than the most expensive Passat diesel. The Passat GTE hybrid is a good company car, as its monthly Benefit In Kind rates are lower than the basic Passat 1.6 TDI BlueMotion.
The Passat GTE has a smaller boot than the standard car. It measures 402 litres, compared to 586 litres for the Passat diesel. Space under the floor is taken up by the battery, so there’s no spare wheel, but there is a storage space for the charging lead. For an extra £1,500 you can get a Passat GTE Estate if you need more room.
On the road, the Passat GTE hybrid is relaxing to drive. The GTE badge suggests this is a performance model, but while the car is quick, it’s no sports saloon. It has 218PS combined and a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds, which is as fast as a Passat 2.0 TDI, but it’s not as fast as some rival hybrid models.
In corners, the Passat GTE rolls and feels heavy, thanks to the extra weight of the hybrid system. Add adaptive dampers, and you can stiffen the car or soften it off depending on your mood, although it’s better with soft suspension settings.
The hybrid system is smooth to switch between petrol, hybrid and electric modes. You can travel up to 70mph on electric power alone, as long as there’s enough energy in the battery, while the hybrid system manages energy flow well. Press the GTE button on the dash, and the engine runs all the time for maximum response. Artificial engine sound is piped into the cabin, too, although this isn’t very pleasant.
The Volkswagen Passat GTE plugin hybrid returns 166mpg according to VW, or 56.5mpg once the battery has been emptied. In my time with the car I managed 51.9mpg. Either way, the more often you can plug the car in to charge it up, the better.
And that’s the crux of all plug-in hybrids. Charge the Passat regularly, and you’ll visit petrol stations once in a blue moon. But let the petrol engine do the work, and economy won’t be any better than a diesel model. For that reason, the Volkswagen Passat GTE plugin hybrid only makes sense as a company car, where its lower tax costs make it attractive. Even with the Government’s Plug-In Car Grant, which is £2,500 on a plug-in hybrid like this, and the Passat GTE is expensive for private buyers.