Volkswagen Golf GTE Review
On paper at least, the Volkswagen Golf GTE promises to be all things to all people. Well, lots of things to a lot of people, at least. It’s a performance plug-in hybrid that offers electric-only motoring for short distances, and petrol-assisted hot hatch fun when you want it.
On top of that, it has all the practicality, comfort and features that you expect from a modern Volkswagen Golf. The end result is a really well polished all-rounder that has plenty of appeal.
Select's rating score* - 4 / 5
The Volkswagen Golf is a firm favourite among UK drivers, and the Golf GTI is the quintessential hot hatch, offering performance car fun in a family-friendly form. The only drawback? It’s a bit thirsty on fuel. So what if you were to take the ethos of a Golf GTI, and drop a plug-in hybrid system into it? The Golf GTE is the result.
It’s a performance Golf with plenty of oomph, but with the ability to run on electric power alone for up to 40 miles, thereby dramatically reducing fuel usage. It’s a concept that works really well. Sure, it’s not quite as much of a driver’s car as the GTI, but it’s still a machine that can do long family trips, zip around town without burning petrol, and put a smile on your face when you find a nice country road. If you’re not yet ready to take the plunge into full electric car leasing, then this is a car you should be looking at.
The Golf GTE has virtually all of the features of the regular Golf, which means plenty of space inside, a solid-sized boot, reasonable leasing costs and a great quality interior. It’s also got lots of entertainment and information technology.
But the big selling point is the powertrain. By combining a large battery, electric motor and petrol engine, the GTE can do up to 40 miles on electric power only, recharge the battery from the mains and, when required, deploy both electric and petrol power to give some serious performance. The theory is that it can go from emission-free eco-car to genuine performance car with just a flex of the right foot.
Just one model is available, with no other trims. There is another plug-in hybrid Golf, however, called the eHybrid, but it has less power. It will give you extra electric-only range though. There are, of course, plenty of other Golf models with petrol or diesel engines.
The GTE houses a 13kWh lithium-ion battery, and has an official electric-only range of up to 40 miles. That’s par for the course in this type of car; slightly better than the Seat Leon e-Hybrid and virtually the same as rivals like the Audi A3 TFSIe and Skoda Octavia iV. The Mercedes-Benz A250e promises a few miles more, but is more expensive to lease.
The benchmark for the Golf GTE is its famous sibling, the GTI. There’s a reason that the name is only one letter different, and it’s because VW really wants this to be a hot hatch as well as a green machine.
It mostly succeeds. The slight fly in the ointment is that the electric gubbins that the GTE carries is heavy, making it 176kg weightier than the GTI, and there’s only so much you can engineer away physics. The net result is that the GTE isn’t quite as nimble and agile as the GTI. But if you stop making that direct comparison, it’s still a very enjoyable car to drive. The steering feels suitably meaty and it changes direction really well. However, the steering isn’t so heavy to make it a chore to manoeuvre; it’s absolutely fine for urban driving.
The ride quality is not quite as smooth as some other Golfs, partly due to the more sporty nature of the GTE and partly, again, because of stiffness required for the suspension to support the extra weight. It’s not too bad though, particularly if you spec the optional Dynamic Chassis Control, which lets you adjust the suspension stiffness for comfort or extra sportiness.
The hybrid powertrain lets you choose different driving modes. You can go full electric, which will only use the battery and electric motor. It’s quiet, zippy to accelerate and generally works really well. For short journeys, it’s great. If you need to go further (or you’ve forgotten to charge it), the 1.4-litre petrol engine kicks in. In this hybrid mode you can either utilise both petrol and electric power as the car’s software sees fit, or you can direct it to save electric power; for example, if you have an urban section at the end of your journey that you’d like to drive in zero-emission mode.
In addition, you can set the car up in Eco, Comfort or Sport mode, which will recalibrate the car’s various settings accordingly, focusing on fuel economy or performance. Sport mode gives you the combined forces of the petrol engine and electric motor, which equates to 245 horsepower and a 0-62mph sprint of 6.7 seconds. That means impressive straight-line speed, which combined with a sharper throttle and faster gear changes from the automatic transmission, lets you enjoy suitable roads to maximum effect.
You can recharge the GTE’s battery at home, using a wall box, or at a public charger. With such dedicated charging equipment you can refill the battery in 3hrs 40 minutes. You can also use a normal three-pin socket, which will recharge it in around five hours. A type 2 AC cable is included for home charging, as is a three-pin plug cable. Both are six metres long.
You will pay a bit more to lease a GTE than a standard Golf, although perhaps not as much as you think, and quite a bit less than a GTI model. When you consider the difference in purchase prices were you to buy one outright, the leasing costs look particularly attractive. At the time of writing in mid-2021, a GTE could be on your drive for less than £275 a month. That’s a touch cheaper than a Mercedes A250e and Audi A3 TFSIe, but not by much.
The official fuel economy figure is up to 235.4mpg, but this is almost meaningless; what you get will depend entirely on how you use the car. Keep your GTE charged and do mostly short journeys on electric power, and a tank for fuel can last months. But if most of your journeys are longer, you’ll deplete the battery and end up using a petrol engine to haul a heavier-than-usual car around. If you’re doing hundreds of miles a day, a diesel car might be a better bet.
On electric power, VW says the GTE will manage 4.26 miles per kWh (which is the electrical equivalent of miles per gallon). That compares well with its rivals.
When it comes to emissions, the GTE emits just 27g/km, and with its 40 mile range fits into the 7% bracket for benefit-in-kind company car tax.
Audi has kept the interior of the Golf very similar to the rest of the range, with a few nods towards the GTI in terms of design. It’s got supportive sports seats with a blue tartan upholstery (a reference towards the black, red and white tartan that’s adorned GTI seats for decades), and the dashboard looks slick with its large 10.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. However, we’ve found it a bit of a faff to use on the move, as there are no physical shortcut buttons. Still, you do get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, so you can hook up your smartphone without any issues.
A 10.3-inch driver display is also standard, replacing traditional analogue dials. This works well, and lets you customise the information shown so you can have your preferred driving stats within easy view.
Build quality is good, although the materials used don’t feel as solid and premium as the Audi A3, which is admittedly a high benchmark.
Like the rest of the Golf range, the GTE is well set up for family car duties. Front seat occupants will have loads of room, and those in the back won’t be badly off either. Two adults will be comfortable, three slightly squeezed. If you want lots of rear room, look at Skoda’s Octavia iV.
As with most plug-in hybrids, the GTE has a smaller boot than its fellow Golfs, due to the requirement to squeeze in a battery. It’s still not a bad size though, at 381 litres, and comparable to its rivals (apart from the capacious Octavia). You can fold the rear seats down in a 60/40 split if you want more room.
General storage space is excellent, with big door pockets front and back, a large glove box, storage under the centre armrest and beneath the dash, and two cupholders in the middle.
The standard Volkswagen Golf was tested by independent safety organisation Euro NCAP in 2019, and scored the maximum five stars. As there’s only one trim level for the GTE, all examples get plenty of the latest safety tech, including automatic emergency braking and a lane assist system that stops you inadvertently drifting out of your lane. Adaptive cruise control is also included, as is emergency assist, which will alert you should you fail to touch the steering wheel for 10 seconds while on the motorway. Fail to respond and it’ll turn on the hazard lights, steer the car into the left hand lane and bring it to a controlled stop. A blind spot warning system is also included, as is rear traffic alert, which warns you of oncoming traffic when reversing out of a parking space.
All models also get front, side and curtain airbags and Isofix child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats and front passenger seat.
There’s just one trim level in the Golf GTE, which makes your decision more straightforward. It’s a high-spec model, riding on 17-inch alloy wheels with a sporty body kit and LED lights. The brake calipers are painted red and GTE badges adorn the bodywork. Inside, you get a heated steering wheel, keyless entry and start and three-zone climate control air conditioning.
Options include an upgraded infotainment system that you can control by gesturing at the dashboard, a panoramic sunroof and heated front seats, as well as a head-up display and rear-view camera. A choice of paint colours, upholstery finishes and alloy wheel designs are available too.
There are more and more midsize family cars with plug-in hybrid powertrains coming to market, so this list may well have gotten longer since it was written. But if you’re considering the Golf GTE there are several immediate rivals that you should look at. These include other cars from the same parent company – the Volkswagen Group – namely the Audi A3 TFSIe, the Seat Leon eHybrid and Skoda Octavia iV. These don’t have quite the same hot hatch pretensions as the Golf, but they’re still all decent in their own way. The Audi has a great interior, and the Skoda is immensely practical. Having said all that, if you are focusing on performance then look at the Octavia vRS iV, and the Cupra Leon.
As an all-rounder, the Volkswagen Golf GTE is very appealing and treads an attractive middle ground. It’s not as fun as a GTI, but it does a passable impression, yet can run for miles without burning any petrol. It loses a bit of practicality compared to a normal Golf, and there are more practical PHEV alternatives, but overall, the Golf should be very near the top of your list when it comes to a plug-in hatchback.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the VW Golf GTE
**Correct as of 07/07/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2,943.58 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.