The Power to Love

Danny Cobbs plugs in the new Volkswagen Golf GTE Hybrid

By the time you read this Apple would have launched the iPhone 6. Fanatics, nerds and techy-types have been camping outside the Apple store in London for days now, and for one sole reason; to be the first to own the latest device for mobile communications.

And they’ll get it home, open the box, fawn over it, fire it up, and then wonder why they put their life on hold, spent days braving the elements, having to pee in a Starbucks Styrofoam cup, and all for a phone which isn’t that much cleverer than the one it supersedes.

It’s not like the first iPhone, where Steve Jobs revolutionised the mobile phone. He made it smarter, easier to use, and more beautiful than anything we had ever seen before. Maybe it’s me, and perhaps I’m a bit old and cynical about these matters, but haven’t we reached a sort of impasse when it now comes to mobile phones?

We could say the same thing about cars. Or could we? If we’re talking about the majority of engines which drive today’s new cars, then, up to a certain point, probably yes. However, if it’s plug-in hybrids we’re discussing, then that answer is a little less clear.

There’s a new breed of hybrids on the way, and Volkswagen are leading the advance with the new Golf GTE.  The theory behind the Golf GTE is not actually that radical – cars with both a combustion and electric engine combo have been around for years.

What makes the GTE so special – and if we’re going to use the mobile phone as a metaphor – is the advancement in its electric drivetrain technology; the difference is as blatant as analogue is to digital.

There is, however, a sense of familiarity which also makes the GTE so utterly brilliant. This defiance and quest to ensure it remains nothing other than a hot hatchback is as intelligent and forward-thinking as the technology which decides the exact moment to seamlessly engage its 1.4-litre TSI 150bhp petrol engine.

The 101bhp electric motor, which has been integrated into the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, is the default source of power; meaning there’s nothing but an eerie silence and a smugness of zero emissions as you start to drive off. And it’s good for about 31 miles and up to 80 mph.

Then, thereafter, the engine management takes over and left to its own devices it’ll quietly get on with job in hand; switching between the two engines, or harnessing them both, to give some very admirable performance figures – 0-62mph in 7.6seconds, a top speed of 135mph, 176mpg, and total range of 580 miles on one tank of fuel.

Within the hybrid-mode menu there is the option to ‘battery charge’, which isolates the battery energy in anticipation of a pure electric power journey later on. Hooking it up to a domestic electric plug socket will take about three hours to fully re-charge, or there’s the internal regenerating system which acts like a glorified alternator by exploiting lost brake energy together with power from the 1.4-litre engine.

This may all seem like an engineering PhD thesis waiting to be to be written, but it really isn’t. The bottom line is the GTE is as exhilarating, and no more difficult to drive, than a standard automatic GTI.

At some stage car manufacturers had to say, “Given the technology we have available to us today, this is as good as plug-in hybrids will ever get”, and that’s exactly where VW are with the GTE. So unless something monumentally more advanced arrives in the meantime, this Golf will remain one of the best plug-in hybrids currently on the market.
Volkswagen Golf GTE

Engines: 1.4-litre petrol and electric motor
Price: £28,000 (est) after £5000 Govt grant
Power: 201bhp (combined)
Torque: 258lb ft
0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Top speed: 135mph
Maximum electric-only range: 31 miles
CO2: 35g/km