Volkswagen Passat GTE: Plugged-in Passat

VW adds a long range plug-in hybrid to the Passat line-up.

VW’s executive saloon goes green with the plug-in hybrid GTE. A nature lover dressed in a business suit, the Passat GTE delivers all the style and status a busy professional would need, without the conspicuous consumption inherent in prestige cars. But expect it to be more pricey than diesel models.

Over eight generations, the VW Passat has evolved from a slightly odd-proportioned family car into today’s handsome saloon. The Passat can now line up against more prestigious rivals although it is close to stepping on the toes of sister-brand, Audi. The GTE suffix was first used on the Golf plug-in hybrid and the technology has now been introduced to the Passat range, reducing emissions and improving fuel economy for a car that traditionally covers higher mileage.

VW has had a tough time following the group’s admission of cheating in emissions tests, and has since found what it has described as “irregularities” which may render the official CO2 figures of some models inaccurate at some point in the future. This shouldn’t take away from the fact that the Passat GTE uses technology which will reduce the model’s impact on the environment, and can potentially save owners money in the long term.

Moving off from a standstill, the big family car always begins in silent electric mode. Once on the move, and when it is more prudent to save battery-life to use later on in the journey, e-Mode can be turned off and the 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine will take over. As the GTE drives in this setting it will be recharging the battery pack and making full use of regenerative braking to top up the electricity on board. When the two power units are working together they produce a combined 215bhp which allows the saloon to accelerate to 62mph in 7.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 140 mph. The characteristics of an electric motor means that the full power is available instantly, unlike in an internal combustion unit where the maximum output is only available when it reaches a certain engine speed. This can often have the effect of making a hybrid or electric car feel quicker than the figures suggest. The Passat GTE can achieve 81mph on electric mode, so there is no concern about travelling at motorway speeds, and the battery range should last around 31miles of zero emissions motoring before the petrol engine takes over.

After seven generations of slightly quirky design, the eighth VW Passat has emerged as a rather handsome, well proportioned automobile. The GTE variant is available in both saloon and estate body-styles which gives this hybrid excellent load carrying ability and versatility. The exterior is thoroughly modern and gives the newer Passat a more prestigious appearance than its predecessor. An narrow blue line across the top of the grille identifies this as the plug-in hybrid model.  A high-quality, if simple interior reinforces the grand touring purpose of the GTE with comfortable ergonomic seats designed to reduce driver fatigue on longer journeys.

Compared to the diesel models, the only compromise in space is down to the placement of the lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seats which has resulted in the fuel tank taking up some hidden storage space in boot of the car. The added mass of the batteries will, most likely, be noticeable when cornering, or under heavy braking, as the low centre of gravity and a carefully balanced weight distribution should ensure the car will behave normally most of the time.  The Passat GTE has been built to VW’s stringent quality standards so reliability should not be a concern.

The price is yet to be revealed, but expect a premium over the diesel Passat GT. Anything above £35,000 will take away much of the incentive for owning the GTE, but the government grant for plug-in vehicles will help. VW are known for sharing platforms across different brands so we may  see a Skoda Superb hybrid at some stage, in an effort to keep the price reasonable. The 1.6-litre diesel Passat BlueMotion remains an attractive alternative with the same elegant style, zero road tax, and returning 76.3mpg, so the final price of the GTE model will have to be competitive to make it the preferred choice.

As a hybrid, the Passat GTE faces competition from the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and the all-electric Tesla Model S. The GTE comes with Car-Net Guide & Inform, a system that delivers information such as traffic, petrol prices, and free parking, to the navigation screen through a range of apps. Many of these apps can be controlled via your smartphone. Car-Net e-Remote allows you to monitor the charge of your GTE battery, and can help direct you to your Passat if you’ve returned to a busy car park without remembering where exactly you had parked.

The official figures claim that the VW Passat GTE will return 166mpg and emit just 39g/km CO2.  VW’s tarnished record on emissions testing aside, these official figures mean there is no tax to pay but, as with any plug-in hybrid, many factors can affect the cost of re-fuelling such as what method you use to charge the battery pack. If the car is only used for short commutes, travelling less than 30 miles a day, and recharged regularly overnight it is conceivable that the GTE can be run entirely on off-peak electricity, costing pennies rather than pounds to consume. The combined range of the petrol and electric motor is around 620 miles making it a choice car for longer journeys.

The estimated high initial price of the hybrid Passat GTE will see it depreciate much faster than comparable diesel models.  This is because the cost of the technology inflates the retail price much higher than the true market value a VW Passat.  It will, in theory, make a good used purchase, but it has to get through the new car market first, and success there will depend largely on how much more pricey the GTE is going to be.

The eighth generation VW Passat is a fine-looking family car, with competitive performance and versatility, available in saloon and estate body styles. The new GTE derivative is well equipped and comfortable enough to endure the high mileage it is built to cover, yet the plug-in hybrid technology gives this Passat a zero-emissions mode – useful in cities like London where polluting cars will soon be outlawed. Both petrol and electric power units can work independently or in unison to handle most driving situations efficiently. The tasteful design gives the Passat GTE a premium look, but whether it can justify the anticipated premium price, or not, will remain to be seen.

The estate version of the GTE makes most sense from a practicality point of view but, when the 1.6-litre BlueMotion diesel variant appears to be so frugal, it becomes harder to make the economic case for the expensive hybrid option.

The edited, published version of this article can be found here: The RAC

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