- Easy to use
- All the usual Volkswagen refinements and premium design elements
- Prospect of electric-only commuting
- Lots of space
- EV battery-only mode range not the best
- Feels heavy at times
- Not compatible with rapid chargers
Are you ready to plug-in yet? In an environment where many are shunning diesel, yet where many petrol models still don’t deliver stellar fuel economy (and have a tax bill to go with them), plug-in hybrids look like the ideal option for the discerning motorist.
Volkswagen is just one manufacturer to offer a growing range of plug-in hybrids – marketed under the GTE sub-brand. We’ve driven the Golf GTE in its pre-facelift form, but the Passat GTE estate, as reviewed here, is an interesting option because it’s at the larger end of the car size spectrum, providing space that exceeds an Audi A4.
What is a plug-in hybrid?
The idea of a plug-in hybrid is to offer the best of both electric and fuel worlds. The ability to drive on the electric battery only on shorter trips, but the reassurance of having a petrol engine on board, to allow you to go further when you need to without running out of juice. Then, when home, simply plug into a socket and recharge the battery.
Proponents says that plug-in hybrids offer the perfect stepping stone to full electric cars (EVs) as we wait for battery tech to improve so we can can travel further on a single charge, and at less cost. Plug-ins are perfect for most people who have a typical, relatively short commute. The average daily mileage in the UK is 19 miles, which is theoretically within the Passat GTE’s electric-only range.
Some critics, on the other hand, say that plug-in hybrids simply don’t offer the claimed environmental emissions savings or fuel economy in the real world. And because you’re dragging round a normal petrol engine and an electric battery, they weight more and are fundamentally inefficient as a result.
What’s a Passat GTE?
In the case of the Passat GTE, the specifics of the setup are a 1.4-litre, turbo-charged petrol engine under the bonnet, rated at 156hp. And a 9.9 KwH lithium-ion battery pack, which supplies an electric motor, rated at 115hp. Join the two together, and the total maximum power available is 218hp, which rockets the Passat GTE estate from 0-62 mph in 7.6 seconds.
On the official fuel cycle, it’s rated at a slightly silly-sounding 156.9mpg fuel economy average (more on that in a minute), can cover 31 miles on electric power alone, and emits just 40g/km CO2. Which is one of the GTE’s trump cards: because it attracts a benefit in kind (BIK) company car tax of 9 per cent. Even with a list price of nearly £40K, that makes the Passat GTE highly attractive to company car users, because in comparison, the regular 2.0 TDi diesel Passat attracts 26 per cent BIK.
The reality of these figures, however, needs taking with a pinch of salt. Buy a Passat and expect to average 156mpg and you’ll be disappointed. Expect to go 31 miles on the battery alone and you’ll also be left frustrated. Unfortunately, the official fuel cycle figures (which, we hasten to add, aren’t VW’s doing – it’s just a rating process every car goes through in the EU) flatter plug-in hybrids. Volkswagen says realistic battery range is about 25 miles. The most we managed to achieve was 16 miles – although temperatures during our week with the Passat averaged zero degrees Celsius. And we know lithium-ion batteries hate the cold (as do we!)…..Read more>>