Monday 24 October 2016

Golf GTE: The pros and cons of driving plug-in

Hybrid ideal for town but not big drives

Published 11/09/2016 | 02:30

The Volkswagen Golf GTE.
The Volkswagen Golf GTE.

Judging by recent reviews here, you'd be forgiven for thinking I was on some sort of low-price rampage. I'd prefer to think of it as being more about proper value for money.

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This week's car, on the face of it, looks far from being either lower priced or good value.

The only difference between the Volkswagen Golf GTE plug-in hybrid and some of the other conventional models I have driven recently is that you, and only you, get to decide how much it can transform your ownership costs to justify its price premium.

It really was a case of petrol tank half-full or half-empty on my test drives.

Around town, the hybrid combination of 1.4-litre petrol engine and electric motor in short stop-start journeys showed quite graphically where its strengths lay.

If you have a 50km/60km round-trip commute, you can make it on electric charge alone provided you plug in at home and at the office if possible.

It is quite an effective way of keeping costs down. That's what you call doing your bit for your pocket and the environment.

Without being a slave to slower driving or boosting battery reserves, it didn't take a genius to see what was happening on my drives.

The electric side of the equation stepped in every chance it got. The fuel needle barely moved. This made sense. I was quite buoyed by the exercise.

Unfortunately, the reverse applied on longer journeys. I'm afraid the petrol gauge went south with us on our drive to Wexford and back. And I wasn't driving hard at all.

The 1.4-litre petrol was much thirstier than I expected and was less of a proposition for longer trips than I'd hoped. Which makes the €40,000 price all the harder to justify.

But let's give it all the benefits of the doubt we can muster and compare it with a nicely-specced diesel Golf at around €30,000. To be fair, my version was heavily decked out and had, among other things, adaptive cruise control (keeps a pre-set distance to the car in front).

But I reckon you'd still be a long, long time making up the difference in outlay - if at all - even if you charge it up religiously. So why bother? The tank is half-empty, right?

For now, maybe, but times are changing fast. There is a longer-term regulatory perspective which explains why these plug-ins are favoured by the makers and governments (ours proffers generous rebates and incentives).

Basically, they lower the carbon footprint - at least on paper. And as the years slip by, it is likely that plug-ins will benefit from their 'green' image while petrols and diesels (especially diesels) will face ever tougher, and costlier-to-meet, regulatory standards.

I don't expect a flood of GTE buying, but the latest official figures suggest there has been a strong enough take-up.

There are people out there who see it as a genuine way of cutting emissions and, to a lesser degree I believe, costs.

I don't think the Golf GTE is the best exponent of the art of saving on ownership costs quite yet. But from a driving perspective, I was far more pleasantly surprised. There was a different feel to the car altogether. On electric drive alone it was remarkably quiet and, to be fair, the engine slipped in silently, too.

I really doubt the official claim of 50km or anywhere near it on one electric charge, but it certainly did 28km on one trip.

However, I honestly could not see it approaching the 900km-plus total (petrol and electric) that Volkswagen claim the GTE can cover on one tank. Nor do I believe the official consumption figure of around 1.5 litres/100km. If you got that, you'd only be spending €1.80 to cover 100kms. On that basis I'd be heavily recommending it. But you won't get that, I promise. Real life is different, as I found. You'd be doing well to get 100kms on twice that sum on a moderate mix of electric commutes and slightly longer hybrid journeys. And three times that on the sort of trip profiles I had to undertake.

As with so many things in life, it is a matter of horses for courses. The GTE has, as of now, limited appeal.

It is a lovely car to drive, highly equipped and, with its lower chassis, a smart, sharp handler.

That, however, all goes by the wayside unless you can see yourself getting a return of sorts for your money.

No matter what way you look at it, €40,000 for the GTE involves a serious amount of charging - both electrical and financial.

Facts & figures

Volkswagen Golf GTE plug-in hybrid; 1.4-litre petrol (204hp), electric motor (75hp); 50km on electric charge; 39 g/km, €170 road tax. Starts: €38,495; delivery €775; total with options: €40,012

Standard spec includes adaptive cruise control, 2-zone climate control, 18ins alloys, park distance controls, sports suspension (body lowered 15mm), GTE sport seats (lumbar support)/brake calipers (blue)/radiator grille etc; Mode 2 charging cable, technology pack.

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