The Volkswagen Golf GTE is the plug-in hybrid variant of one of Britain’s most popular family hatchbacks. Those letters – “GT” – only get applied to the faster Golfs so the GTE also needs to be quick to convince people from the established GTD and GTI.
For buyers looking for a fast Volkswagen Golf that won’t break the bank when they come to fill it up the diesel GTD has already been on sale for a while – so why should they chose the electric usurper over the already proven GTD?
There’s little-to-nothing to separate the styling of the GTE and GTD. Both use a GTI-inspired bodykit, though, the GTE’s is shaped slightly differently to accommodate the c-shaped LED running lights and has horizontal slats instead of a honeycomb grille.
The biggest change to the exterior is the elements of coloured detail are coded to whichever model. On the GTI details are red, on the GTD they’re grey and, on the GTE, they’re an electric blue – marking it out as the plug-in hybrid variant.
Inside, the same theme is continued so, where trim would be red in the GTI or grey in the GTD, it’s blue in the GTE. This includes the stitching on the seats, steering wheel and tartan pattern cloth seats. New dials are probably the biggest clue that the GTE has a non-conventional powertrain under the bonnet.
Both are effectively the same for cabin space – it is, ultimately, the same car. The GTE, however, has to store its battery pack in the boot meaning it loses 100 litres of space compared to the GTD. This is only likely to be a problem if you regularly transport dogs around.
Both cars share suspension and brakes and, as a result, there’s nothing to split them in terms of handling. The only difference is the GTE’s extra 130kg of batteries over the GTD but you’d have to be the most determined of race drivers to actually notice.
Volkswagen does claim that, with the positioning of the batteries, the weight balance from front to back has been optimised on the GTE more than the GTD or GTI but, once again, we suspect you simply won’t notice.
This is where the true difference between the GTD and the GTE emerges. The GTD is powered by a conventional 2.0-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder putting 184hp to the ground through either a six-speed manual or twin-clutch DSG automatic. Torque is the overriding sensation in the GTD with 280lb ft of the stuff punching you down the road.
Some critics have mentioned that the diesel-nature of the GTD compromises the driving excitement because it neither accelerates with the gusto of the petrol GTI nor sounds anywhere near as good. Purists committed to the manual gearbox better stick to the GTI or GTD because the GTE is auto only.
The GTE, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. A 1.4-litre turbo petrol delivers 148hp to the front wheels through a six-speed DSG auto. This is supplemented by a 101hp electric motor. As the motor and engine make their power differently, overall system output is 201hp with 258lb ft of torque.
On paper the two are closely matched for performance but the extra weight of the GTE just gives the GTD the edge. The GTD will hit 62mph from rest in 7.5 seconds while the GTE takes 7.6. Equally, the GTE’s 138mph top speed is 5mph short of the GTD’s.
The GTD is certainly efficient – it returns 67.3mph on average. This would be impressive if it weren’t for the GTE’s trump card – its plug-in hybrid setup allows it to achieve 166mpg and emit just 39g/km of CO2. For journeys under 31 miles, the GTE’s electric-only mode means these journeys can be completed without using the engine at all, saving you money.
Critics generally agree that neither is as much outright fun as the GTI and both are more expensive. Both, however, will easily go much farther between fill-ups than the GTI.
It’s a case of picking which car is better suited to your driving style. If you do lots of motorway miles then we’d recommend sticking with the GTD – the GTE’s electric powertrain is less effective at sustained high speeds, whereas they’re something of a specialty for diesels.
If you do a mixture of driving, with plenty of it in city centres, then the GTE is a much more compelling proposition. It’s petrol engine makes it feel a little more exciting than the GTD and its electric capability gives it an added dimension of versatility for zero-emissions motoring.
So what now?
We’ll have a full review of the GTE on the site soon but check out our preview of Volkswagen’s new plug-in hybrid before committing to one. Why not check our reviews of the Golf GTI, GTD and R to see the range of fast Golfs, then head over to our configurator to specify your own.