2018 Volkswagen Golf GTE
The Volkswagen Golf GTE is the first plug-in hybrid Golf

Caroline drives the Volkswagen Golf GTE.

There’s never been a better time to talk about alternative fuel vehicles and when the world’s most recognisable hatchback starts dabbling in electric and hybrid power, we know there’s something up. While the majority of the over 4000 Golfs sold in Ireland each year are still petrol and diesel models, the current Golf range also features an electric Golf (‘e-Golf’) and a petrol-electric, plug-in hybrid (Golf GTE). It’s the Volkswagen Golf GTE that’s the subject of this review.

The Volkswagen Golf GTE’s hybrid powertrain offers buyers more flexibility than a pure electric vehicle (EV) making it a good transition model for those still a bit anxious about the logistics of relying on battery power only and the availability of charge points for longer journeys. Plug-in hybrids are something of a half-way house though – at the moment they offer a limited range on electric power compared to a full EV. But running costs are potentially very low, without any of the range anxiety that can blight EV ownership.

It also helps that Volkswagen has ensured that their plug-in hybrid Golf is anything but a nerdy ecowagen with dull styling and lethargic performance. Interestingly the brand took the brave step to market the new Volkswagen Golf GTE as something akin to sporty variants of the Golf like the GTI and GTD. It certainly piques interest in the Golf GTE. However, it is expensive and with grants the list price is €40,050. So the Golf GTE is not just pitched like a plug-in hybrid performance hatchback – it’s also priced like one!

The Volkswagen Golf GTE
The 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTE has a list price of €40,050 in Ireland

The Volkswagen Golf GTE is a stylish, sporty hybrid

Refreshed models of Volkswagen’s popular Mark 7 Golf arrived in Ireland in 2017 and the Golf GTE has received the same cosmetic and interior upgrades. The Volkswagen Golf GTE looks smart and distinguishing features include C-shaped LED daytime running lights, full LED headlights and rear lights with sweeping indicators, a blue strip that runs through the grille and lights, 18″ alloy wheels with blue brake calipers, rear spoiler, and GTE badging.

Inside there is the same reassuring quality and layout to the interior as the other models in the Golf range, with GTE models adding some additional blue detailing (as opposed to red in the GTI). The upgrades as part of the Golf facelift have been very successful and the GTE gets a new 8″ infotainment system with clear glass touchscreen and a full digital instrument panel. These features really lift the cabin and the Golf GTE is every bit the premium hatchback.

The GTE also has some fabulous sports seats with classic ‘Clark’ upholstery. Other standard features include dual zone air con, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, ambient lighting, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.

The GTE also has an ‘e-manager’, allowing the driver to preset vehicle charging, as well as interior cooling or heating. These functions can be operated remotely using the Car-Net app on a smartphone.

On a practical note, the Golf GTE offers competitive interior accommodation for a five door hatchback. Unfortunately the Golf GTE has a smaller boot to accommodate the battery, down from 380 litres in a regular Golf to 272 litres in the GTE.

The interior of the Volkswagen Golf GTE
The interior of the Volkswagen Golf GTE

Can the Volkswagen Golf GTE be powerful and efficient?

The Volkswagen Golf GTE combines a 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol with an electric motor to produce 204hp. In terms of power and acceleration the Golf GTE is very lively indeed with 0 to 100 km/h achieved in 7.6 seconds. CO2 emissions are 40g/km so motor tax is just €170 per year.

As a plug-in hybrid the Golf GTE can be charged at home in about 3.5 hours or using the public charging system in about 2 hours. On a full battery in real life terms you will be able to drive on pure electric power for about 30 km. But this electric range is best suited to stop/start urban driving because high speeds on the open road will deplete the battery power more rapidly.

And you need to keep that battery topped up for the overall efficiency of the car, even in the hybrid driving modes. I spent most of the time driving in the basic hybrid mode where the car draws power from the engine and battery as appropriate with a bias towards efficiency. My fuel consumption over a few days of driving was 6.3 litres per 100kms. That’s good for a petrol hatchback but I imagine you could do better than this with a less heavy right foot and driving the car more in pure EV mode.

There is also a GTE mode where you can tap into the sporty side of the car. The GTE mode adds weight to the steering and changes the shift timings of the 6-speed DSG automatic gearbox, making the throttle response more urgent, while pumping some augmented engine noise into the cabin! The last point will probably shock some purists but the 1.4-litre TSI doesn’t sound very menacing by itself so it needs a bit of help in that department.

Rear seating space in the Volkswagen Golf GTE
Rear seating space in the Volkswagen Golf GTE

So what’s the Volkswagen Golf GTE like to drive?

On the road the Golf GTE retains its intrinsic ‘Golfness’ in that it’s smooth and agile, refined and comfortable. As a hybrid vehicle, it’s impressive for its refinement and the ease of which it moves between engine and electric power. Digital displays keep the driver informed on things such as range, efficiency and what part of the system is active at any given time. The Golf GTE is on the heavy side weighing 1,615kg but it still remains flat and balanced through corners. The steering is fluid and precise but there is no real feedback. While the battery boosted acceleration in GTE mode is impressive by itself, the car is lacking a playful edge and the sort of sweaty palm inducing driving dynamics that marks out the best of the hot hatchbacks, including its own stable mate, the Golf GTI.

The Volkswagen Golf GTE performs well as just a regular, efficient plug-in hybrid, if you can make use of that electric range and drive it in a balanced way. The Golf GTE is expensive but it’s more exciting and refined to drive than many other plug-in hybrids on the market, retaining all the basic Golf qualities that make it a car loved by millions.

However, the problems arise when you start to view the Golf GTE through the lens of a performance hatchback because though it’s fast, it’s not particularly engaging. Still for the right buyer, the Volkswagen Golf GTE is a smart, refined and prestigious plug-in hybrid hatchback.

Volkswagen Golf GTE
The Volkswagen Golf GTE is a smart, prestigious and refined plug-in hybrid

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: Volkswagen Golf GTE plug-in hybrid
Engine: 1.4-litre turbo petrol + electric motor
Torque: 350Nm
7.6 seconds
Top speed: 222km/h
Claimed Economy: 
CO2 emissions:  
Motor tax: 
€170 per year