Not the saviour, but still much to savour

You can en­joy the GTE even if you’re not swayed by its sup­posed green bene­its.

CAR (UK) - - Our Cars - By Colin Over­land

AS WELL AS the Count The Cost panel on this page there could also use­fully be a Count Your Bless­ings el­e­ment. My fi­nal drive in the Golf GTE in­volved meet­ing up with Ben Pul­man and swap­ping my calm, com­fort­able, clever VW for his fran­tic, fid­gety, fast Ford. Not that there isn’t much to be said for the Fo­cus RS, but to en­joy it you need to be on the right sort of jour­ney and in the right frame of mind. If you’re not on a mis­sion, you’re in the wrong car.

The Golf, by con­trast, is only sixth-tenths of a hot hatch, but nine-tenths of a very de­cent com­pact all-rounder. The cabin isn’t per­fect but it is classy, com­fort­able, de­cently roomy and rea­son­ably well equipped (in Ad­vance form, which in­cludes sat­nav and heated front seats). The han­dling could be live­lier and so could the en­gine, but the whole dy­namic set-up is re­spon­sive and ac­cu­rate.

And, even though the Golf tem­plate is now 40-odd years old, it still looks very smart – and, at night, in white, down­right strik­ing, thanks to those C-shaped LEDs, bor­rowed from the rarely seen e-Golf. Loi­ter­ing around while pho­tog­ra­pher Chris Tea­gles went about his busi­ness, not one passer-by was re­motely in­ter­ested in it be­ing a hy­brid, but plenty ad­mired it and sev­eral asked if it was an all-new model.

Which is the op­po­site of what it ac­tu­ally is. The Golf el­e­ments are part of a long, evolv­ing tra­di­tion that’s surely not fin­ished yet. But the hy­brid as­pect feels tem­po­rary; some­thing bet­ter will be along soon, whether ‘bet­ter’ means lighter bat­ter­ies, or more range per charge, or some­thing less fore­see­able.

In the here and now, the GTE may be flawed as an elec­tri­fied fu­ture-car, but it’s a pain­less in­tro­duc­tion to liv­ing with a hy­brid. You can plug it in, or not. You can charge the bat­tery from the en­gine, or not. You can drive it eco­nom­i­cally, or not. You can blitz your brain with stats and di­a­grams show­ing en­ergy us­age, or not.

By the end of our six months with the Golf I was essen­tially treat­ing it as a petrol car with a big bat­tery and a small boot, and was sur­prised when every so of­ten I had the op­por­tu­nity to plug it in and get a few free miles, either of elec­tric-only run­ning (fine in town, but a hope­less lack of top speed on the open road) or mixed petrol and elec­tric run­ning. How­ever of­ten I plugged it in, and how­ever eco­nom­i­cally I some­times drove, and how­ever much I tried to fid­dle the fig­ures, it never got any­where near the of­fi­cial com­bined fig­ure of 157mpg (that’s for the Ad­vance; the smaller-wheeled reg­u­lar GTE claims 166mpg). Based on our ex­pe­ri­ence you can get around 60mpg rather than 40mpg if you give it a four-hour charge every 100 miles.

As you’d hope when your car is less than 8000 miles old, this GTE still scrubs up very nicely, and ev­ery­thing still feels more or less new. There are, how­ever, a cou­ple of things that want sort­ing out, namely some loose stitch­ing on the pad of the front pas­sen­ger seat and a small dent on the rear off­side pas­sen­ger door. No one’s claim­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity, but these are dam­age caused by us, not de­sign flaws.

When you con­sider the fi­nan­cial ad­van­tages (no road tax, thanks to the low CO2 out­put, and very good ben­e­fit-in-kind rates for fleet driv­ers) you can see why the GTE makes sense. But would you buy this car two own­ers down the line? You’d have to think twice. Will there be a big bill for re­plac­ing wornout bat­ter­ies? Will it still be com­pat­i­ble with what­ever charg­ing sys­tems are then in op­er­a­tion? Will its elec­tric-only range look even more hope­lessly lim­ited than it does to­day? You wouldn’t need to be much of a gam­bler to reckon that a petrol or even diesel Golf would be a smarter buy right now.

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