Not the saviour, but still much to savour
You can enjoy the GTE even if you’re not swayed by its supposed green beneits.
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.