Volk­swa­gen is com­mit­ted to an elec­tric fu­ture, and to get us used to the idea it has cre­ated a hy­brid hot hatch, the Golf GTE. But could it re­ally tempt us out of the lat­est Golf GTI Per­for­mance?


The world’s favourite hot hatch may go elec­tric one day, but how does the hy­brid GTE com­pare with the GTI in the here and now?

TTHERE ARE RU­MOURS TH AT, in the not too dis­tant fu­ture, the Golf GTI – the hot hatch sta­ple by which all oth­ers are mea­sured – will be­come fully elec­tric.

Purists and diehard Golf GTI fans will fer­vently object to the con­cept, but to ease us into such a rad­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, VW has pro­duced the GTE: a part petrol, part elec­tric hot hatch. Here, in its facelifted and up­dated ‘Mk7.5’ form (the white car in these pic­tures), is it good enough to tempt the more pro­gres­sive car en­thu­si­ast away from buy­ing the petrol-pow­ered norm? VW’S re­freshed Golf GTI Per­for­mance (the red car) is the ideal yard­stick to help us an­swer such a ques­tion.

The GTE’S driv­e­train com­prises a 75kw (101bhp) elec­tric mo­tor that slots be­tween a 148bhp 1.4-litre four­cylin­der turbo petrol en­gine and a six-speed twin-clutch gear­box that sends drive to the front wheels. The re­sult is re­spectable, if not as­tound­ing, with peak com­bined out­puts of 201bhp and 258lb ft of torque, and a 0-62mph time of 7.6sec. As well as boost­ing the GTE’S per­for­mance, the elec­tric mo­tor also al­lows the hy­brid to drive 31 miles with­out re­sort­ing to the petrol en­gine. That dis­tance is only achieved if its batteries (mounted be­neath the rear seat) are fully charged, which you do by plug­ging the GTE into the mains via a socket be­hind the front badge.

It’s not the hard­ware or fig­ures that sug­gest that the GTE is more than just an or­di­nary hy­brid; its shared body­work and Gti-like de­tails write the big­gest cheques. Its pur­pose­ful stance, rear spoiler and deep front bumper mean the GTE looks ev­ery bit the typ­i­cal hot hatch. Inside, its sport­ing in­ten­tions are less overt, with lit­tle more than some bright blue stitch­ing around the steer­ing wheel to add sparkle to the plain-look­ing but high-qual­ity in­te­rior. This sense of class con­tin­ues as you pull away, the elec­tric

mo­tor spir­it­ing you along silently while the con­trols and ride give an over­rid­ing sense of so­lid­ity.

Or­di­nar­ily, it’s dis­ap­point­ing when the petrol en­gine of a hy­brid car sparks into life – hy­brid hy­per­cars not­with­stand­ing. There’s usu­ally a nasty bark of a weedy mo­tor ac­com­pa­nied by a lurch as the two power sources un­will­ingly work to­gether to main­tain mo­men­tum. The GTE, on the other hand, seam­lessly feeds the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine into play; it’s so grad­ual and un­ob­tru­sive it’s as if the en­gine starts just one cylin­der at a time so you’re barely aware you’ve wo­ken it.

The hy­brid Golf’s ap­ti­tude at tran­si­tion­ing be­tween elec­tric­ity and petrol al­most makes you re­luc­tant to en­gage its sportier mode, but press the ‘GTE’ but­ton along­side the gear­lever and the car uses both of its mo­tors to in­crease per­for­mance rather than im­prove ef­fi­ciency. This hardly trans­forms the GTE, though: it ac­cel­er­ates in a pur­pose­ful rather than shock­ing man­ner, just as it does in its more ef­fi­cient de­fault mode. The most no­table dif­fer­ence is a more pro­nounced syn­thetic rum­ble from the en­gine and through the speak­ers.

You do some­times feel the in­stant shove that’s typ­i­cal of cars with part-elec­tric or fully elec­tric power, but in the GTE the sen­sa­tion is rare. Be­cause the elec­tric mo­tor sits be­tween the en­gine and the gear­box, you of­ten have to wait for the DSG ’box to shuf­fle into a lower ra­tio to feel the true per­for­mance on of­fer, and such ac­cel­er­a­tion is less im­pres­sive if there’s a de­lay be­fore it’s de­ployed. How­ever, if you se­lect the cor­rect gear man­u­ally and ap­ply the throt­tle when the en­gine’s revving be­tween 2500 and 3000rpm, be­ing very careful not to en­croach into the kick­down stage of the ac­cel­er­a­tor’s travel, you do get that sud­den elec­tric boost. So many el­e­ments need to slot into place be­fore you can ex­pe­ri­ence this, though, that try­ing to utilise it while tack­ling a twisty road is im­pos­si­ble.

But then the GTE’S chas­sis, while com­pe­tent, doesn’t en­cour­age spir­ited driv­ing, so punchy, in­stant ac­cel­er­a­tion seems less of a ne­ces­sity. A touch too much roll means a cer­tain amount of slack needs to be taken up be­fore the GTE wants to change di­rec­tion. It suits a more re­laxed driv­ing style, to which it re­sponds in a fluid man­ner.

Over­come that urge to drive se­dately and an in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic is un­veiled. The en­ergy re­cu­per­a­tion that oc­curs the mo­ment you lift off the throt­tle works like very ag­gres­sive en­gine brak­ing, so com­ing off the ac­cel­er­a­tor abrubtly when you’ve got steer­ing lock ap­plied can un­set­tle the rear of the car. Not in an im­me­di­ate or snappy way; in­stead the rear be­gins to arc slowly around be­fore the sta­bil­ity con­trol – which can­not be dis­abled – cuts in and straight­ens things out. Or­di­nar­ily such tight re­straints would be frus­trat­ing, but rather than man­i­fest­ing them­selves as use­ful ad­justa­bil­ity to cor­rect your line, the GTE’S on-limit ten­den­cies feel more like a slide that might build into some­thing not so eas­ily man­aged with­out a help­ing hand from the elec­tron­ics. The GTE, then, leaves plenty of room for the GTI to shine.

The GTI Per­for­mance’s turbo 2-litre four-cylin­der en­gine is much more typ­i­cal of a mod­ern hot hatch. It’s 242bhp – up 15bhp from the old Per­for­mance Pack GTI, and from the lat­est reg­u­lar GTI too – is also much closer to par than the GTE’S out­put, as is its 6.2sec 0-62mph time.

As with its ex­te­rior styling, the GTI’S in­te­rior is al­most iden­ti­cal to the GTE’S, but where there is blue in the

hy­brid the petrol gets splashes of red. The real dif­fer­ences be­tween the two emerge the mo­ment you start driv­ing. The GTI sim­ply can’t match the part-elec­tric Golf for lowspeed com­fort; the ride is more fid­gety and the thrummy en­gine noise – ef­fec­tively the same sound as the GTE’S en­gine in its per­for­mance mode, al­beit lower in pitch – is frankly an­noy­ing once you’ve be­come ac­cus­tomed to the seren­ity of elec­tric propul­sion.

How­ever, the GTI is much bet­ter suited to an en­vi­ron­ment out­side towns and cities, and at the first hint of a cor­ner it shows how much more lithe and alert it is com­pared with its hy­brid brother. The quoted weight for the GTI is 228kg lighter than the GTE’S, and you can feel the ben­e­fit in the GTI’S will­ing­ness to change di­rec­tion.

This lack of mass means that, de­spite the GTE’S sup­pos­edly in­stant torque, which only an elec­tric mo­tor can pro­vide, the GTI re­sponds more en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to throt­tle inputs. It pulls re­ally hard as you exit a cor­ner, and its stan­dard lim­ited-slip diff al­lows you to get on the power very early. The way the GTI drives is much more

‘You do some­times feel the in­stant shove that’s typ­i­cal of cars with elec­tric power, but in the GTE the sen­sa­tion is rare’

trans­par­ent than the GTE and that sen­sa­tion is mul­ti­plied by its man­ual gear­box, not even an op­tion on the hy­brid.

The sim­plic­ity of its driv­e­train, pre­dictabil­ity of its chas­sis and the alert­ness of its re­sponses make the GTI a much more nat­u­ral car to drive at pace, but where the GTE starts to squirm and writhe, the con­ven­tional hot hatch shows no signs of let­ting you see its wild side. Re­ally push­ing the GTI doesn’t open up a layer of in­ti­macy with the car, and nei­ther the throt­tle nor even trail brak­ing seem to al­low you any ac­cess to more mal­leable, en­gag­ing be­hav­iour. It re­mains res­o­lutely sta­ble, a com­mend­able at­tribute, but not one that en­dears it to those who like to feel they have an in­flu­ence on a car’s at­ti­tude.

The GTI is a bet­ter and more cred­i­ble per­for­mance car than the GTE, but it has been left be­hind by the cur­rent crop of hot hatch­backs in terms of pure fun. Ri­vals now pos­sess some of the most ea­ger, ag­gres­sive chas­sis set­ups of any cars on sale, and at any price. As a re­sult, they’re some of the most de­mand­ing yet en­ter­tain­ing and sat­is­fy­ing cars you can get be­hind the wheel of.

Some of those cars have been Golf GTIS, too. As VW it­self has helped pushed the hot hatch genre up to its strato­spheric heights with the Club­sport Edi­tion 40 and Club­sport S, it seems an in­con­ceiv­able over­sight not to have in­stilled some of the char­ac­ter from those (now de­funct) mod­els into this up­dated GTI Per­for­mance. And if it could also add some of that to a fu­ture GTE, a de­sir­able elec­tric hot hatch may be closer than we think.


Top: blue grille ac­cents, C-shaped DRLS in the air in­takes and a dif­fer­ent wheel de­sign among the sub­tle clues that mark out the GTE. Above: or­ange ca­bles un­der the bon­net hint at elec­tric propul­sion

Above left and mid­dle: cabin is well made and com­fort­able, if a bit dour; un­like the GTE, the GTI is also avail­able as a three­door. Above: turbo 2-litre is smooth but lacks the power of some ri­vals

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