One is the future and the other an anachronism, but which will fare better on evo’s Fast Fleet?
What we drive: VW Golf GTE, Lexus RC F, Mini JCW Challenge, Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and SEAT Leon Cupra 300
IIT SEEMS FITTING THAT the Golf GTE arrived in our car park at more or less exactly the same time as the Lexus RC F. One car represents a vision of the future for performance cars, downsized and electrically assisted, the other the last of a dying breed, a big- chested relic.
Now, the Golf isn’t evo’s first plug-in hybrid – the BMW i8 holds that honour – but it is the more relevant. With an overall output of 201bhp and a basic price of £30,635 (£32,135 for our flagship ‘Advance’ model), the GTE is pitched at the heart of the hot hatch class. And with the government’s plans to ban pure petrol/diesel vehicle sales in 2040 fresh in the mind, its arrival on Fast Fleet couldn’t be better timed.
Unlike BMW’S avant-garde i8 and i3, there’s no real clue to the Golf’s hybrid underpinnings. In fact, apart from the blue exterior trim inserts and C-shaped LED daytime running lights, the GTE apes the subtly muscular look of the GTI. I challenge you to find the socket for the charging cable. Give up? It’s hidden in the grille behind the VW badge, which hinges open for when you need to top up the battery. This, then, is a car that’s keen to be seen as normal rather than new-age.
It’s a similar story inside, where it’s pure GTI, only with blue stitching instead of red. It’s all flawlessly laid out, beautifully finished and there’s an excellent driving position. Our car’s cabin is enhanced further by £1750 leather seat trim and the slick, £2090 Discover Navigation Pro infotainment with gesture control.
Those aren’t the only options. Self parking (£595) and a host of driver aids including lane-assist and traffic-sign recognition (£630) ramp the price up to a hefty £38,185 – although if you’re a private punter you’ll get a £2500 government grant.
There are other numbers to grab the attention, too, because the GTE can crack 0-62mph in a brisk 7.6sec (around a second behind a GTI) and yet return a claimed 166.2mpg combined. So can it really be fun and frugal? Well, to be honest, so far I’ve spent most of my time enjoying the novelty of pure-electric progress whenever I can – VW claims 31 miles of zero-emissions running, but the best predicted range I’ve seen is 26 miles, which works out at about 22 miles in the real world. Nevertheless, by toggling between the ‘E’ and ‘Hybrid’ modes, I’ve managed 71mpg on my 50-mile run to the office.
Prod the ‘GTE’ button, though, and this Golf is transformed. Internal combustion and lithium-ion combine to deliver a respectable turn of speed. It’s not GTI fast, but it’ll certainly show a GTD a clean pair of heels. What’s more, the handling is crisp and the ride controlled and compliant. It’s early days, but the GTE is already shaping up to be an intriguing proposition, although one that has a tough task ahead of it.