One is the fu­ture and the other an anachro­nism, but which will fare bet­ter on evo’s Fast Fleet?

Evo - - CONTENTS REGULARS - James Dis­dale

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.

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