THE DIESEL ENGINE HASN’T GONE the way of the Dodo just yet, but Volkswagen has decided to not take any chances. The German manufacturer has begun its rapid expansion into alternative forms of propulsion – and the Passat GTE is the newest addition to its electrified fleet.
While it’s some way from the long-range pure “Electric Vehicles” (EVs) that VW has in the works, the Passat GTE – as with its smaller Golf GTE cousin – offers a halfway house between a full EV and a conventional combustion engine by providing both. Here, it’s a combination of a 154bhp 1.4 TSI petrol engine and a 114bhp electric motor, giving a total system output of 215bhp.
At first glance, only keen petrol heads would spot that this wasn’t a normal Passat. It looks much the same as a GT model, apart from a subtle blue line above the grille and blue-tinted GTE badging. The electric charging flap is neatly hidden in the grille.
According to VW, the Passat GTE is all about choice – there are plenty of ways to configure your driving experience. The default “Hybrid mode” will balance the two power sources until the battery runs dry. Or you can select “E-mode” and you’ll glide smoothly on electric power for a potential range of 31 miles at speeds up to 81mph.
“Battery Charge mode” effectively keeps the EV batteries topped up at the expense of fuel economy, and finally there is “GTE mode”, which is where the TSI engine and electric motor work in tandem to give maximum performance.
This final option is triggered by the inclusion of an additional button by the gear lever. Marked GTE, it primes both motors for full output, while at the same time weighting up the steering, improving throttle response and (optionally) stiffening the dampers. From a driving perspective, the Passat GTE is heavier than standard Passat models, thanks to the extra weight of the batteries and electric motor, and this does show in the way the Passat rides. You do get adaptive dampers as standard on the GTE, which help to ensure that it’s still a comfortable car that’ll soak up the worst bumps and ruts. However, even in Comfort mode you still get a somewhat firm initial ride over humps and hollows, so you’re never quite as oblivious to the road’s surface as you are in a conventional Passat which, for the record, rides brilliantly.
The only other downside to this powertrain is that the brake feel takes a bit of getting used to, although this is a typical side-effect of cars fitted with regenerative braking systems.
Other than this, because the electric motor does also function to boost performance in unison with the petrol engine, the GTE is the fastest Passat in the range – which, otherwise, is diesel only. The throttle response is progressive and the petrol engine kicks in smoothly when it’s needed, and you can enjoy really quite potent performance. I was somewhat staggered to see a 0-62mph speed of just 7.4 seconds on the press sheet that accompanied this car.
Precise but not so involving
Inevitably, the front-wheel-drive Passat GTE doesn’t offer the most involving driving experience and is certainly no match for some of the performancefocused VW Golf models. However, the steering is precisely weighted and gives you confidence in the substantial grip on offer, making this a composed and satisfying car to drive in just about any situation.
Predictably, the GTE model also happens to be very refined. On electric running alone it’s eerily silent (but for some moderate road noise, which only really intrudes at higher speeds), and even with the smooth 1.4 TSI engine on the boil, this is the quietest Passat model, which is in turn one of the most refined cars in its class, even in diesel guise.
Inside, the GTE is just as comfortable as any other high-end Passat model. Visibility is also excellent in the estate and saloon models, although both also get parking sensors as standard to help out in a tight spot. Standard LED headlights make for excellent night time visibility.
The dash is a real selling point, since it feels a class above that of major rivals such as the Ford Mondeo. Everything feels meticulously finished and well thought-out, with broad horizontal strakes running through the vents and dash and soft-touch materials making the cabin look and feel really premium.
Buyers get a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen as standard, which is one of the best systems out there as it’s so easy to use, even when you’re driving. All the connectivity features you could want are thrown in too, including satnav, although you’ll have to pay extra for GTE Advance trim in order to step up to the full-size 8.0-inch touchscreen rather than the standard version.
Over my test review of the Passat GTE, which included a good mix of motorways, country roads and city streets, the trip computer showed an average of 58mpg. This is far better than a similarly powered petrol car, and broadly on par with the 2.0 TDI 190 diesel.
It’ll increase if you stay in EV mode in town and at low speeds, but as is often the way with plug-ins, it’s somewhat off the claimed 166mpg. Still, a miniscule 39g/km of CO2 is a big draw for company car buyers – and the GTE is London Congestion Charge-exempt.
Potential downsides are that by choosing the GTE you will lose 180 litres of underfloor boot storage thanks to the battery pack. Furthermore, even with the generous government grant, the GTE is still £4,000 pricier than a similarly fast and impressively frugal 2.0 TDI.
In summary, the Passat GTE offers a very impressive blend of performance, refinement and efficiency.
It allows you to fully enjoy the smoothness of electric power around town without the associated range anxiety, while also offering the longdistance performance of a normal petrol car. It is far smoother than a diesel model but, for me, doesn’t quite live up to the implied sportiness of the GTE badge.
I should also note that the excellent 190hp version of the TDI-engined Passat Estate may be a better all-round prospect for many, not least because in GT trim with the DSG transmission it’s around £6,500 cheaper. That really is an awful lot of pure EV driving required in the GTE to recoup the difference in saved fuel costs.