Fulfils a specific niche, but it might be best to buy a diesel
Appending an acronym as sporting in sound and intention as ‘GTE’ to a Passat might be seen by some as akin to putting chilli sauce on your cornflakes: an attempt to sex up an entirely blameless product by the misguided use of another, with disastrous consequences for both.
In fact this is just the latest of many attempts to spice up the Passat over the years. Remember the Passat W8, with its 275bhp, 4-litre, eight-cylinder engine, or the V6 295bhp Passat R36?
Today and perhaps predictably, the focus has fallen on providing performance with an environmental emphasis, which is why the GTE eschews the large capacity, multi-cylinder approach of its forebears for a tiny 1.4-litre turbo boosted by a sizeable electric motor. The upshot is a Passat with a total of 215bhp, a sporting chassis set-up and top speed of 140mph.
And so long as you play to its strengths, it’s very good indeed. Four hours hooked up to the mains is all that’s required to deliver a genuine 30 miles of all-electric range, more than enough to make most school or supermarket runs all but free of charge. Alternatively it will take you up to 81mph on electrons alone. In both these regards it beats even BMW’s i8.
And wafting around in near total silence, combined with that typically resolved ride that comes as standard in all Passats, suits the car’s character very well indeed. Despite the presence of a portentous ‘GTE’ button primed to deliver maximum effort from both electric and internal combustion motors (as well as weight up the steering and sharpen the throttle response), like all Passats this is a car at its best when soothing its driver rather than trying to excite them.
Because the truth is that, regardless of the impression provided by the badge, this isn’t a very exciting car at all. If I tell you it’s heavier than the heaviest diesel Passat with only fractionally better acceleration and a lower top speed, you’ll get the picture.
But its chief problem is that it just doesn’t work as well as a diesel Passat over a distance. Forget the ridiculous economy claims: on a motorway you should expect 40-45mpg at best, where the diesel equivalent should do more than 50mpg. Worse, VW has had to cut the fuel tank size from 66 litres to just 50 to make space for the batteries so its real-world range is considerably worse, too. What’s more, the cheapest version costs £6500 more than the most powerful diesel Passat.
Of course it might well make sense for you because it will be cheap to tax or drive into London, or it will chiefly be used for local journeys on electric power. But to me a Passat is the ultimate all-rounder, the car that can do everything to a better-than-adequate standard. Or at least it should be and, being blunt, this one is not. Instead it works only for a narrowly defined constituency with specific needs. If that describes you, then this Passat won’t disappoint. If it doesn’t, get a diesel: it’s not just cheaper, but better too.
Price – £38,075
Engine – 1.4 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged, supplementary electric motor
Power – [email protected]
Torque – 295lb [email protected]
Transmission – six-speed paddle shift, front-wheel drive
Weight – 1735kg
Power to Weight – 124bhp per tonne
0-62mph – 7.6sec
Top speed – 140mph
Economy – 176.6mpg
CO2 – 39g/km