Sam Philip23 March 2014

First drive: VW Golf GTE prototype

Is the GTE two cars for the price of one? TG tries out the 201bhp petrol-electric hybrid hot hatch.

What is it?

The world’s first hybrid hot hatch, according to Volkswagen. The Golf GTE combines a 1.4-litre turbo petrol with a 100bhp electric motor sandwiched between engine and gearbox, a set-up capable of sending 201bhp and 258lb ft of torque to the front wheels.

That means a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 138mph, alongside an official economy figure of 188mpg and CO2 emissions of 35g/km. You are unlikely to replicate either of these numbers in the real world, though you might have a shot at matching the GTE’s all-electric range of 31 miles.

Does it feel like a proper hot hatch?

Top Gear got a very limited drive of a pre-production GTE, so it’s too early to say much conclusively. What we can tell you is that the combined power of petrol and electric gives one hell of a shove off the line, feeling every bit as rapid as the petrol-only Golf GTI. Electric motors, remember, give you maximum torque from 0rpm, which neatly feels the gap before the turbo engine wakes up.

We can also tell you that, like its GTI brother, the GTE hovers at the civilized end of the hot hatch scale. An Astra VXR-bothering brute this is not, instead pitching itself as a rapid, sophisticated cruiser. Too sophisticated to justify the 'hot hatch' tag? Interesting question.

Whether it’s as lithe in the corners as Jeremy’s favourite GTI, we couldn’t say for sure. We know that, with its 120kg, 8.8KwH lithium ion battery (a unit around a third the size of that in the e-Golf we just sampled), the GTE gives away 170kg to the GTI. But at least that extra weight is mounted low in the chassis: certainly on our brief test, we didn’t witness much evidence of the GTE’s extra heft around the midriff.

When I’m not setting lap records around the Nurburgring, can I use it as an electric car?

You certainly can. Beside the central DSG shifter (yes, there are steering-wheel paddles to control the six-speed double-clutch box, too) is a button to pop the GTE into electric-only mode. It’s surprisingly peppy as an EV, with sufficient kick from the electric motor to do all the round-town stuff you require.

So is it two cars for the price of one, or a weighty warm hatch?

Tough to say at this stage. VW hasn’t quite followed McLaren down the route of hjacking hybrid power in the pursuit of ultimate speed, and if you want a properly rapid Golf, we suspect you’ll still opt for the GTI.

But as a fast hatch with the realistic prospect of half the running costs of a GTI, the Golf GTE might just fit the bill. Ultimately it may come down to cost: VW says it’s pitching hard to bring the GTE to the UK with a competitive price tag, and – with the hybrid qualifying for the government’s £5000 subsidy – hints it could go on sale for under £30,000. Which would make it a mighty interesting real-world prospect. We’ll find out when we drive the production GTE later this year.

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