Advances in technology have always heavily influenced our world of medicine. Many ideas that are formulated by medical research departments find their way into our day-to-day practice. However, there is usually a delay while we all wait for initial promises to materialise. Rigorous trials and testing inevitably takes time and cost-effectiveness issues need to be ironed out.
It is much the same story in the world of motoring. The rising concerns of increased fuel costs and global warming have triggered massive investment by the carmakers looking at alternative drivetrains and fuels.
Totally electric propulsion is an obvious solution to tackle both issues but there are still problems with regard to limited battery storage, therefore range, and an inadequate infrastructure for re-charging. Hybrid vehicles would seem to be a logical and transitional alternative.
Toyota was the first brave manufacturer to release a petrol-electric hybrid model onto the new car market when it launched the Prius in 1997.
Since then, the hybrid market has changed enormously and we now have most major brands offering a petrol/electric model with plug-in re-charging capability. Mercedes have the e350 C-class, BMW have the 330e 3-series and Audi have their eTron A3 and Q7.
So does that mean that the hybrid versions of the popular cars that we know and love are now developed well enough to be a real option?
As I have indicated in past reviews, the Volkswagen Golf, particularly the GTI version, has always had great appeal as a brilliant all-rounder. The keen driving GP can enjoy a quality product that has plenty of room for the family and still entertains on the way back from evening surgery.
But what if you do most of your driving in an urban or city environment and support green and eco-friendly policies? Well you might be able to experience the best of both worlds with Volkswagen’s new Golf GTE.
This plug-in hybrid has a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine producing 150bhp linked to a lithium-ion battery powered electric motor to bring the total power up to 201bhp.
This is the same output as the 2.0-litre turbo petrol GTI although the GTE weighs 230kg more. There are five operating modes that include E-mode, Battery-Hold, Battery-Charge, GTE mode and Hybrid-Auto.
In pure electric mode it can travel up to 31 miles on a full charge and up to 81mph.
Does it really drive like a GTI?
So what it is like in the real world? Does the technology work smoothly and efficiently? Does it really drive like a GTI?
I spent a week with the car and drove it on short local trips as well as long motorway trips. There is something very satisfying about setting off on any journey using silent pure-electric power.
If you select E-mode, it won’t start the petrol engine at all (unless you really floor the throttle) and this is perfect for short urban trips. The standard 6-speed DSG ensures smooth progress and the power delivery benefits from the usual electric motor attribute of maximum torque from rest.
On the motorway, the Battery-Hold mode uses the petrol engine alone and although adequate, it doesn’t have the oomph of the GTI. However, if you are cruising, it doesn’t really matter.
If you want to charge the battery at the same time in Battery-Charge mode, the engine has to work a bit harder and economy suffers.
GTE mode is for when you are on back roads and want to put your foot down. The car then uses petrol and electric power together and you can really travel swiftly. Unfortunately the extra weight of the drivetrain makes the GTE less agile and the driving experience is not as satisfying as in the GTI.
Overall, you are better off leaving the clever computers to choose the most suitable drive combination in Hybrid-Auto mode.
Quality levels are high
The general equipment levels in the GTE are excellent and, being a Mark 7 Golf, quality levels are high. Boot space is a bit reduced by the under-floor batteries and the ride is firm although optional adaptive dampers should help. Charging from a standard wall-plug takes less than four hours and less from a more powerful public supply.
I am really intrigued and impressed by the growing number of hybrid cars available and the technology is progressing in leaps and bounds.
This hybrid Golf is a mature petrol/electric vehicle and a wonderful example of how far things have come. For the eco-friendly GP who’s driving is mainly urban with occasional long trips, the GTE could be just the car that ticks all the boxes.
- Dr Rimmer is a GP in Surrey and tweets @frankaboutcars
|Volkswagen Golf GTE|
|Body Five seat hatchback
Engine 1.4litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol, Electric motor
Power Combined output 201bhp
Torque 250 Nm
Top speed 138 mph
Acceleration 0-62mph in 7.6 secs
Claimed economy Up to 166 mpg
Real world economy 45–50 mpg
On the road price £ 33,320 (including £2,500 government Grant)