Volkswagen has put its latest and best technology into its flagship saloon in order to create the new Passat GTE - a car capable of super low fuel consumption without sacrificing on-road performance. But, is it enough to tempt people away from its already frugal diesel siblings?
In the Metal:
To the majority of people the new GTE looks much like every other Volkswagen Passat, but there are some subtle visual differences that set this car apart from its more conventionally powered siblings. A unique grille with a blue line running through it, just like on the e-Golf, along with very distinguishable C-shaped LED daytime running lights in the lower bumper section are the most obvious styling cues. The Passat GTE also gets 17-inch "Astana" alloy wheels to further identify it. Other than that, it appears just like a regular Passat with no physical exterior differences.
Inside, the interior is as you would find it in a regular Passat, which remains one of the best cabins in the class at present. Setting it apart slightly from the rest of the Passat range is some discreet blue cross-stitching on the multifunction steering wheel and in the seat upholstery. The gear selector surround carries GTE badging and has some additional buttons for selecting drive and charging modes, as well as activating the GTE mode. All cars come as standard with the 6.5-inch Composition Media infotainment system, which can be upgraded to the eight-inch Discover Pro unit. One further option is the 12.3-inch Active Info Display, like that seen in the Audi TT, which replaces the traditional dashboard instruments. It's an expensive option at approximately €1,500, but if you like your technology you'll love using this display. Thanks to clever packaging within the MQB-based platform, there is no reduction in interior space due to the addition of hybrid componentry or to boot space, which remains a generous 586 litres with the rear seats up.
Sit in, press the engine start button and engage drive and the Passat GTE silently pulls away just like a regular electric vehicle. Even at slow speed you can't help but notice, and appreciate, just how silent it is in the cabin. The shortest stab of the throttle propels the car forward at an impressive rate considering its size. In total, the electric motor can provide 330Nm of torque, enough to give it the same sort of pull that you would expect from a powerful diesel engine. That electric motor is enough to enable the GTE to drive at speeds of up to 130km/h and to a range of 50 kilometres before charging is needed, or, should you decided to continue, the 1.4-litre TSI engine seamlessly starts up to continue propulsion. The petrol engine can also be used like a generator in order to just recharge the car's battery independent of providing forward movement.
In order to get the most out of the car's efficiency, driving it in hybrid mode will see you get a theoretical driving range of around 1,100km. On these terms, the car switches very smoothly between the two motors and driving around town there is little to tell you that the change is occurring - if you aren't showing the drivetrain information on the car's display. When the petrol engine is in use the car still shifts smoothly but the DSG automatic transmission is more obvious than the electric motor. Not that this is any cause for concern; it remains a very refined car to drive. The suspension feels slightly softer than the standard Passat's while the steering is every bit as direct, although it does lack a degree of weight when left in the normal driving modes.
When you want to summon all of the GTE's potential the petrol and electric motors combine to give a total power output of 218hp, which might not sound massive but what is more important is the 400Nm of combined torque. This pushes the GTE along at a healthy enough pace should you be feeling a touch more enthusiastic. If you're looking for out and out performance you'll be better off with a more powerful petrol or diesel engine, but considering what the GTE offers in fuel economy the package is one that gives little cause for complaint.
What you get for your Money:
The Passat GTE still carries approximately a €10,000 price premium over its most efficient diesel version so early adopters will need to really want to have the GTE, as that'd buy a lot of diesel. Just one trim specification is expected to be offered in Ireland and this will include the Composition Media infotainment system and air conditioning, as well as cruise control and satellite navigation.
Ford Mondeo Hybrid: not yet on sale, but only offers a very limited driving range with less refined on-road performance.
Tesla Model S: similar in size but even more costly; you only have electric power to rely on but there's more driving range.
Volkswagen Passat 1.6 TDI: the diesel engined Passat still returns some great fuel economy figures and costs a good deal less.
In the Passat GTE, Volkswagen has created what might just be one of its most perfect cars for the masses. Its electric power provides more than adequate performance around town yet the hybrid system that combines the punchy 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine dispels any suggestion of range anxiety. For now the only potential hurdle for some will be the initial purchase price.