It won’t have escaped your attention that the automotive world is going — well, at least many of the headlines would have us believe — electric crazy. The reality is somewhat different. In the year to the end of August 2019, 17,393 battery electric vehicles were sold in the UK, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturer and Traders. That represents a paltry 1.1 per cent of the 1,519,016 cars sold so far across the UK this year.
Plug-in hybrid EVs don’t fare much better at 17,594 units, meaning just 1.2 per cent of UK sales so far this year; that’s actually down 50 per cent year-on-year from the 2018 figure of 1.8 per cent.
It’s against that backdrop that Volkswagen has launched its revised Passat range which, you’ll not be surprised to learn, has a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid, badged GTE, proudly waving the green banner. With official WLTP fuel figures of 180mpg — yes, 180mpg! — and emissions of just 39g/km CO2, it’s expected to account for one in four UK Passat sales. Given the estate outsells the saloon 2:1, it made sense to jump into a GTE estate and take it for a spin round the sunny Northamptonshire countryside, close to Silverstone.
The latest eight-generation Passat range starts at £25,370 for the entry-level 1.5 TSI EVO 150PS saloon, with the cheapest estate — same engine and trim — £27,185. The Passat GTE starts at £36,390 (saloon) and £37,920 (estate); that’s a saving of £1,635 over the outgoing Passat GTE.
While buyers continue to flock to SUVs and crossovers, the traditional mid-sized car is struggling. And though VW has solidly and successfully moved into those markets — with the likes of the Touareg, Tiguan, T-Roc and T-Cross — the Passat remains a crucial model.
Since it was launched 46 years ago in 1973, more than 30 million have been sold worldwide. Since the Beetle went out of production this year, the Passat is now VW’s longest-lived name-plate.
Last year almost 12,500 four-door Passat saloons, five-door estates and Alltrack models were sold in the UK. But the battlefield is fierce, with stiff competition from the likes of the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3 Series, Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia. And that’s before you consider other rivals from Volvo, Hyundai, Kia, Peugeot and Citroen.
Volkswagen Passat Estate GTE Advance
Price: £40,470 Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder, petrol-electric hybrid Power: 215bhp Torque: 250lb/ft Transmission: Six-speed DCT automatic Top speed: 138mph 0-62mph: 7.6 seconds Economy: 180.8mpg (WLTP) CO2 emissions 39g/km (NEDC)
The latest Passat is available with a whole host of engine choices. The petrols are all turbocharged and range from a 148bhp 1.5-litre to a 2.0-litre available as either 188bhp or 268bhp. Diesels? You can choose from 1.6 and 2.0-litre engines, with power ranging from 118bhp to 237bhp.
Smooching along silently, avoiding the exhausts of pure petrol and diesels, is the GTE. Combining a 1.4-litre TSI turbocharged petrol engine with a 13kWh battery and electric motor, when flicked into ‘E-Mode’ using the switch next to the gearlever, the GTE has an official pure-electric range of 34 miles. The petrol/electric combo delivers 215bhp.
Cleverly, the system allows the driver to hold or top up the battery charge when they’re driving. That becomes a major boon for business users who start their commute on the motorway or hacking cross-country, before entering the congestion of city traffic.
In pure electric mode, the Passat is eerily silent and efficient. Power is fed through a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic DSG gearbox allowing the big, heavy estate to glide through the traffic. Its all-electric max is 80mph. But when you need it, the peppy petrol engine kicks in to ensure you never need to worry about range rage.
Switch the car into ‘GTE’ mode — the performance-orientated mode — and you get the maximum combined power combined with more alert steering, throttle and gearbox settings; 0-62mph comes round in 7.6 seconds.
Charging? Simple. From an AC Type 2 charger plugged into the port in the car’s nose, it takes three-and-a-half hours to fully charge. That rises to around five-and-half if you unplug the kettle and plug the cable into your kitchen. Thoughtfully, VW has supplied five-metre cables for both (no, not the kettle; the AC charger and three-pin socket).
And you don’t need to keep nipping out to check the car’s charging. Using a new ‘We Connect Plus’ app that works in conjunction with the, also new, ‘MIB3’ touchscreen system in the car, you can check and control the GTE’s charging from the comfort of your living room or office.
Externally, thankfully the previous sharp, sculpted lines of the Passat haven’t changed. The standard GTE models get blue brake calipers, a ‘C’-shaped LED daytime running lights signature that’s unique to the GTE, and 17-inch alloys. Standard features also include adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance. Optional is a semi-autonomous driving mode with adaptive cruise control that will automatically adjust the car’s speed to the relevant limit, and even take into account oncoming bends in the road.
Inside its the usual high quality VW fixtures and fittings, further supplemented by an eight-inch touchscreen media system. The GTE Advance model — which I drove — ups that further with 18-inch alloys, keyless entry, powered bootlid and 9.2-inch touchscreen.
As always, the Passat GTE estate is practical. Even with its hybrid powertrain and batteries it loses none of the standard car’s core bootspace. Sure the lithium-ion batteries take-up the underfloor storage, but that’s a small price to pay. With rear seats in place, bootspace is 483 litres, and that rises significantly with the rear seats are folded flat. There’s also a low load lip and flush boot floor.
If you’re considering joining the plug-in hybrid brigade and doing your bit to save the world’s climate, I can certainly recommend the Passat GTE — in either saloon or estate form — as one to try.
But here’s the rub. Remember those rather pathetic market share figures for battery and plug-in electric cars I mentioned earlier? Want to know what Volkswagen believes will be the bestselling Passat in the UK? The 148bhp estate SEL, six-speed manual 2.0-litre turbodiesel.
Aye; I think we’ve a long, long way to go before we get anywhere near the UK’s net-zero carbon emissions target … but at least the Passat GTE helps.