Ever since the Volkswagen Golf debuted more than 40 years ago, the popular compact car has been known for giving its driver the ‘Golf feel,’ a combination of good roadholding, fine craftsmanship and excellent engineering.
And I should know – for quite a few years after an unfortunate incident involving a country lane, mud, and the roof of my Yugo 45A (a car that had brought me a new understanding of just how bad a car could be) I drove a 1982 Golf. Not a Golf GTI, sadly. The roof-parking incident precluded such things as my insurance company would no doubt have gleefully pointed out. But the first-generation Volkswagen Golf that I found sitting, part filled with water, in a very dodgy second hand car lot filled all the necessary boxes. It ran, it stopped and it came with the MOT certificate that proved it was road-worthy. Oh and when I rang the insurance company they didn’t laugh hysterically.
But shortly after I pulled out from the dealership having handed over a very small pile of money, I realised that I’d bought an absolute winner. It was quick, it handled gorgeously, and it turned out to be amazingly reliable. Despite it’s dubious history, it seemed a previous owner it seems had actually fitted a selection of uprated bits which had gone unmentioned when I bought the car, and it had been, at a point not so far in its past to have been forgotten, quite well looked after.
To say that it was brown on the inside is somewhat of an understatement. It looked like it had been built the day that Pantone had discovered brown and someone had decided to make every component a shade of the new exciting colour. But despite all of it’s potential shonkyness, it felt like a Golf. It stuck to the road in a manner that was most unlike the aforementioned Yugo, the interior had nary a rattle despite nearly 20 years of abuse, and the whole thing felt incredibly put together.
When it finally went to the great scrapyard in the sky, long after I sold it, I was tempted to save it just because it was that-damn-good.
Since then I’ve driven a number of Golfs. Mainly as hire cars. From something that was either a TDi or a GTD in Slovakia to, once, a particularly foxed example of a second-generation Golf as a test drive from a garage. And with the exception of that staggeringly knackered car (which nearly ruined the Golf line for me) they’ve all had that feel. There’s been something that Volkswagen seem to work very hard to put in. Something that you can’t distil and put into a bottle.
Today, wearing my press photographer hat, I took the chance to have a (very brief) go behind the wheel of the new 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTE. It’s a plug-in hybrid version of Volkswagen’s latest-generation Golf. Like the Volkswagen e-Golf, you can drive it with zero emissions. Unlike the e-Golf, there’s also a 1.4-litre TSI engine to provide range-extending capabilities when the car’s 8.9 kilowatt-hour battery pack has run flat (which is good for about 30 miles of EV range) or to use in anger combined with the electric motor to give it near GTi performance.
First impressions, and that’s all they can be, were favourable.
It’s got that Golf feel. Whilst it’s thankfully not reminiscent of the sea of brown from my old Golf, the seats ring enough of the classic GTi bells that you feel like you’re going to get that GTi performance. The interior ‘feels right’ as it were. It puts you in the correct GTi mindset.
As I sprinted up the country lanes around Gloucestershire, I was struck by that same feeling I got from the first Golf. A combination of “blimey, this sticks to the road!” and “it’s quite quick, isn’t it?”
It’s blatantly not ‘Tesla quick’. And I realise we’re now comparing supercars with hot-hatches, but I must admit a slight disappointment that it doesn’t give you that kick-in-the-teeth sensation. 201 horsepower and 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds sounds fast, but perhaps I’m ruined by the Model S P85 and its 4.4 second 0-62 time.
And not being ridiculous-quick? That’s perhaps something of a shame.
Plug-in hybrids are currently ‘the thing’ in the automotive world. When we go to our Mitsubishi dealer, it’s the 2016 Outlander plug-in hybrid SUV they push, not the long in the tooth iMiEV (though it’s probably hard to convince people to replace a 5 year old car with…exactly the same car. Don’t get me started).
The 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTE is a well-more than competent addition to that fashionable plug-in hybrid group. It is, frankly, a lot of fun to drive. And at £28,035 (after £5,000 UK government grants), its rather well-priced.
But the question that lodges in my brain is will it help people to plug-in? After all, for electric car purists and those who really do want to do better for the environment by driving an electric car, there’s the superb all-electric e-Golf. And thanks to on-board DC CCS quick charging, it is possible with some planning to even drive the e-Golf on long trips with only a half-hour stop every 80 ish miles for a recharge without even needing a range-extending fossil-burner in tow.
I have a sneaking suspicion that, like the tax friendly Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid and Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid, the Volkswagen Golf GTE is going to end up a fleet car. Hitting enough of the right notes for the higher end executive who wants the sporty company car, but also hitting the right notes for the fleet buyer who needs something conveniently tax-cheap – its 5% UK benefit-in-kind tax ranking for company car drivers says it all.
But when you drive it like a GTi, that much vaunted fuel economy tails off. If you only ever use the EV mode because you’ve got to go to London and it’s handy for the low emission zone, is it really going to do a lot? Perhaps I’m being unduly negative – much of the commute experience is sitting still and listening to the radio whilst the lights cycle from red-to-green and the box-junction fills with stationary cars. The Golf GTE will undoubtably do its stuff for the environment as people queue in traffic and potter around town.
But what if they spend too much time doing the traffic light grand prix… and don’t bother to plug it in?
It’s neat, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it very much and would happily have it on our drive in place of our aged Prius. I’m glad that there’s a car that sort-of fits into the GTi family that’s a goodly chunk more efficient than the other offerings.
It’s much more fun than our Prius, and it doesn’t feel near as big-family-saloony as it does sporty-hot-hatch. But whilst it’s very nice, at the end of the day, I do wonder who’s going to love it.
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