For the past few decades, Volkswagen has been one of the leaders of the diesel car marketplace both in Europe and the U.S., promising high gas mileage and low CO2 emissions. But as high particulate matter pollution in many of the world’s biggest cities reaches record levels, governments and car buyers alike are quickly and dramatically dropping their support for diesel-engined cars, VW has turned its attentions towards promoting and developing its range of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles instead.
As a consequence, the German automaker has released a total of four different plug-in models in Europe in fairly short order, ranging from the limited-production Volkswagen XL1 plug-in hybrid two-seat coupe through to the Volkswagen e-UP city car, Volkswagen e-Golf electric hatchback, and performance-oriented Volkswagen Golf GTE plug-in hybrid.
This week, at a special launch event in Amsterdam, two more plug-in models join the Volkswagen family: the Volkswagen Passat GTE saloon and Volkswagen Passat GTE Variant (Wagon).
Both cars — based on Volkswagen’s new modular transverse front-engined front-wheel drive MQB platform — follow the same styling cues as the all-new gasoline and diesel powered 2015 Volkswagen Passat models. But under the hood, there’s the same powertrain found in Volkswagen Golf GTE plug-in hybrid and Audi A3 e-tron sportback wagon.
That translates to a four-cylinder 1.4-litre turbocharged stratified injection engine with a peak power output of 154 horsepower with 184 pound-feet of torque, mated to a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox with integrated 85 kilowatt electric motor.
Fed by power from a 9.9 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack located in front of the rear axle, the electric motor is capable of providing up to 50 kilometres (31 miles) of all-electric operation according to the overly optimistic NEDC test cycle. Like the Golf GTE, electric mode can be used up to 80 mph before the gasoline engine kicks in, with top speed in combined power mode an Autobahn-ready 138 mph.
Like the Volkswagen Golf GTE, the Passat GTE Saloon and Variant have been designed as zero-emission cars capable of GTi-like performance. While some electric car fans would no doubt prefer Volkswagen use a more powerful electric motor and larger battery pack to give the Passat GTE that capabilities, the combination of gasoline engine and torquey electric motor does indeed give the GTE a respectable 0-60 time of around 7.6 seconds.
Round town and upon power-on, e-mode is the default driving mode, using all of the battery pack’s charge before engaging the gasoline engine. Recharging takes between 2.5 and 4.25 hours via the car’s on-board 3.6 kilowatt charger, depending on the public charging station being used.
For those who want more control over when the electric power is used, the Passat GTE comes with a charge hold mode, forcing the car to use gasoline power and maintaining the car’s state of charge until the driver switches into e-Mode, as well as a battery charge mode that can refill the battery pack by running the gasoline engine a little harder.
Finally, there’s the GTE button: a switch which engages both gasoline and electric drivetrains simultaneously, as well as tweak the steering response, for high-end performance at the expense of gas mileage. We should note however that the 1.4-litre engine has been designed by VW to offer maximum efficiency in all modes, thanks to its variable intake camshaft timing, 200-bar five-hole injection system and dual-zone engine cooling system designed to warm up both the exhaust and engine quickly when it switches on for maximum efficiency.
In keeping with the design of Volkswagen’s other plug-in models, the Volkswagen Passat GTE Saloon and Variant both share the same C-Shaped LED daytime running lights found on the e-Golf and e-Up. Both cars also come with on-board satellite navigation as standard, as well as parking assistance technologies, adaptive cruise control and automatic city braking and forward collision assist. VW’s comprehensive e-manager system also makes it easy for drivers to program where and when their car will charge, as well as program daily departure times and charging preferences.
New to the line up comes a new head-up display, which allows drivers to see important information about their car’s speed and state of charge without taking their eyes off the road ahead.
Finally, both cars come with Volkswagen’s on-board telematics system, allowing drivers to remotely check on their car’s state of charge and activate climate control functions from the Car-Net smartphone app.
We’ll find out more on pricing and delivery details for Europe in the coming days, but we can tell you at the moment VW doesn’t have any plans to introduce the Passat GTE or the Passat GTE Wagon to the U.S. market any time soon.
That’s partly because Volkswagen’s European Passats are mechanically different from the U.S. model of the same name. In fact, when Volkswagen redesigned the 2012 Passat for the U.S. market in 2011 in order to try and increase its market share, the resulting car was larger and heavier than the European version.
Based on a different platform to the 2015 Passat found in Europe today, it has far less features and doesn’t have the same upmarket aspirations as its European counterpart. If we had to guess, we’d say the GTE drivetrain would require some significant work to even fit in the U.S. market version.
But it’s also worth noting that things do change: Volkswagen likes to think of itself as an automaker that is ready, willing and able to respond quickly to the automotive marketplace and bring new models to dealers in double-quick time thanks to it modular platform philosophy. Indeed, that’s one of the reasons why Volkswagen has been able thus far to churn out so many plug-in models with relative ease.
And with plug-in hybrids gaining popularity among American buyers in preference to hybrid cars, we’re guessing VW will have to introduce something in the U.S. with a GTE badge fairly soon — or deal with the negative consequences.
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