The updated Volkswagen Passat GTE boasts a 215bhp petrol-electric hybrid engine, and can run on all-electric power for 34 milesVerdict4.5As a proposition for the huge swathes of motorists who want a hardy family estate with the low tailpipe emissions and tax benefits of electric power, as well as the convenience of a petrol engine for longer journeys, nothing else is likely to better the classy yet efficient and practical Volkswagen Passat GTE.
The Volkswagen Passat has all the thrilling edginess of a well-worn comfort blanket, but knowing exactly what you’re getting in a family car is a huge incentive to many. Just ask the 30 million people who’ve bought a Passat since it was launched in 1973.
So it is most definitely a good thing that the facelifted 2019 Passat’s sturdy yet sharply pressed lines are virtually untouched, and the engine range is similarly the same, but better.
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Diesels are offered in 1.6 and 2.0-litre capacities, with power ranging from 118bhp to 237bhp. Petrols are all turbocharged and range from a 148bhp 1.5-litre to a 2.0-litre offering either 188bhp or 268bhp. However, while Volkswagen predicts that the venerable 148bhp 2.0 TDI will remain the biggest seller, the heavily updated plug-in hybrid Passat GTE is also expected to account for one in four UK sales.
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It’s easy to see why. For this facelift, the GTE’s pure electric running has risen by some 30 per cent to an official range of 34 miles (under the new, tougher WLTP test), and while we’ve yet to get economy and CO2 figures, it’s a dead cert for low company car tax, despite a combined power output of 215bhp.
On top of that, the tech count has been upped across the range to include semi-autonomous driving modes with adaptive cruise control that will automatically adjust the car’s speed to the relevant limit, and even to take into account oncoming bends in the road. A head-up display, and wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and phone charging will be available but are likely to be optional. The finalised spec for the UK has yet to be confirmed.
All of this will sell at what VW promises will be a lower price than the outgoing GTE, so expect the company to confirm a starting figure of around £36,000 for the GTE saloon and £38,000 for the estate when order books open next month.
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The Passat GTE Estate proves as sturdy yet precise to drive as it is to look at. Stick it in ‘E-mode’ and it hums around, sucking up its 13kWh battery supply at a very decent rate of efficiency; 30 miles seems achievable in good weather, unless you plan on regularly taking advantage of the car’s 80mph maximum speed under pure-electric power. Charging takes three and a half hours from an AC charger, or around two hours longer than that from a normal three-pin socket; cables are provided for both.
You can also choose to hold or top up the battery charge, which is great for those who start their commute on the motorway but end it slumped in a lather of city traffic. The cheerful 1.4 TSI engine is smooth and punchy, while also impressively quiet at a steady cruise. The six-speed, dual-clutch automatic DSG gearbox is sometimes lazy to respond when you expect a downshift and we’d like smoother initial throttle response at manoeuvring speeds, but otherwise the GTE makes very light work of about-town driving.
Detour onto a more interesting road and you can stick the plug-in Passat into GTE mode for its full combined potency, more urgent throttle and gearbox response and a rather artificial growl piped into the cabin.
Honestly, the Passat GTE isn’t a car that warrants the GTE mode, let alone digital dials that pop up the word ‘Boost’ when you accelerate hard – lacking only the starburst for the full Marvel effect.
It’s a big, heavy thing, and even with the optional adaptive dampers of our car, you can feel that weight. Which isn’t to say that the Passat is unpleasant or even cumbersome to drive; the steering weights up evenly and gives you a good sense of the grip available from the front-wheel drive chassis, and while there’s a bit of body float going on, you can wind the GTE down a fun road with satisfying pace and sure-footedness.
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But it is first and foremost a comfortable daily driver, and that is exactly as it should be. Maybe we’d like a touch less suspension noise, but between the classy interior finish, glossy 8.0-inch touchscreen and clever powertrain, it’s a slick, hassle-free car that promises to be efficient and practical.
Talking of practicality, the estate version tested here is expected to be more popular than the saloon. Its 483-litre boot is unaffected by the batteries, although you do lose the space available for a spare tyre that you have in other Passat Estate variants.
Otherwise, there’s a low load lip, flush boot floor and rear seats that drop easily to extend the load, or that offer masses of space for passengers to stretch out in. It’s the full, uncompromised family estate experience – but with all the added benefits of electric power thrown in.
- Model: Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate
- Price: £38,000 (est)
- Engine: 1.4-litre 4cyl petrol-electric hybrid
- Power/torque: 215bhp/400Nm
- Transmissiom: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive
- 0-62mph: 7.6 seconds (est)
- Top speed: 140mph (est)
- Economy/CO2: 140mpg/38g/km (est)
- On sale: July
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