In its own way, this week’s review experience pinpoints many of the twists and turns on the route to so-called ‘electrification’. I think it shows how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.
As you probably know, there are several forms of electrification. Maybe it would be no harm to outline the major ones again as we start the new year:
- Mild-hybrid: this is a simple boost to the engine and takes some of the burden at start and when cruising. Not really hybrid as we know it.
- Hybrid: the battery, electric motor and petrol engine combine for maximum efficiency.
- Plug-in hybrid: a larger battery pack can be charged (hence the plug-in name) to, ideally, give you up to 50kWhy Passat plug-in highlights the good and bad on road to electricm electric driving before the engine is needed.
- Full electric vehicle: uses no fossil fuel power on board at all.
They provide a good choice and a sign of how quickly we are adapting to ‘electric’ means of propulsion.
Of the four modes just mentioned you need a charging point for two: the plug-in and full electric. That’s where the problems can start. They did with me and the plug-in hybrid I had on test – Volkswagen’s revised Passat GTE.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, I do not currently have the means of plugging in from base. There are thousands like me. I didn’t feel like leaving the car at a public charge point a considerable distance away, walking home, then and back again to pick it up for the sake of 40km/50km of ‘pure’ electric driving.
Yes, I cheated by not doing so because if I owned the GTE, I would have benefited from €7,500 in SEAT grant and VRT rebate. Two-facedly I consoled myself by saying I was still driving a hybrid. That is something we overlook: even when the initial plug-in charge has dissipated you still have the benefits of hybrid driving via battery, motor and, in the case of the Passat, an excellent 1.4-litre petrol engine.
In a couple of experiments, with the car heavily laden and with just myself, the GTE had operated in electric mode for 47pc/49pc of my journeys. Whatever about the 49pc, the 47pc was really impressive because that poor car was laden to the gills with passengers, young and old and their accoutrements.
In many ways my entire driving profile over the near-two week period was a perfect testing arena for the plug-in genre which encourages use of topping-up the battery at home/office after a 50km daily commute. Many of my drives were of the 25km nature around town so it was ideal.
The single major drawback was the lack of boot space due to the encroachment of the larger battery pack into the loading area. It was a tight squeeze – too tight at times – for all the bit and pieces.
One of the great things about plug-ins is that you have electric and fossil-fuel power, so you never suffer from range anxiety. I started off with the on-board computer estimating I had a combined total of 560km in the ‘tank’. That climbed to 590km for a while before slowly – much longer than I expected – slipping down the distance towards empty as we put up the kilometres.
Part of the reason for the slow burn was that 1.4-litre engine. Some plug-ins can have large thirsty petrols. Not so that sweet little 1.4-litre.
Some other good news: they have knocked the price back by €4,000 or so to compete with frugal diesels, especially its own stable Passat 2-litre TDi DSG 150hp (from €41,095) and the imminent Škoda Superb plug-in.
So would I buy the Passat GTE?
I am far more receptive of the idea after so long driving it and finding it so efficient. The new, lower price makes a big difference too and the car itself, recently revised, is a better package. Family saloon buying has shrivelled of late but having a plug-in version should counterbalance future value drops to an appreciable extent.
On the minus side, the boot space is really disappointing and I wondered if it would it put me off from a practical point of view. I don’t often have such severe need of loading space but, hopefully I will increasingly, and that would make it a key decider.
One way or the other I’ll have to get a charging point sorted because more cars are going to need a power post.
See what I mean about the twists and turns on the ‘road’ to electrification? Some are for the better; some not. The same applies to this latest Passat GTE.
Facts & Figures
Volkswagen Passat GTE
Plug-in hybrid; 1.4-litre 156PS petrol engine. Total output (incl electric motor) 218PS; claimed range 56km on electric power; 29g/km; tax €170.
From €42,495. Test car had major spread of driver, safety assist, comfort systems; Tech Pack standard. DSG auto transmission. Parking assist, wireless charging, LED front headlights/fogs, heated front seats, cruise control.