We drove the VW Passat GTE Variant: a bestseller goes hybrid…

The VW Passat is a giant. More than 30 million times sold, and it is the world’s best-selling mid-class model. When VW brings out a plug-in hybrid version of this icon, you can expect perfection.

So we were very anxious to drive the latest version of this PHEV, face lifted in autumn last year. Indeed, VW builds the GTE already a few years. Thanks to the dynamic PR people of D’Ieteren VW, we had one soon for a test drive.

With this facelift, the battery’s energy capacity has been increased by 31 percent to a total of 13 kWh. Does this mean we can drive it on E-power throughout our cities every day, and it is enough to just plug it in at night?

Also can we achieve those very low consumption values on the open road, when this Passat chooses the ideal power combination between combustion and E-power?

We were keen to find out. Just read further…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

A clever plug-in hybrid system…

The new Passat GTE has the best of both worlds: it has the latest version of the turbocharged stratified injection engine (1.4 TSI) under the hood, and of course an electric motor. This TSI engine is good for 115 kW / 156 PS.

The electric motor is quite powerful, and generates 85kW / 115 PS. The new high-voltage battery sits , like its 9,9 kW predecessor, in the vehicle floor in front of the rear axle, barely taking up luggage space. Total system power is not less than 218 HP, with a 400 Nm of torque.

As a result, performance is brilliant: 0 to 100 km in merely 7,6 seconds, and top speed of not less than 225 km/h. Need we say more?

DSG DQ400 E

Power is transmitted to the front wheels through a new version of the 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox, dubbed DQ400E, which is adapted to the hybrid layout. Indeed, it has to allow the engine to power also the generator when the driver chooses via the driving modes to maintain or raise the battery charge, of which more later.   

Zero emissions in the city?

VW claims that the purely electric range of the predecessor – determined as an NEDC value (New European Driving Cycle) – was 50 km. The new Passat GTE now has a range of around 70 km in this cycle. Under the WLTP cycle, which is considered particularly similar to practical use, this figure reaches up to 56 km.

One can choose to charge or maintain the battery at a certain charge level. This costs fuel however…

We drove this GTE under rather wintry, low temperature conditions, and the purely electric range amounted to some 32 kilometers. Heating the car and sundry takes its toll in winter. No problem however. The driver can select when starting his journey in the Driving Mode menu via the Infotainment system to charge the battery during the journey.

One has namely the choice between the E-MODE and Hybrid modes.(Indicated by a car symbol) In the hybrid mode, a battery with ten compartments lights up on the central screen and you can choose whether you keep the battery fully charged, or deplete or charge it via arrows to a pre-chosen 10-step level, indicated by the battery image on the infotainment screen.   

When the battery has enough power, the GTE Passat is of course quite frugal in the chosen Hybrid mode. The digital dial in your line of view shows clearly with its moving arrow when the engine starts working or when the electric motor delivers the power. Driving at higher motorway speeds and/or under stronger acceleration will let the engine work more, and we noted an average of 3,3 liters/100 km.

The engine charges the battery…

Of course, the hybrid consumption advantage almost totally stops when the battery is depleted, and only the recuperation of energy when decelerating gives you some extra battery power later. Even with merely 3,3 litres/100 km in the chosen hybrid mode, one has to take into account the cost of the electric energy necessary to recharge the battery.

You can drive on “pure” E-power…

Town driving under a (very) cautious right foot will still result in some 7,7 liters/100 km, on the open road when driving with anticipation and cruising at legal limits will let the consumption drop to 6,6 liters or thereabouts.

Or you can simply coast and use the kinetic energy to recharge the batteries…

Charging via the electricity grid

The Passat GTE comes with a 3.6 kW battery charger. Connecting to your home 230 volt outlet means your battery will be fully charged in six hours and 15 minutes. The charging time falls to four hours with a wall box or a charging station with 360 volts / 3.6 kW. In Belgium, this would cost then approximately 3,8 Euros.    

But VW’s hybrid is well thought out: delayed charging is another available option. The time delay can be set using either the Infotainment system or an app. You can activate the charging process directly via the app – in much the same way as a remote control. In addition to the charging process, the temperature inside the vehicle can be raised or lowered – depending on the temperature outside – via the time pre-set function.

Creature comfort

Of course the Passat, and certainly in this Variant version has style and comfort. The car’s appearance is enhanced, and indeed for the better. The front and rear bumpers, the radiator grille and the Passat logo, now located centrally at the rear, have all been redesigned.

In addition, new LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED fog lights, and LED tail light clusters make this Passat look the part.

In the cabin the fun continues. The dashboard and digital instrumentation is smart, the finish is impeccable, and the quality of used materials is also beyond reproach. Last but not least, in this Variant edition, there is room. Ample legroom for the rear passengers, and even with the batteries in the back, boot space is 483 l minimum, and can be enlarged to 1613 l.  

Driver assist systems galore

IQ.DRIVE is the new umbrella brand for Volkswagen assistance systems. From now on, the technologies involved in autonomous driving will be bundled under the IQ.DRIVE label. An example is the new Travel Assist. The Volkswagen Passat will be the first Volkswagen that is capable of partially automated driving across practically the whole speed range (0 to 210 km/h). Along with its assistance system, the Passat represents the most advanced version of IQ.DRIVE yet seen.

Emergency Steering Assist also sees its début in the Volkswagen Passat. The system improves safety during sudden evasive manoeuvres via braking intervention. In addition, the lane guidance with Lane Assist has been optimised with a new multifunction camera. The new IQ.LIGHT – LED matrix headlights also are a boon.

Impeccable handling

To enjoy full performance, just choose GTE mode and you have the full system power at your disposal…

Needless to say that the Passat state of the art chassis and suspension warrant excellent road manners. It will take a vigorous driving style well in its stride, has superb high speed stability and handling, with stable and progressive braking. An agile and safe companion on any road.

Conclusion

A superbly well made and engineered car, which indeed is a bestseller for all the good reasons. Performance, handling, workmanship, room, style, the Passat has it all, certainly so in the Variant version. This hybrid version gives you on top of all that a “green” ticket to all the European cities, and allows you to travel anywhere and anytime without range anxiety or (re)charging headaches. Of course, fuel economy is in function of the available E-power, miracles just don’t happen. You should also take into account that charging costs money, as we said above.

But the smoothness of its drivetrain, its state of the art superb technology, the passion for quality which is felt throughout this car in daily use, this is what impresses most, together with its “zen” E-power, as an icing on the cake…  

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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