Volkswagen Passat GTE (2015-2018)
"The Volkswagen Passat GTE is one of the most interesting versions of the car, but a steep price tag makes it a specialist choice"
- Subtle looks
- Well equipped
- Low company-car tax
- Expensive to buy
- Unexciting to drive
- Hard to match economy claims
The Volkswagen Passat is a large family car that competes with the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia and also overlaps with compact executive cars such as the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class. But while many of these rivals offer a plug-in hybrid version, the Passat GTE is one of the very few you can buy as an estate.
As well as the promise of reduced pollution, plug-in hybrids can offer financial advantages – particularly if you’re a business user. If you have a Passat GTE on your company-car shortlist, you’ll find that its low CO2 output contributes to a far lower Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company-car tax rating than its conventional petrol and diesel rivals.
There’s also a strong possibility of reduced fuel consumption, particularly for motorists who do a lot of short, low-speed urban journeys where the plug-in hybrid system is in its element. If there’s sufficient charge, the battery and electric motor will take the Passat GTE up to reasonable urban speeds without the petrol engine waking up. So if your daily commute is less than Volkswagen’s claimed 50-mile electric driving range, you might not use any petrol at all in a day’s motoring.
If you’re lucky enough to live where the traffic flows freely, though, you’re less likely to notice a big fuel saving. You’ll enjoy the way the Passat GTE delivers its power, however. It uses the same 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine offered elsewhere in the range, but boosted to 154bhp. The electric motor provides a further 113bhp and when the two work in concert, 215bhp is delivered. This is enough for a 0-62mph time of 7.4 seconds for the saloon, or 7.6 in estate form.
It’s a shame it’s not more exciting to drive. While the Passat more or less matches the Ford Mondeo for sharpness and driver appeal, the extra weight of the hybrid system dulls the GTE’s responses. While there’s enough grip and control to carry speed through corners, it’s not a particularly involving or rewarding experience. The Passat GTE is natural high-speed cruiser, staying quiet and smooth on the motorway, although the ride can be a little jiggly at lower speeds.
Interior comfort is a strong suit. Like other Volkswagens, the build quality is excellent, while the look is sleek and tidy, if not exciting. The GTE is a very well equipped car, too. It has all the comfort and convenience kit you might expect, including an infotainment system with an eight-inch touchscreen and sat nav.
You can also upgrade to the GTE Advance, which has a 9.2-inch ‘Discover Pro’ infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, as well as an ‘active info’ dashboard display that replaces the conventional instrument cluster with a 12.3-inch user-configurable colour screen.
Both models have loads of space for passengers and the estate has a generous load compartment with a flat floor – unlike some plug-in hybrids that have an awkward hump in the floor to accommodate the battery pack. Whichever model you choose, though, the GTE is a spacious, comfortable car for a family of five to travel in.
It’s a safe one, too. The Passat was awarded a five-star rating after rigorous crash-testing by Euro NCAP and the GTE improves on this with a standard driver’s assistance pack, which includes autonomous emergency braking and active cruise control. Volkswagen has a good reputation for quality, although its 14th-place overall ranking in our 2017 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey was a little disappointing.
The Passat GTE is an excellent all-rounder. Its appeal will be strongest to those who can take advantage of its fuel savings and low company-car tax, but its performance and comfort are strong enough to be appreciated by anybody. Only a stiff asking price takes the shine away from a very tempting package.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Company-car users are, by some margin, the best served by the Volkswagen Passat GTE. As its claimed CO2 emissions are 40g/km, it’s in the lowest 9% Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) band for company-car tax. This compares to 26% for the 188bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel, so although that model has a lower taxable (P11D) value than the GTE, owners pay more than twice as much tax as they would for the plug-in hybrid.
Private buyers can potentially save money, too. In official fuel consumption tests, the Passat GTE returned a combined overall average of 156.9mpg. This is impressive by any standards, but it won’t necessarily be achieved by everybody.
That figure takes into account urban driving in stop-start conditions and for much of this the GTE runs on battery power alone. Indeed, the plug-in hybrid has a claimed maximum battery range of 30 miles, and if your daily commute falls within that, you might manage to avoid using the GTE’s petrol engine altogether.
The less time you spend in these conditions, the more the petrol engine will be called into use. Although it can take you to beyond 60mph if you set the GTE to all-electric mode, doing so will deplete your electric range rather quickly.
Volkswagen doesn’t publish an extra-urban economy figure for the Passat GTE, but we averaged 53mpg in road tests conducted over a mix of motorways, country roads and city streets. This is a better fuel consumption figure than Volkswagen claims for the regular 1.4-litre petrol and compares well to the 188bhp 2.0-litre diesel. It falls a long way short of the 156.9mpg claim, though, and if you seldom drive on slow, congested roads, you might not match our figure, either.
The GTE is among the most expensive models in the Passat range, and although it qualifies for a £2,500 UK Government plug-in car grant, the final price is still higher than most diesel and petrol models in the Passat range.
Company-car tax and economy aside, other running costs will be similar to those for a petrol Passat, although a routine service will be a little more expensive due to the extra complexity of the GTE’s plug-in hybrid system. There’s a three-year or 60,000-mile warranty, with a separate eight-year/99,360-mile warranty on the battery.
Road tax is £130 a year (£10 less than a petrol or diesel version) and insurance is group 26.
Engines, drive & performance
The Volkswagen Passat, like its Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia rivals, was designed for all-round appeal rather than focusing on the driving experience. And, although you can find pleasure at the wheel of all three, none can match the sharpness and involvement of the more expensive BMW 3 Series, of which a plug-in hybrid iPerformance 330e version is available.
The Passat GTE is further handicapped by the additional weight of its hybrid battery, charging system and electric motor. This gives it a bulkier feel and blunts responses when you’re driving enthusiastically on a twisty road. Unlike those of many plug-in hybrid cars, the efficiency-focused tyres of the GTE don’t seem to compromise grip, and it’s possible to carry a lot of speed through corners. There’s not a huge amount of body lean, either.
Although trundling around town in electric mode is a near-silent pleasure, you’ll find it hard to resist using the full power of the GTE’s combined petrol and electric motors. There's an occasional jolt during transition from pure electrc power, but the GTE's 216bhp combined power allows it to dispatch 0-62mph in just 7.4 seconds, with the estate version only two tenths behind. Thanks to the instant response of the electric motor, you can enjoy the initial lunge of acceleration as soon as you plant your foot. The fireworks are over soon, though: the GTE feels like regular petrol car once you hit a moderate cruising speed.
Driving fun isn’t just about going fast and there’s a disappointing lack of sensation through the GTE’s controls. There’s not enough feel in the steering or brakes to provide the involvement you’ll enjoy in a BMW 330e iPerformance, which remains the enthusiastic driver’s plug-in choice.
Interior & comfort
Far more impressive than the way a Passat involves its driver is how it cossets its passengers. Although the Passat’s interior design might not connect with you on an emotional level, it’s still a sleek, tidy and extremely high-quality environment in which to travel. Tactile surfaces abound, there’s an absence of creaks or groans from any of the fittings and everything feels solidly assembled.
The GTE has a few touches that set it apart, with aluminium accents in the dash and door panels and subtle blue stitching in the upholstery, which co-ordinates with the blue exterior badges and discreet blue stripe in the front grille. Specially designed 17-inch alloy wheels are fitted and LED headlamps are standard.
A bigger difference can be noticed in the GTE Advance, which introduces a 12.3-inch ‘Active Info Display’ in place of the standard analogue instrument cluster. This colour panel can be configured to show an array of information, from driving stats to 3D mapping.
Advance also expands the standard eight-inch infotainment screen to 9.2 inches and adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, with MirrorLink to enable smartphone apps to be used on the central display.
In addition, the Advance has a standard panoramic glass sunroof, Nappa leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels and surround cameras to make low-speed maneuvering easy. However, it should be mentioned that the larger wheels do affect the way the Passat GTE Advance rides. The 17-inch wheels don’t feel quite so harsh when the car passes over potholes and road imperfections, although every Passat feels a little jiggly on uneven surfaces.
Practicality & boot space
The Passat GTE is just as able to carry a family of five as its conventional petrol or diesel-fuelled stablemates. Neither the driver or front-seat passenger will be found wanting for space: there’s plenty of room to stretch out and neither occupant will feel hemmed-in by the dashboard. There’s a generous range of adjustment in the steering column and driver’s seat, while slim pillars mean all-round visibility is only spoiled by the small rear windscreen.
Rear-seat passengers will find access easy thanks to wide-opening doors and once on board there’s enough room for three to sit in comfort – although not necessarily to lounge in luxury. Leg and headroom are about average for the class, although the estate has more of the latter thanks to its less curvaceous roofline. Either model offers restricted space for the middle rear-seat passenger’s feet, though – a transmission tunnel runs along the centre line of every Passat from front to rear.
Interior storage consists of a large glovebox, generous door pockets and storage nets on the front seatbacks. There’s also a pair of cup-holders in the centre console, and another pair in the fold-out rear centre armrest.
The main void of the Passat GTE’s boot isn’t affected by the presence of a hybrid battery pack, but you do forgo all the space under the boot floor. Since Volkswagen’s boot space capacity figures take this into account, the GTE saloon’s boot is reduced from 586 to 402 litres. The estate is similarly affected, with volume reduced from 650 to 483 litres.
Both versions have folding rear seats, and dropping them increases load space to 968 litres for the saloon and 1,613 litres for the estate. On neither model do the seats fold entirely flat, but there are handy 12v sockets in the boot to make amends.
Reliability & safety
Volkswagen enjoys an enduring image of quality and reliability, although the brand’s 14th-place overall ranking out of 27 brands covered in our 2017 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey was a little lacklustre.
The Passat itself finished in 32nd place out of 75 cars surveyed, and received glowing reports in several areas. Owners praised its interior design and comfort as well as its space and practicality. The high level of safety equipment provided made safety the Passat’s highest-rated category and drivers were impressed by its engines and gearboxes, too.
The worst showing the Passat made was for ride and handling, which were rated well below average. Better news is that owners felt the Passat above average for reliability and build quality, despite 12% reporting one or more faults within the first year of ownership.
The Passat was awarded a five-star overall rating after independent crash-testing experts at Euro NCAP put the VW through its regime. It performed well across the board, being rated 85% for adult occupant protection, 87% for child protection and 66% for pedestrian protection. The plug-in hybrid should perform identically.
The GTE has a long list of standard safety features and more can be added optionally. You get autonomous emergency braking that prevents low-speed collisions, as well as active cruise control to keep you a safe distance from the car in front. You can add lane-keeping assistance and a head-up display, as well as a system that can stop the car if it detects you’re falling asleep at the wheel.
Price, value for money & options
All in all, the GTE is one of the more appealing members of the Passat range. Its biggest failing is its price, which is virtually the same as the BMW 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid. Although the BMW can’t be chosen as a practical estate, enthusiastic drivers will prefer the way it feels when they’re in the mood for fun behind the wheel.
The Mercedes C350e is another German rival, although a little more expensive. It is available as an estate, though, and is one of the most comfortable compact saloons you can buy. Other plug-in-hybrid rivals include the Volvo V60 estate, which is expected to be replaced fairly soon, and the Kia Optima PHEV saloon, which will soon be offered in Sportswagon estate form, too.
For many private buyers, the most compelling alternative to the Passat GTE will be a regular petrol or diesel Passat. The fast 2.0-litre diesel with 188bhp can return 61.4mpg in DSG automatic form and 67.3mpg as a manual – and doesn’t rely on urban driving to achieve this figure. Company-car users will find the GTE’s low tax rating a huge incentive, though.
Although the list price of the GTE is high, you can raise it still further with a few optional extras, including a ‘plus’ version of the standard driver’s assistance pack. This includes a system that adjusts the LED headlamps to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers and a predictive pedestrian protection system that identifies pedestrians who look as if they’re about to cross the road in front of you. It also gives you traffic-jam assist, which can brake, steer and accelerate the car at traffic-jam speeds – provided you keep your hands on the wheel.