Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate review

We drive the new plug-in hybrid VW Passat Estate; is it the ultimate electric car for a one-vehicle household?

Passat GTE
Car type Electric range MPG CO2
Plug-in hybrid 34 miles 140mpg (est.) 40g/km (est.)

The facelifted Volkswagen Passat GTE really does seem to have it all. Reassuringly sturdy yet classless looks, an official pure-electric range of 34 miles, a smooth-revving 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine to take up the slack when the 13kWh battery is depleted and a comfortable, upmarket-feeling interior that’s stuffed with convenience and safety technology as standard.

Even LED headlights and a semi-autonomous ‘Travel Assist’ driving mode that can automatically moderate your speed to the relevant limit are included, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard across the whole range.

The standard GTE models also get blue brake calipers, a 'C'-shaped LED daytime running lights signature that's unique to the GTE, 17-inch alloys and an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system. GTE Advance models will up that further with 18-inch alloys, keyless entry, powered bootlid and 9.2-inch touchscreen. 

Efficiency data is yet to be released for the GTE but expect the Passat to easily undercut the critical 50g/km CO2 emissions mark (we’d peg it at around 40g/km and 140mpg), while pricing, finance and lease costs are set to come in below those of the pre-facelift car.

Expect the saloon to start at around £36,000, while the estate we’ve driven here will likely cost from £38,000. All of which will make the GTE a hugely appealing prospect for the fleet providers and company-car users that are expected to make up some 75% of the model's customers in the UK.

You charge the GTE using the AC Type 2 port in the car’s nose. A couple of five-metre cables are included. One will allow you to plug into a standard three-pin domestic socket, and will charge the car in five-and-a-half hours. The other is for AC fast charging and will fit a standard home wallbox or most public chargers, and will do the same in three-and-a-half hours (maximum AC charging speed is 3.6kW, as governed by the on-board charger).

You’re also able to check and control the GTE’s charging and climate functions remotely, using a new ‘We Connect Plus’ app that works in conjunction with the new ‘MIB3’ touchscreen system in the car. Together with the SIM card the Passat comes with (which means it can be permanently online and offer wi-fi functionality even without a smartphone data connection), this is next-level connectivity and integration for Volkswagen, and for most motorists.

What’s it like to drive? Well, our GTE Estate came with optional adaptive dampers – which are now more broadly adjustable than before – and it’s exactly the smooth, easy-going family motor that it needs to be.

Switch into ‘E-Mode’ using the switch next to the gearlever and it hums along serenely, thumping a little noisily into potholes and with some noticeable body float going on over undulations, but otherwise you feel instantly at ease with the driving position and control weights.

You can do up to 80mph in pure-electric mode, but keep to slower roads and – on the evidence of our short test drive, at least – you could manage some 30 miles before the cheerful 1.4-litre turbocharged engine kicks in. You do notice the transition to petrol power, but this is still a refined and smooth engine by most standards.

Unless you opt for ‘GTE’ mode, that is, which is a performance-orientated setting that offers maximum combined power, more alert steering, throttle and gearbox settings, and a surprisingly guttural fake exhaust note piped into the interior. Honestly, this feels a little out of place in the cushy plug-in Passat. It never feels like it warrants such an overtly sporting mode, so while it's gutsy and surefooted on a decent twisty road, it’s still a heavy car that feels most at home in laid-back use.

That semi-autonomous ‘Travel Assist’ system is impressive, too, if a little nannying. It’s effortlessly smooth to adjust your rate of progress when it senses a change in the speed limit – no jerky antics, here – and it’ll even adjust the speed to account for corners. But it does occasionally panic about whether your hands are on the steering wheel, even if they always have been, and it simply takes time to get used to how much of the driving the car is doing.

If you really don't get on with it, you can always use the standard adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance separately to the full Travel Assist function.

The Passat GTE is, of course, a practical estate car as well. The plug-in hybrid loses none of the standard car's core boot space to the hybrid powertrain and batteries, but it does lose the underfloor storage to the lithium-ion batteries, so you can’t add a spare tyre. Otherwise, the rear seats drop easily to leave a flat, extended load bay, or when in place there’s masses of room for even the lankiest of passengers to get comfortable.

While we have to wait for final pricing and fuel-economy figures, as well as some time on UK roads before we can give our final verdict on the Passat GTE, all the evidence points to this being about the most comprehensive, all-round family estate there is.

The only fly in the ointment for the Volkswagen could be the forthcoming Skoda Superb iV plug-in hybrid, but otherwise it’s hard to fault. It has all the benefits of a 30-odd-mile real-world electric range, plus the freedom and convenience of a petrol car, wrapped up in about the safest, quietest and most hi-tech family wagon you’ll find.

The Passat GTE is the no-compromise electric car that the vast majority of buyers want, and it rightly deserves to be the instant hit that it’s set to be.

Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate specifications

Price: £38,000 (est.)

Battery: 13kWh

Engine: 1.4-litre, 4cyl petrol, FWD

0-62mph: 7.6 seconds (est.)

Top speed: 140mph

Electric range: 34 miles

Official MPG/CO2: 140mpg / 38g/km (est.)

Free entry to London Congestion Charge zone? Yes (until 2021)

Home wallbox charge (0-100%): 3.5 hours