Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate review
|Car type||Electric range||Fuel economy||CO2 emissions|
|Plug-in hybrid||34 miles||181-196mpg||33-35g/km|
After some time off sale, the Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate returned for 2020 with an improved package compared to the previous model. Gone is the old 9.9kWh battery, replaced by a new 13kWh unit that bumps the official electric range up to 34 miles. This helps the Passat stay on terms with rivals such as the BMW 330e Touring, Volvo V60 T8, Mercedes C-Class hybrid and its VW Group stablemate the Skoda Superb iV Estate.
Power comes from a combination of a smooth-revving 1.4-litre, turbocharged petrol engine and an electric motor, together producing 215bhp: a six-speed automatic transmission translates this to a 0-62mph sprint in 7.6 seconds, with top speed given as 138mph.
From behind the wheel, the Passat GTE seems to do it all: it’s good to drive (by estate-car standards), spacious, practical and reasonably well equipped. LED lights, alloy wheels, DAB radio, sat nav, leather seats and blue ambient interior lighting are standard, while the top-of-the-range GTE Advance model jumps from 17 to 18-inch alloys, adding LED matrix headlights, voice control, keyless entry and a powered tailgate, among other things.
There’s decent safety kit as well, with Volkswagen's ‘Travel Assist’ package including adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance. The semi-autonomous technology can automatically adjust your speed when the speed limit changes, and can also use GPS data to slow down for corners, roundabouts and junctions.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is included too, making it easy to hook the car up to a smartphone. Also standard are blue brake calipers, C-shaped LED daytime running lights and an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen: the GTE Advance model adds a 9.2-inch touchscreen and a larger digital display to boot.
The GTE Estate emits 33 to 35g/km of CO2 (larger-wheeled cars are slightly more polluting), although these figures are from the latest WLTP testing procedure. As the company-car tax system operates on NEDC figures until April 2020, the GTE Estate is still officially quoted as managing 37 to 39g/km. A Benefit-in-Kind rating of 16% is likely to attract company-car users, with the promise of low running costs only strengthening the GTE’s case.
Volkswagen reckons one in four Passat buyers (including those of the saloon model) will go for this plug-in hybrid GTE variant: those drivers have fuel official fuel economy of at least 180mpg to look forward to, although – as is the case with all plug-in hybrids – achieving this in the real world depends on regular charging of the battery. Plugging the car’s Type 2 cable into a typical three-pin socket (two five-metre cables are provided) will result in a full charge in around five-and-a-half hours, while a 3.6kW home wallbox – the maximum power the GTE will accept – does the same job in three-and-a-half hours.
You can check and control the GTE’s charging and climate-control functions remotely, using a ‘We Connect Plus’ app that works in conjunction with the touchscreen system in the car. Together with the SIM card the Passat comes with (which means it’s always online), this is next-level connectivity and integration for Volkswagen.
What’s the Passat like to drive? Well, the ride strikes the right balance between comfort and handling, making it a relaxing vehicle for passengers without sacrificing reward for the driver. Electric-only ‘E-mode’ is the default setting when there’s enough charge in the battery: with this engaged, the GTE glides along serenely, and a maximum speed of 87mph in this setting means there’s still enough performance to get by happily on the motorway.
When the battery runs out, you’ll barely notice the engine waking up, such is the quietness of the 1.4-litre unit. In town driving you should achieve around 40mpg, which is reasonable for a vehicle of this size. The regenerative braking system helps, recovering energy in Hybrid mode that would otherwise be lost when slowing down and boosting the battery on the go. In the same vein as the engine, the GTE beautifully blends the transition between regen braking and that performed by the brake pads.
The semi-autonomous Travel Assist is impressive, if a little nannying. It smoothly adjusts your rate of progress when it senses a change in the speed limit or a corner approaching, with no jerky antics. However, it does occasionally panic about whether your hands are on the steering wheel – even if they always have been – and it 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.
Naturally, the Passat GTE Estate is a practical car, however the boot shrinks from 650 to 483 litres compared to the non-hybrid models in the line-up, thanks to the location of the 13kWh battery. Underfloor storage is useful for storing the cables, there’s no load-lip and the rear seats drop easily thanks to quick-release flaps in the boot itself.
Inside, there’s masses of room for passengers; even tall passengers won’t be left wanting for head or legroom, although the fifth passenger in the middle-rear seat might not be suitable for longer trips.
As a family car, there are few better packages than the one provided by the GTE Estate, although buyers will have to make their peace with the fact that the pure petrol and diesel models will carry more gear. Until then, the Passat GTE Estate looks like a cut above the rest. For more on the car, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.