Volkswagen Golf GTE Plug-In Hybrid: First Drive Of Prototype

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Volkswagen is on an electric-vehicle model offensive right now.

Not only is the e-Up electric minicar on sale in Europe, dominating Germany's electric sales charts, but the automaker has now launched the e-Golf, an electric version of its popular compact--a car that will make its way to U.S. shores.

There's a third player in its strategy, too--the sporty Golf GTE plug-in hybrid--and last week, we drove and rode in a pre-production prototype GTE for 20 minutes around the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin.

MORE: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf: Drive Report, First U.S. Sale Details

The GTE is aimed at slightly different customers from those who may buy the all-electric e-Golf.

While buyers may be intrigued by the concept of electric vehicles, longer commutes or unpredictable long-distance journeys may mean battery-electric power just doesn't offer adequate range--at least until Europe is blanketed with a network of DC fast-charging stations.

Others may be feeling the squeeze of Europe's CO2-based vehicle taxation, making even VW's relatively efficient Golf GTI and its fuel-sipping Golf GTD too expensive to run. And neither of those is designed to cope with expected zero-emission European city centers.

With a quoted 28 miles of electric range (on the European test cycle) from its 8.8 kWh lithium-ion pack--likely closer to 20 miles in reality--the Golf GTE does just that.

It's also cheap to run over those electric miles, for regular daily commutes--but as with all plug-in hybrids, it has extra gasoline range for longer trips. VW says it will travel up to 584 miles, again under European testing.

The engine is a 1.4-liter turbocharged, direct-injected gasoline four; combined with the electric motor, total power output is a healthy 204 horsepower.

Power from both the engine and motor is sent to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Paddles behind the steering wheel let the driver control the gearbox when the gasoline engine is up and running.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTE

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTE

Enlarge Photo

VW has decided to position the GTE alongside its existing GTI hot-hatch and GTD performance diesel models, as a more sporting take on electric power.

Visually, that means GTI-like styling, inside and out, from Eighties-style slats in the front bumper to the blue line running under the grille and into the headlights. On the GTI and GTD, that line is red and chrome, respectively.

Inside too the GTE is modeled on the GTI, with VW's famous tartan-patterned sports seats, a three-spoke, flat-bottomed steering wheel, and metal-finished pedals.

There are only a few clues to its part-electric drivetrain.

One is the charge and electric power gauge in the instrument cluster, which replaces the usual tachometer. On the gauge face, escalating numbers refer to the motor speed, rather than the engine--though a tiny tach, the size of a fuel gauge, does sit within it.

The other is the small 'E-mode' switch down by the gear selector. And on the central touchscreen display, various drive mode information screens also provide details on the car's electric workings.

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