Now that German carmakers have started to work in earnest on plug-in hybrids, expect to see a whole lot more of them in the coming years--though not always in North America.

Following the Volkswagen Golf GTE plug-in hybrid it unveiled last year, which is now on sale in Europe, the second VW to carry that powertrain has been unveiled ahead of its official debut at the Paris Motor Show this week.

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The larger Volkswagen Passat GTE uses the same powertrain as the Golf GTE, a 154-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine with an 85-kilowatt (113-hp) electric motor sandwiched between the engine and a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission that powers the front wheels.

VW gives the total peak output of the combined powertrain as 215 hp, with peak torque of 295 lb-ft. That's slightly higher than the comparable figures for the lighter Golf GTE, which are 201 hp and 258 lb-ft respectively.

2015 Volkswagen Passat GTE (European spec)

2015 Volkswagen Passat GTE (European spec)

The lithium-ion battery pack is larger than those of many other plug-in hybrid sedans, at 9.9 kilowatt-hours.

VW quotes an electric range of up to 31 miles, but that's using the gentle and often unrealistic European test cycle--so comparable EPA figures would be considerably lower.

Euro vs U.S. Passats

Keen-eyed readers will note that the VW Passat in the photos differs from the one sold in the U.S. since its 2012 launch.

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That's because Volkswagen feels U.S. buyers want bigger, cheaper vehicles than its European customers, who will pay more for a slightly smaller vehicle with higher feature content.

2015 Volkswagen Passat GTE (European spec)

2015 Volkswagen Passat GTE (European spec)

The all-new European Passat uses the same underpinnings--known as the MQB architecture--as the new Golf and many models to come, allowing VW to lower the cost of its highest-volume vehicles by sharing many of the most expensive components.

Those include the frontal crash structures in the cowl, which are very carefully engineered to meet a variety of increasingly stringent global crash-safety standards.

The one fixed dimension is the distance between the front door opening and the front wheel--but track, wheelbase, vehicle length, and body style can all be varied using MQB structures.

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The latest Passat is lighter and offers far more electronic safety features than its European predecessor. It's also offered in both four-door sedan and wagon versions, and both body styles are available with the GTE plug-in hybrid powertrain.

2015 Volkswagen Passat GTE (European spec)

2015 Volkswagen Passat GTE (European spec)

Exterior design changes

The GTE variant--it stands for Grand Touring Electric--of the European Passat is identified by a number of exterior and interior design tweaks. Outside, those include include a uniquely shaped front bumper and shield, blue grille accents, eight-spoke 17-inch lightweight alloy wheels, and various badges.

Inside, the Passat GTE is largely similar to conventional new Passats, but it has the same sporty elements as the GTI gasoline and GTD diesel sports models.

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The vehicle information on its touchscreen display also includes driving range, a display showing the energy flow, statistics on emission-free distance covered, and software that lets drivers set the car's charging behavior.

2016 Audi A3 e-tron - First Drive

2016 Audi A3 e-tron - First Drive

Both models of the European Passat GTE will go on sale in Europe next year, but the U.S. Passat is not expected to offer any electrified powertrains until its replacement late in the decade.

The Passat sold in North America will receive a mild mid-cycle upgrade for the 2016 model year.

In fact, thus far Volkswagen has not said it will offer any plug-in hybrid powertrains to U.S. buyers. The powertrain used in VW's European GTE models will instead debut in the U.S. in the 2016 Audi A3 e-tron Sportback model, which is expected to go on sale in roughly a year.


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