Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Volkswagen Golf GTE is a hot hatch Greenpeace can get excited about

BOFFINS in a bunker deep beneath Volkswagen’s headquarters have mooned at the laws of logic with their latest model. Somehow, they’ve managed to serve roast beef and sushi on the same plate, and in a way that’s weirdly appetising.

Translated into layman’s English, the German car giant’s latest model manages to combine what should be two diametrically opposed strands of motoring. Hot hatches are feisty, fun and powerful, and eco-friendly hybrids emphatically aren’t.

The two might be about as easy to blend as oil and water, but that hasn’t stopped Europe’s biggest car maker from having a crack anyway.

To be fair, the idea of a hybrid that’s fun to drive isn’t exactly unprecedented. Anyone who owns a Honda CR-Z already knows that it’s entirely possible to drop a Captain Planet-pleasing powerplant which runs largely on lettuce and mineral water into a car that’s eager and exciting to hoof about in.

It’s just a shame that – for all the MUGEN-branded tuned up versions knocking around – Honda never came good on the CR-Z’s sports car potential. No matter how well it handles, the range-topping GT version has just 122bhp. Perhaps it’s just perceived wisdom that you can’t make a car please the hot hatch brigade and appease Greenpeace at the same time.

Or it at least will be until VW’s new hot hatch arrives.

It’s a simple idea – forty years ago VW popularised the hot hatch with the Golf GTI, and in 2009 it managed to translate the idea into coherent diesel by introducing the torque-tastic GTD. Now it’s swapped the last letter again to create a plug-in hybrid version of Germany’s favourite pocket rocket – yes, it’s the Golf GTE!

The E, in case, you hadn’t already worked it out, stands for Electric, because this particular Golf ditches the GTI’s big engine in favour of a small one and some electric motors to develop the same sort of power. Add the two together and you’ve got the equivalent of 204bhp.What’s more, when you aren’t driving like a speed-addicted yoof you can do 31 miles on electricity alone, saving the polar bears as you glide silently along.

More importantly, the GTE proves the future is arriving quicker these days. When Mercedes introduced the airbag on the S-Class we had to wait 15 years for it to reach family hatchbacks. The GTE’s premise of a performance car aided by electricity is exactly the same as the trick the McLaren P1 and the Porsche 918 make their shtick, and yet you can get it in affordable Golf form at the end of the year.

Who said saving the planet couldn’t be fun?

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