Volkswagen Golf GTE (2016-2019)

By Jonathan Crouch

Models Covered

5dr Hatch (1.4 TSI GTE Plug-in)


The first generation version of Volkswagen’s Golf GTE, sold between 2016 and 2019, offered a more dynamic take on plug-in hybrid technology, combining sporty styling and pokey petrol power along with real world battery range and frugality. The idea here was to deliver GTI responsiveness along with e-Golf sustainability. Let’s check this model out as a used car buy.

The History

Hybrid cars used to be dull, compromised, soul-less things. In buying one, you sacrificed driving enjoyment for eco-minded technology and positioned yourself amongst smug, green-minded folk. It isn’t like that any more – or at least it doesn’t need to be, according at least to this car, Volkswagen’s Golf GTE, launched here back in 2016.

This is a plug-in hybrid model, offering technology that seems to blend the efficiency and some of the cost savings of all-electric power with the range and flexibility of a conventional diesel. At the time of this model’s original launch, both of these things were already offered elsewhere in the Golf line-up – TDI engines of course or, as an alternative to filling up from the black pump, the fully battery-powered e-Golf model. Both these powertrains though, also come with drawbacks. For a start, there’s the increasing demonization of diesel fuel from European emissions legislation that’s increasing its emphasis on nitrogen oxides and particulates. Nor is this an issue that pure electric models can fully solve, given the way that their current technology delivers only a relatively restricted range.

It all explains the current popularity of plug-in hybrid models like this one. Usually, they use petrol power, so side-stepping those sooty emissions, with engines also boosted by rechargeable battery packs. This configuration allows owners to plug into a mains supply when the car’s left stationary, a process that after a few hours will give them enough electrical power to cover most short journeys. And when the battery charge gets too low, the petrol engine’s ready to take over, alleviating the kind of 'range anxiety' you'd get in a fully-electric vehicle.

Sounds ideal doesn't it? In theory, if you only ever used a car like this for short journeys, you'd hardly ever have to fuel up. At the time of this car’s original launch a generous government grant system enabled the company to offer this GTE variant for not much more than the cost of a comparably-sized well-specified diesel automatic model. This model was lightly facelifted in 2018 for the last year of its production life and in pre and post-facelift forms was available in either standard or plusher ‘Advance’ forms. Overall, it’s an intriguing prospect as a used car.

What You Get

The days of hybrid models feeling the need to make smug, eco-conscious aesthetic statements seem thankfully to be numbered. Unlike its BMW i3 rival, this MK1 Golf GTE plug-in model looks intentionally conventional, positioned by its brand as one of the sporting Golf models.

Step over the lovely stainless steel door sills with their cool blue illuminated strips, then take a seat behind the wheel and as expected, the build quality and design is almost faultless and here again, the look and feel is that of a sporting Golf model. As on the outside, there are blue highlights where a GTI or a GTD variant would have touches of red, primarily on the tartan seats and in the intricate stitching binding the leather you’ll find on the gear knob and the steering wheel.

Time to move rearwards and try the back seat, space around which doesn’t appear to have been compromised by the large battery pack that must sit beneath. Boot capacity though, is down from 380-litres in a standard Golf to just 272-litres – which is less than you’d get in Volkswagen’s Polo supermini.

What To Look For

Most Golf GTE owners we surveyed from this period were very happy with their cars, but inevitably, there have been those who have had problems you'll want to look out for. One owner reported problems with the computer software – primarily the preheat facility that should be programmable to heat up the car while it’s still connected to the mains. This is an important feature because if you start with a cold car, turning on the heating immediately reduces the battery range from the standard 31 miles to only 23 or so – a significant reduction in the electric capacity. We also came across a couple of owners who’d had who’d had complete electrical shut-downs that had left them stranded. Others have referenced minor non-engine electrical problems, with most centred around faulty warning lights. Others still have had to have software updates after problems charging the car. Make sure the charging cable is in good condition too, as these can be expensive to repair.

On The Road

The GTE delivers a very clever engineering recipe, with power sourced from two engines, a 150PS 1.4-litre TSI petrol unit and a 102PS electric motor. Together, they produce a maximum output of 204PS and a decent 350Nm slug of pulling power, transmitted to the tarmac via a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox. On the move, you drive with one eye on the instrument binnacle’s Hybrid drive power display’ dial that helps you get the most from the 31-mile all electric driving range you’ll enjoy if the batteries are fully charged up. That process can be completed in as little as two hours and 15 minutes if you’ve got yourself a wallbox charger. Once your battery range is depleted, the petrol engine seamlessly cuts in, facilitating a journey that potentially won’t need interrupting for around 550 miles, providing the petrol tank’s fully filled.

That then, is the basic recipe you have to work with here. Getting the most from it will require clever use of the five different driving modes on offer. The first, ‘Hybrid Auto’, uses a combination of petrol and electric power, as appropriate, while the ‘E-Mode’ setting uses battery power only for as long as the charge holds out. The ‘Battery Hold’ mode allows you to save electric charge for later in your journey. And the ‘Battery Charge’ mode uses the petrol engine to charge up the battery as you drive. Finally, the ‘GTE’ mode sees petrol and engine and electric motor combining together, in which case 62mph in achievable from rest in just 7.6s.

So: the best of both worlds, at the push of a button. Is that what we’ve got here? Pretty much, yes. Devoted Golf GTE drivers see ownership as being all about mastering and getting the most from the Plug-in hybrid concept. For them, there’ll be nothing normal about what this Volkswagen can do. They’ll talk of its silent all-electric operation. Or running costs that decimate their annual tax payments and see a potential three-figure range achievable from every gallon. Or maybe the way in which when used for short journeys, it can make fuel station visits a thing of the past. It’s all deceptively unique. It’s all a taste of the future – but in a car very much for today.