For now, the Volkswagen Golf GTE stands in a unique position, as a family hatch-sized plug-in hybrid which mixes remarkably low running costs with the performance and driving fun of a hot hatch. Add zero road tax, low company car costs and exemption from London’s congestion charge, and it could tempt drivers wanting to go green but who can’t accept a pure electric car’s compromises.

Volkswagen introduced the Golf GTI way back in 1976, added the Golf GTD diesel in 1984 and now, for 2014, it’s launched the Volkswagen Golf GTE. It’s a plug-in hybrid, thought to be the first of many GTE models set to be introduced across the range, with a Polo GTE next in line.

In terms of styling, everything you’d expect from a GTI is here, even down to the strip of colour that extends through the headlights and across the grille. In this case, though, it’s a nice pastel blue colour rather than red – that seems to be accepted as the new green for cars with an environmental conscience. All the usual red accents inside have been switched to blue and the GTI badges are now blue-tinged GTE logos, too.

And while you’d normally expect to find a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine under the bonnet, the GTE is powered by a 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and an electric motor for a total of 201bhp – a GTI Performance Pack has 227bhp.

The instruments give clues that this is a hot Golf with a difference – there are two separate rev counters, one electric motor monitor and a tiny engine rev counter inset below it – and so does the starting procedure. Press the start button, and there’s no sound; a ‘ready’ light simply flickers, just as it does in familiar hybrids like the Toyota Prius.

Take off and the GTE moves away under electric power – for a maximum of roughly 30 miles – with the petrol engine only chiming in in response to a sharp prod of the accelerator, or when you press the E switch on the centre console.

Another switch alongside, marked GTE, gives a boost to full performance by switching the engine on the whole time and combining the power sources.

In GTE mode, it’s respectably quick – 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds, with a top speed of 138mph. That doesn’t match the R, GTI or GTD, which claim times of 5.1, 6.5 and 7.5 seconds respectively, but it exceeds the performance of any other Golf. And the GTE can run for 30 miles on electric power alone, at speeds up to 80mph. So while it’s not the performance king, it is the efficiency king, claiming official figures of 188mpg economy and 35g/km CO2 emissions.

The 8.8kWh battery pack is much smaller than the e-Golf’s, and can be fully recharged from a household socket in three-and-a-half hours (or two-and-a-half with a specially installed wallbox). It’s also recharged by the petrol engine and from energy regeneration when decelerating in the default hybrid mode. The 101bhp electric motor is integrated with the DSG gearbox, which in this case has three rather than two clutches; the third engages and disengages the motor for maximum efficiency.

The GTE weighs 1,520kg – about the same as the e-Golf (and 200kg heavier than the GTI) – but the extra weight is mostly mounted low down, so the handling isn’t too far removed from what you expect of a sporty Golf – although we experienced some torque steer when accelerating hard out of a corner in GTE mode.

VW has yet to announce a price for the newcomer, but we’re expecting it to be pretty similar to the £26,780 GTI five-door’s once the £5,000 Government plug-in grant has been deducted. In that sense, the GTE is an interesting take on the modern hot hatch. But it seems a shame to be sacrificing the performance and handling of a standard GTI in search of big fuel economy figures – is that really what hot hatch buyers are after?

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