The new VW Golf GTE is the very first series production Volkswagen model to come with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain -- a development that provides it with a 0-62 mph time of 7.6 seconds, 138-mph top speed and fuel consumption figure of 157 mpg on the European test cycle.

But, as with many of Volkswagen’s more interesting models of late, the gasoline-electric hatchback is not earmarked for sale in North America owing to what one high-ranking Wolfsburg official described as the new car’s prohibitively high price.

In Europe, the Golf GTE is priced at €36,900. Using current exchange rates, this works out at $48,440 –- a whopping $23,445 more than Volkswagen asks for the Golf GTI here, no less. 

The sister car to the Audi A3 e-tron with which it shares its high-tech driveline, the Golf GTE is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder direct-injection gasoline engine and a synchronous electric motor mounted within the forward section of the gearbox. 

The power is channeled to the front wheels via a specially adapted version of Volkswagen’s six-speed DSG transmission. It provides the driver with the choice of five modes: E-mode, GTE mode, battery hold, battery charge and hybrid.

Depending on the mode that is chosen, the gearbox is either decoupled from the engine to provide drag-free coasting or recoups kinetic energy on trailing throttle, thereby ensuring the maximum possible efficiency.    

The electric motor draws energy from an 8.7 kWh lithium-ion battery mounted underneath the rear seat in the place usually taken up by the fuel tank. A slightly smaller gasoline tank is housed within a slightly raised trunk floor.

As a result, luggage capacity drops by 3.8 cubic feet over nonhybrid Golf models, to 9.6 cubic feet. Despite the rearward shift of the fuel tank, Volkswagen claims the Golf GTE can absorb a 50 mph rear-end impact without any serious deformation or safety concerns.    

In E-mode, the Golf GTE hits 81 mph before a limiter steps in, making it suitable for both city and freeway running. The claimed electric range is 31 miles, although this is dependent upon varying factors, including average speed. The combined range extends to 584 miles, or roughly that of a conventional gasoline-engine Golf.

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The key to the Golf GTE’s extended electric range is its plug-in capability. The new car can be charged on either standard household current or a using fast charger, available as an option. The gasoline engine and kinetic energy is used to top up the battery on the run.

Volkswagen claims a recharge time of four hours on the standard 240-volt, 10-amp European system and just under two hours on a more robust 240-volt, 16-amp setup. The socket for the plug is neatly hidden beneath the Volkswagen emblem in the grille. 

What's it like to drive?

Entirely conventional, which is exactly what Volkswagen says customers demand. The technology behind the Golf GTE may be startlingly complex, but it doesn’t demand any significant change in driving style. You simply step in, belt up, press the start button and set off.  

Configured to start in E-mode when there is sufficient charge within the battery, the GTE moves off in relaxed silence. With 108 hp and 111 lb-ft of torque the moment you depress the throttle, the electric motor is strong enough to propel the car up to typical city speeds in a hurry.     

The driveline is impressively refined with inherently smooth qualities. Where we detected some roughness in earlier prototype versions of Volkswagen’s first plug-in hybrid, it was no longer evident on the first production models we drove in Zurich.

Inside the VW Golf GTE plug-in hybridPHOTO BY VW

Unlike the pure electric e-Golf that uses a single-speed gearbox, the Golf GTE relies on a conventional six-speed dual-clutch transmission to deliver drive to the front wheels. Thanks to the instantly usable torque qualities of the electric motor the new Volkswagen proves quick while direct steering makes it entertaining in urban surroundings.  

When the battery charge is depleted, the gasoline engine is automatically started to provide the main source of propulsion. Alternatively, you can depress a button marked GTE on the center console to manually make the switch. The integration is excellent -- there are no untoward jolts as you alternate power sources.

On its own, the gasoline engine delivers 148 hp and 136 lb-ft of torque. In kick-down mode, the electric motor provides an additional 53 hp, taking the available reserves up to 201 hp; by comparison, the standard Golf GTi’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder direct-injection engine offers 217 hp.  

With its 565-pound lithium-ion battery mounted low in the structure and the rearward mounting of the gasoline tank, VW claims the GTE has better front-to-rear weight distribution versus its gasoline, diesel, natural gas and all-electric seventh-generation Golf siblings.

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And what about that claimed fuel mileage? On a drive route combining urban running, freeways and country roads, we saw an average of over 60 mpg. While way short of the claimed 157 mpg, it proves the combination of gasoline and electric power provides worthwhile real-world improvements. 

Do I want one?

On sheer ability alone, it is easy to recommend the Golf GTE. It delivers excellent economy and decent performance along with ease of driveability and outstanding levels of refinement. In fact, you could argue that it is the most complete Golf ever built. About the only downside is its slightly compromised trunk capacity, along with that extraordinary price tag equal to $48,440. It's also unlikely to ever get the go-ahead for U.S. sales.

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