Greenpeace kindly wrote to me recently, just before Boris announced his plan to ban petrol and diesel-engined cars in 2030.
It welcomed bringing the ban forward ten years but was pushing for it to include plug-in hybrids.
Plug-in hybrids have been given a stay of execution until 2035 and this has not pleased Greenpeace, which calls PHEVs wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The charity’s motives are laudable but on this subject we don’t agree.
Allow me to explain.
This week we are testing the new Volkswagen Golf GTE. It’s a plug-in hybrid based on the Golf Mk8 platform that was launched a year ago and replaces the previous generation GTE.
Here’s a highlight figure for the new car: it has a combined fuel consumption on the WLTP testing procedure of 246.1mpg.
This number, as most of us know, is complete b******s.
If you don’t use the battery power of a PHEV and its electric-only range by never bothering to charge it and instead use it as a normal car, you get nothing like 246.
In the GTE you’re more likely to see mpg in the mid 40s (if driven carefully).
But if you have the advantage of off-street parking and a wallbox charger and, say, a commute of 15miles and a charging point you can use at the other end, you could go months without having to fill it with petrol and get far better than 246.1mpg.
Surely it would be more sensible for the testing authorities to publish two figures for PHEVs, one for its mpg if no battery power is used and another quoting its maximum range on battery alone?
There’s another issue. The Government has made PHEV’s so attractive to business users by giving them low BIK rates (the GTE’s is 10%), there is no hard incentive to actually plug the vehicle in and charge its batteries.
But back to the new Golf GTE. Like the old model, the internal combustion engine is VW’s 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine which, also as before, produces 148bhp.
Next to the engine and mounted in the six-speed DSG gearbox is a 107bhp electric motor.
This gets its power from a 13.0kWh lithium ion battery which, and this the major difference between old and new, is bigger than the 9.0kWh battery fitted before. The result of more kWh is a range that’s improved by 7.5miles, up to 38.5miles from 31.
Volkswagen claims improvements to the efficiency of the electric motor and energy regeneration system mean the real-world range is improved.
Combine the petrol engine and electric motor power outputs and we have a total system output of 242bhp, which just happens to be very similar to the new Golf GTI’s power.
And indeed VW likes to bill the GTE as the eco-alternative to the GTI. Except that in real life it isn’t.
We haven’t driven the new GTI yet but if it doesn’t have handling that’s sharper and more responsive than the GTE then it won’t be a proper GTI.
Part of the issue is the battery weighs 135kg and adds to an overall weight gain of 175kg. And if you start driving this car in a hot-hatch style, kiss goodbye to any hope of 246.1mpg. It is brisk though with 0-62mph in 6.7sec.
The rest of the GTE is very much as the conventional new Golf.
Well made interior with new virtual instruments and an infotainment system that’s a fiddle to use and incorporates too many basic functions into the system. Not enough knobs, in other words.
If you’re a long-term Golf owner and want to step into a vehicle that’ll form a bridgehead between petrol and diesel powerplants and the coming electric world, the new GTE is an excellent choice.
Cheap to run if you use it properly.
One more thing I’d like to point out to Greenpeace: with the raw materials for batteries still in short supply and many mined unethically, it’s worth bearing in mind the quantity of batteries required for one EV will equip five PHEVs like this Golf.
Volkswagen Golf GTE Five-door hatchback
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, 148bhp, plus 107bhp electric motor
Fuel consumption: 246.1mpg Co2 emissions: 26g/km
Mercedes-Benz A250e AMG Line Premium
Excellent maximum battery range of 44 miles.
Mini Countryman PHEV
Plenty of style in and out. No match for Golf on performance.
Kia Ceed Sportswagon 3 PHEV
It’s no GTI but it does the job and is reasonably priced.