What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think about a hybrid? For most Americans it’s a vision of a boring grey Toyota Prius. If it’s not that, it’s maybe a hyper expensive McLaren P1 well beyond the realm us normal working class folk can afford. But is there an in-between? Can you have an economically and environmentally friendly hybrid that’s a few steps more fun than watching cement cure? Volkswagen would have you believe that you can. Maybe.
The new eighth generation Golf will be available in a pair of plug-in hybrid models, a normal and boring one called the Golf eHybrid, and the one we all want, the GTE. Take everything you like about VW’s phenomenal GTI hot hatch and add an all-electric range of around 36 miles—on the admittedly outdated NEDC cycle—to get the best of both worlds. You’ve still got the sport-tuned suspension, the fancy DSG gearbox with rapid-fire shifts, and five-door practicality, but instead of the current GTI’s 24 mpg city, you can run your errands around town on full electric power. Then, once you get your running done for the day, you can hunt for a good driving road and crank up the turbocharged four-cylinder and enjoy yourself far more than you would in something like a Prius Prime.
What was the last sporty hybrid model aimed at people who can afford a new car under, say, $50,000? Was it the Honda CR-Z? Volkswagen might be on to something here. If it can help turn around the image of hybrid electric cars in the eye of enthusiasts, then it could really be creating a new niche to sell to. Middle-class suburban dwellers with a penchant for enthusiastic driving but more than a twinge of climate guilt (me, I’m describing me) would eat this thing up!
Of course, this style of ‘locally zero-emissions’ PHEVs are built with Europe in mind, as many larger cities are mandating all carbon emitting gasoline and diesel engines be shut off while inside the city limits. Because of this, I’m not even sure that the lovely GTE will make its way to our shores, which is a damn shame. It’s already written on the wall that the Golf is pretty much dead for the U.S. market once the current Mk7 has run its course, but we’ll still get the GTI. Hopefully that means the GTE will also make it over here.
The GTE is equipped with the same battery as the Golf eHybrid, a 13 kWh unit which is half again as much capacity as the previous generagion GTE (which we also did not get here). The engine and hybrid drivetrain output will match the Mk8 GTI exactly with a stated 241 horsepower to the front wheels. It may weigh just a smidge more, but with that electric torque backfilling the (admittedly very little) boost threshold turbo lag it might even be a little bit quicker.
For EVs and hybrids to properly catch on, these cars can’t just be seen as appliances. They will need to provide a real-world excitement and all of the amenities that you can find in a gas-powered car. It’s time to make PHEVs fun, and I think Volkswagen is doing just that. Now if they’d just commit to bringing one here, I’d sign up ASAP.