There is really no doubt that the eighth generation Passat is one of the most innovative cars in its class - even more so now that the German car maker has launched the Passat GTE; a Passat already equipped with progressive drive, assistance and infotainment systems, and now with a Passat-first plug-in hybrid drive system.
In this particular case, with the Volkswagen Passat, when we are talking Plug-in hybrid, we are talking about a combination of a turbocharged direct injection petrol engine (TSI) with an electric motor, powered by an externally (or in Charge mode) chargeable lithium-ion battery. It is this battery that allows the Passat GTE to have the capacity to cover a distance of up to 31 miles with zero emissions in all-electric mode – a capacity that is controlled by a mere press of a button next to the gear lever which activates and deactivates the all-electric mode (‘E-Mode’).
Although the car is not available to order until June next year (with deliveries in October 2015), the fact that it is a zero-emission and long-distance vehicle in one, and that it is available as a saloon or estate, will have drivers looking to put those pennies away in preparation for the market launch, at which there will be a total of nine drive versions available covering a power range from 92 kW / 125 PS to 206 kW / 280 PS. All versions will, of course, meet the EU 6 emissions standard.
And we’ve not even mentioned yet that, when it is in GTE mode, the Volkswagen Passat GTE also has a sporty side. The GTE mode is also accessible at the press of a button, activating a maximum system output of 160 kW / 218 PS ; and making good use of the newly configured accelerator pedal and steering to activate the sporty side of the Passat GTE.
The 1.4-litre TSI engine under the bonnet develops a power of 115 kW / 156 PS (as of 5,000 rpm) with the electric motor producing 85 kW / 15 PS – combining to produce a maximum torque for the plug-in hybrid drive system of 400 Nm – but the fact that it IS a hybrid engine helps to ensure that both performance and power are deployed both efficiently and in an eco-friendly way. Combining the two gives a NEDC consumption of over 141 mpg with CO2 emissions lower than 45 g/km, equating to a driving range of over 620 miles with a full 50-litre fuel tank and fully charged battery – in other words, you could travel from London to Paris and back without refuelling.
But all this ecological information and performance doesn’t mean that the power has been neglected: oh no! The Passat GTE still maintains a powerful driving performance, making good use of its front-wheel drive and (fitted as standard) six-gear dual clutch gearbox especially developed for the hybrid drive, to accelerate from 0-62mph in less than 8.0 seconds right up to a petrol-led top speed of more than 136 mph, and electric mode top speed of 80 mph.
So that is all the basic information – and it’s already an exciting addition; but what about the actual nuts and bolts of the new Passat GTE. What more can we tell you about Volkswagen’s latest foray into electric motors?
Being an independent equipment line, the Passat GTE has two sides to it. On the one hand, some of the standard equipment it features you can find on other Passat models – either as standard or as options, depending on the particular version you are talking about. Here we are talking about equipment such as LED headlights, Driver Alert System, Automatic Post-Collision Braking system, Front Assist including City Emergency Braking function, rain sensor and ParkPilot. And then, on the other hand, because the Passat GTE is regarded by Volkswagen as a high-tech flagship, it also has several unique elements and equipment upgrades which distinguish it from the rest of the range. (But more about that in due course.)
DESIGN: When it comes to the design of the Passat GTE, the designers have made the model recognisable by redesigning the front bumper with distinctive cross panels in the lower air inlet and C-shaped LED daytime running lights both featuring the Volkswagen ‘e-mobility colour’ blue line, and a specific chrome radiator grille unit with the additional blue line also. When viewed from the side, 17" ‘Astana’ alloy wheels also identify the Passat GTE as a plug-in hybrid.
INTERIOR: Inside the car, designers have made sure that it is fine tuned to allow for the new drive system. By this we mean that engineers and interface designers at Volkswagen TE (Technical Development Centre) have tailored features such as the standard "Composition Media" infotainment system and the instrument cluster (with power meter) for the plug-in hybrid drive to tie in with a menu matrix for the functions and displays related to the drive system. Functions such as the innovative Active Info Display with specific displays are available as an option for the Passat GTE, but when we are talking about how the car looks we can see that Volkswagen have worked hard to make sure that comfort is just as important as performance with blue ambient lighting, leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel with blue decorative stitching, GTE specific gear knob with blue stitching and seats covered in "Sevilla" cloth with a blue basic structure all as standard.
EQUIPMENT: Technologically-wise, drivers can make use of the "CAR-NET e-Remote" app, which allows such functions as battery charging via smartphone – in fact, the smartphone can be used to control functions such as the climate control functions as well as providing information on the vehicle status, state of charge of the battery, recent driving data, last parking position, and even whether you remembered to lock the doors and turned the lights off!
But it’s not all information just on the smartphone because the new Passat GTE will be launched with the high resolution 6.5” display of the standard "Composition Media" infotainment system as standard (with options of the "Discover Media" - also with a 6.5-inch display - and the "Discover Pro" - with an 8.0-inch display - radio-navigation systems. This features some particularly interesting technological information products such as the Range Monitor that depicts the momentary electric driving range available; the Energy Flow Indicator that uses animated graphics to show the energy flow when accelerating and braking; the e-Manager which programmes up to three departure and charging times; and the 360° range which shows the electric driving range – even to the extent of displaying nearby charging stations for use in route calculation.
DRIVE: As we’ve already said, the Volkswagen Passat GTE uses a turbocharged 1.4 TSI direct petrol injection engine and a three-phase permanent magnet synchronous motor as electric motor to power itself, the electric motor (integrated into the gearbox housing) powered by a 9.9 kWh lithium-ion high-voltage battery. The automatic six-speed DSG gearbox features a dual clutch along with a disengagement clutch, specially developed for hybrid use, and when it is possible, the disengagement clutch disengages the TSI from the driven front axle and shuts it off when in ‘coasting mode for example, using the car’s kinetic energy for power.
The Passat GTE can be driven in four different modes in total, with the current driving mode displayed on the multifunction display of the instrument cluster: "EMode", "Hybrid", "Battery Charge" and "GTE".
Unless the battery is not charged enough or it is too cold, the Passat GTE will always start in "E-Mode" before switching to “Hybrid” when a minimum charge level of the battery has been reached or when there is very high demand for power. "E-Mode" is then deactivated, and the Passat GTE now behaves like a classic full hybrid vehicle that charges the battery regeneratively during deceleration and automatically uses the TSI and/or electric motor, depending on the driving situation. The driver can manually switch to “E-Mode” if required via the press of a button which simultaneously opens a window in the infotainment system, in which the three "E-Mode", "Hybrid" and "Battery Charge" modes can be directly selected.
With the "Battery Charge" mode, it is possible to charge the high-voltage battery quicker during driving, and by pressing the "GTE" button to the left of the gear lever, the driver can activate the sporty nature of the Passat GTE where the characteristics of the accelerator pedal, gearbox and steering are made sportier and the TSI tuning also given a more performance setting.
The Passat GTE constitutes an integral part of the strategy for electric mobility at Volkswagen. After the XL1, e-up!, e-Golf and Golf GTE, the Passat GTE is the fifth, or sixth model (saloon and estate) that can be operated by electric motor with zero emissions.