Monday, 18 December 2017

Stylish VW's flavour of the Riviera

Stylish VW's flavour of the Riviera

THERE are few cars these days that you might describe as thoroughbreds, yet some have a pedigree of their own that shines through.

This week’s drive, the Volkswagen Passat GTE, is a car that radiates individuality. Technology-wise it is a vehicle that is as simple as it is complicated.

The full description of this model is the Passat GTE Advance 1.4 TSI plug-in hybrid. So you get four operating modes: E-mode, Hybrid, Battery Charge and GTE mode.

That’s what sounds like the complicated bit. However, the driving application of these modes should not confuse the driver because the car is “thinking ahead” for you.

Firstly, E-mode — the GTE’s hybrid drive is pre-set to use this mode as much as possible.

So when you fire up the Passat GTE, it slips immediately and silently into E-mode. The car remains in this mode, where the vehicle drive comes from the onboard high-voltage battery.

Next, in Hybrid mode, the car’s computer management system decides automatically how much power to draw from the high-voltage battery and how much from the Passat’s 1.4 TSI petrol engine.

Then in Battery Charge mode, the car runs mainly on the TSI engine but also charges the high-voltage battery, thus extending the vehicle’s electrical range.

GTE mode is probably the easiest to understand. Here, the TSI engine and electric motor work together to give maximum performance.

When I said that the car is “thinking ahead” this does not mean the driver does not have any say in what’s going on.

Actually, it is the opposite, because all these “modes” are reachable from the driver’s point of view at the touch of a button on the infotainment screen.

Hybrid mode is a good way to proceed because it gives you the best of both worlds with both fuel-powered and electric-powered momentum.

Hybrid gives you “the most efficient use possible of the battery charge”, according to the carmaker. Electric driving is automatically deselected or selected as required, depending on the battery charge level.

You might just go for GTE mode once on the open road because here this car flies up to a reachable top speed of 140mph (81mph in pure electric mode).

GTE mode gives the Passat a “sporty driving feel” — both petrol and electric motors work in unison, the steering is more responsive, the suspension firms up, the automatic DSG gearbox (which works like a dream) changes gear quicker and keeps the lower gears “primed” for faster acceleration.

There is also a “Mode” button that allows the driver to change the suspension settings of the Passat GTE — these are displayed on the infotainment touchscreen and the choices are Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport or Individual. Of course, this kind of bespoke driving is not to everyone’s taste and there would be those that would find this technology too demanding. Spend time with the car, however, and it is all quite straightforward.

The irony with the Passat GTE being that despite being so loaded with techie goodies, it is also a very stylish car.

Bearing in mind the above description of its driving modes, one might think the Passat GTE a droll driving experience. I found the opposite to be true.

I was put in mind of some rarefied creature that would be quite at home in the South of France.

Maybe it was the sunny spring weather? For although not a convertible, with its sunroof open and its dashing, handsome looks, this gleaming white Passat GTE put me in mind of continental holidays that might include a swan along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.

Back in the real world, I could not resist photographing the car outside the remains of the sadly burnt-out former South Oxfordshire District Council offices in Crowmarsh Gifford.

Yet it might have been more appropriate to frame this particular car against a background of sandy beach and rolling waves.

When I mentioned that I was driving the Passat GTE to a friend, his immediate response was that he had heard it was a fine, fast car but expensive.

Well, the test car, excluding the £2,500 “green” government grant came in at £44,540. For a car of this accomplishment you get a massive amount for your £40,000-plus.

The car oozes comfort and driving sophistication. There is a host of standard features available, including what I liked especially — the heated ergoComfort front seats with seat cushion tilt, thigh support, lumbar adjustment and electric backrest adjustment.

I think this is a better bet than any purely electric car currently available because it is not wildly expensive.

The Passat GTE combines style, comfort, and ease of operation without compromising on range. Also as far as any car can be these days, I would consider the Passat GTE a wise investment.

Volkswagen puts the maximum “theoretical range” with a fully charged high-voltage battery and 50-litre fuel tank at “over 664 miles”.

You could have some rather nerdy fun seeing how many miles you actually could get out of a full tank and fully charged battery.

This was a car with great pedigree to enjoy and savour. As mentioned, not everyone would be prepared to take on its truly high-end technology.

Yet it is the kind of car to spend time with to get to know all its possibilities, which are many and varied.

Volkswagen Passat GTE Advance 1.4 TSI plug-in hybrid six-speed DSG, five-door

Price as tested: £44,540 (excluding government grant of £2,500)

In-car entertainment and communications include:

Discover Navigation Pro voice-activated control system

8in colour touchscreen control system for navigation, DVD, CD and radio functions

64GB hard drive

Three-year Car-Net Guide and Inform subscription, providing online access to information such as traffic, fuel pricing, parking space availability, weather, news feeds and Google Earth

Interior design includes:

l Blue ambient lighting and white instrument lighting

l Leather trimmed three-spoke multi-function steering wheel with paddle shift

l Colour and trim: Pure White (£310) with Titan Black upholstery

Motoring

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