Sunday, 18 March 2018

New innovations deliver complicated juggling act

THE humble car has become as much a part of every person’s essential daily toolkit as

THE humble car has become as much a part of every person’s essential daily toolkit as mobile phones, tablets and any other device locked into the rapidly evolving digital world.

It follows then that it is necessary that all these devices are compatible wherever you go. For example, increasingly what gadgetry you get in cars is easily accessed through your mobile phone.

This allows people who seem to have mobiles grafted to their hands — and cannot bear to be parted from them for a second — to remain connected even when they are driving.

I’ve already expressed in this column my misgivings about the danger of distraction from such devices while at the wheel. But if you are sensible you can use them to great effect.

Texts, emails, satellite navigation, personalised entertainment and of course hands-free telephone calls are all available to access via connectivity through your phone from the driver’s seat of a car.

How you go about this is your responsibility and we all know there will be people who will openly abuse the privilege.

But carmakers have to go with the flow and it is not only inside the car’s cabin that their research and development departments have been working overtime to innovate with new technologies.

One of the biggest issues today with regard to motoring is fuel economy and engines available now seem to be changing â?? that is, for the most part getting much better — by the minute.

As with anything remotely to do with computers, if you own a car that is say, five years old you will find its technological abilities have been outstripped by new models.

I first encountered this week’s drive, the new Volkswagen Golf GTE back in the spring at what was a Volkswagen road show, a chance for the German carmaker to show off three new models.

The Golf GTE impressed me then because its on-board technology seemed to push us yet further along that road towards ultimate compatibility between car and computer.

Volkswagen is not alone in this endeavour, as the majority of car manufacturers realise that this is the only way to go.

However, you could argue that whereas once we made do with one engine to propel us backwards and forwards in cars — the simple internal combustion engine up front — now with hybrids and plug-in hybrids you have two engines. The Golf GTE is itself driven by two engines: a 1.4-litre 150 PS TSI direct-injection petrol engine and a 102 PS electric motor. Together, they have a theoretical range of 580 miles. Its six-speed DSG gearbox developed for hybrid vehicles is standard.

This DSG gearbox is excellent and ultra-smooth without the “lurch” one can encounter with automatic gearboxes incorporating old technology (that are still available in some new models).

The Golf has been a worldwide bestseller for Volkswagen for decades through generations of models. But this GTE version struck me when I first drove it at the road show as “the embodiment of the shape of things to come in cars”. A further drive now has only confirmed that view.

There are five operating modes: E-mode, GTE mode, Battery Hold, Battery Charge and Hybrid Auto.

In electric mode, the Golf GTE can travel up to 31 miles. Electric power can also be saved: in electric mode, the GTE can top 81mph.

With the TSI engine engaged as well, the Golf GTE can achieve 0 to 62 mph in 7.6 seconds and on to 138mph, yet returns a combined cycle figure of 166 mpg and CO2 emissions of 39g/km.

As such it is expected to be exempt from VED and the congestion charge. Now the one lingering question in my mind with regard to the GTE — having driven it this week — is how best to drive it?

You find that you are juggling your driving mode to suit road conditions, which I suppose is how it should be but I feel that this wide range of driving modes will be looked upon in years to come as a tad complicated.

No doubt those whizz kids in the research and development departments at Volkswagen will be refining and simplifying things still further so that the poor motorist can get on with doing what is required of him or her: to get from A to B economically and in comfort and of course in some style.

At present, the new Golf GTE fulfils these aspirations admirably. But at this rate there is bound to be a different take on all these “innovative” cars of today in 10 years’ time.

VW Golf GTE factfile

VOLKSWAGEN Golf GTE plug-in hybrid five-door, six-speed DSG

Basic price (including £5,000 government grant): £28,755

Six-speed DSG gearbox developed for hybrid vehicles is standard

The electric motor is integrated into the gearbox housing, hybrid components include power electronics and a charger

An electro-mechanical brake servo and electric air conditioning compressor for greater energy-efficiency

The Golf GTE is available in five-door bodystyle only and in one specification (in the UK)

The GTE has an  e-manager to pre-set interior temperature using the Car-Net e-remote app on a smartphone;  a three-year subscription is included as standard in the UK.

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