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Game changers

I have recently driven two game-changing vehicles: first the Volkswagen Golf GTE and then the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, both sublime in their own different ways.

The Golf and Outlander are plug-in hybrids (like the latter’s full name suggests), but other than that, they are very different machines. And for me, a major difference was the experience I had in driving them. I was behind the wheel of the Golf for just a couple of hours, but I had the Outlander for a week. With these new-generation electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, you need to drive them for a while to get any real idea of how they perform – it’s all about ‘real world’ mpg, not ‘drifting sideways on a disused runway’ mph.

Sadly, I have little idea of what the real world mpg of the Golf GTE would be. It’s certainly going to be way above the GTD or the GTi Golf performance models, but driving the car for only a few hours gives one very little idea.

What I do know, however, is that the GTE can go along very quietly in electric mode, and if you switch to hybrid operation, it sips fossil fuel like a teetotaler at a booze-up. If you press the GTE button, however, it uses everything and goes like stink.

The VW hatchback gets its power from a 1.4-liter TSI unit and a 102ps electric motor, the latter of which is fed by a 8.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack, aiding the GTE to offer a pure-electric range of between 40 and 50km (24-51 miles) in the real world.

You can recharge the battery using the engine so you don’t have to plug it in – but, obviously, if you do, the fuel economy is going to be far greater. Like other PHEVs, there are a number of different modes to choose from, depending on your driving situation. ‘Battery Hold’ retains a constant state of charge, while ‘Battery Charge’ will actively top up the pack. You can also select the intensity of battery regeneration via a control on the DSG gearshift, meaning that it’s possible to decelerate the car without touching the brakes. As you’d expect, it’s all very clever stuff from VW and works seamlessly. After two hours of driving, I can safely say the GTE is brilliant. I mean, it’s a VW through and through: solid, durable and very well engineered.

Because I drove the Outlander much further, charged it myself, bought petrol for it, and did the simple math of how far I went and how much I spent, I have a much better idea of the real cost of driving it.

For starters, it’s huge – I’m talking its proportions here, not everyday running costs! The Outlander is a big, hulking four-wheel-drive SUV. That said, it’s smooth and quiet to drive, although the game changer for me was the ability to rapid charge.

My first all-electric car was the Mitsubishi i-Miev, and the Outlander has the same charge inputs, a standard Mennekes socket for 3kW and 7kW input, and Chademo for 50kW input.

What this means is that you can recharge the vehicle to 80% in about 12 minutes using a rapid charge point at a highway service stop. So, on my first longish trip (around 225km (140 miles) in total), I achieved 2.97 l/100km (95.1mpg). Yes, that’s right: 2.97 l/100km in a 2-ton SUV.

I did three charges, which added 24 minutes to my journey – because one of them was in a car park while I wasn’t using the vehicle. I accept that not everyone is going to recharge to this extent, so I kept a close record, and after 800km (500 miles) I averaged 3.92 l/100km (72mpg). I only charged it overnight at home and topped it up when I could be bothered.

In general, I have plenty of reservations about SUVs and hot hatchbacks, but truthfully, if you’re going to get one or the other, these two cars are a massive improvement on the regular IC engined models.

 

7 January 2015

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