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Generation 8.5 VW Passat may look similar to an 8.0 but a PHEV drivetrain enhances its environmental credentials. (Volkswagen)

What we’re driving: 2020 Volkswagen Passat GTE

“What we’re driving” is SAE International’s series of quick-strike vehicle reviews.

A mid-life update and up-spec for Volkswagen’s Europe-built Passat range brings a plug-in hybrid-electric (PHEV) version – a first for the model – for MY2020. Not for the first time (the Phaeton was one example), VW markets a model in terms of refinement, perceived quality and aesthetics that is arguably very close to being an Audi in all but badge. Audi might dismiss such a suggestion, but the latest-generation 8.5 Passat GTE hybrid, built off the company’s MQB platform (U.S.-produced Passats use VW’s Group B platform), takes it still closer to its Audi brethren.

The GTE may seem to indicate a sporty GT version, but it is not that; however, the nomenclature could reasonably stand for Great Technology and Electrified. The plug-in hybrid is quite brisk, though: 0-to-62 mph (100 km/h) runs take 7.4 sec and top speed is 138 mph (222 km/h). Curb weight is 1730 kg (3814 lb).

The electric motor and 148-hp (110-kW) 1.4-L turbocharged gasoline engine work together with linear smoothness; Maximum torque is 243 lb-ft (330 Nm). Peak electrical power is quoted at 85 kW (114 hp); battery capacity is 13 kWh and combined drive cycle electric consumption (WLTP-measured) is 165 Wh/km, with electric-only range a practical 35 miles (56 km). 

With a light touch on the accelerator, the electric motor will comfortably waft the car to national speed limits from standstill. The GTE’s powertrain drives through a 6-speed DSG gearbox, although other 2020 Passats get a 7-speed. The DSG incorporates a third disengagement clutch that decouples the ICE “whenever possible” to make best use of kinetic energy, stated VW.

On the cruise, the ICE is quiet and MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension make for a good ride and handling compromise. Infotainment now includes New Travel Assist, making the latest Passat the first VW that can be driven at up to 130 mph (209 km/h) in assisted-driving mode. The car also gets version 3.0 predictive Adaptive Cruise Control, a further aid to energy saving.

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