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The new Golf GTE combines GTI dynamics with e-Golf sustainability. Volkswagen WRC Rally driver Andreas Mikkelsen has been putting the GTE through its paces for a day around the bends of his adopted home of Monaco. In an exclusive interview, he explains why the new plug-in hybrid works perfectly for his sporty urban lifestyle.

Text Andreas Mikkelsen
Photos Georg Roske

Andreas Mikkelsen

Andreas Mikkelsen was born on 22 June 1989 in Oslo. As a young man, he participated in alpine skiing and motocross and was a member of the Norwegian national youth team in both sports. A knee injury at 16 forced him to retire and drove him straight into rally sport. As early as 2006, he began participating in a few rallies in Britain, and from 2007 in the WRC, where he was the youngest driver in 2008 to place in the World Championship. Since 2013, he has been driving for Volkswagen, and came in 10th in his first season.

A break with a view: Andreas Mikkelsen during the Golf GTE test on the Côte d’Azur.

It is early summer on the Riviera; the Mediterranean below is shimmering in the sun. After lunch with a friend in La Turbie, I’m driving the Corniche Moyenne, heading downwards to Monte Carlo.
It's so cool to be gliding along in full electric mode, taking the strain off the fuel engine while even recharging my battery during braking or driving downhill – what’s known as the recuperation process. Everybody should try it, actually. With almost no engine noise, it feels a bit magical, as though some hidden force is pulling you along. The steering is accurate and effortless and I can enjoy the view without having to think about the driving. If I want to overtake someone, I just give the throttle a little extra push and the petrol engine kicks in smoothly. Once I’m past the slower driver, the e-motor takes over again. For sure, not using much petrol is great, and keeping the air around me clean makes me feel good, but I especially love the fact that it feels so effortless. And it fits in with my lifestyle – it’s both chilled out and exciting.

Famous coastal road: View of the Corniche Moyenne, near Nice.

This is so different from driving my Polo WRC rally car – it almost feels like I have a double life. The intensity of driving the World Rally Championship is unimaginable: the power of the engine; the forces on your body as you accelerate, brake and corner; the noise from the engine and the road; and the co-driver shouting instructions through the headphones. The landscape is often incredibly beautiful, but as it rushes towards you there is no time to enjoy it. You have to keep focussed. If you make even a tiny mistake, the beautiful rocks and ditches are all waiting to rip off one of your wheels. Between events it’s relatively quiet. We plan the next rally with the team. I study the on-board videos we filmed at the events last year, looking at mistakes I made and working out how to avoid them this time around. To keep in shape, I go to the gym or go cycling and do relaxation exercises. People see videos of rally cars jumping, drifting and crashing, and they often think the drivers are all crazy hot-heads, permanently living at full throttle. But winning a rally isn't just about driving aggressively. That's not sustainable – if you go too fast you crash, or you have to go slower in the next two corners. To become a world champion, you need patience and intelligence. You have to find the balance between being fired-up and being relaxed. That's what I like about this Golf GTE – it does fast just like a GTI and it does cool like the e-Golf. It's sporty and sustainable.

My life is pretty much like that. A time of being really busy, living fast, is followed by a period of relaxing and reflecting. I need both aspects in my life. I perform well under stress and I love the excitement, but not continuous stress – I need a time out to focus again. Summers in Norway are short and intense. On a midsummer’s day in Oslo, it hardly gets dark at all – we stay up all night. But in winter, we take our time and think about things. That’s part of our culture. If you want to survive the Norwegian winter, you have to be careful how you use your energy supply, whether it’s wood, oil or electricity. I think that has made us pretty green. Norway is in love with electric cars. There are plenty of tax advantages, reserved parking places, and electric cars are allowed to drive in the bus lanes. This GTE will be really popular in Oslo.

When I first came to Monaco, I missed my family and friends, and I missed Oslo. I used to go back quite a lot. But then I made some friends and now I love the freedom here. I’m single, I love my job and Monaco is a really exciting city. OK, the traffic is slow, but during the Formula 1 Grand Prix season in late spring this city can be fast and furious. There’s a big buzz in Monaco, a lot of cool people and beautiful girls. Here, Formula 1 drivers are like pop stars. Rally drivers are not quite so glamorous, but we get some attention, too. The new Golf GTE is a great car to relax in. Whether I’m cruising through the scenery, sitting in traffic or just going across town to a café, it's all really easy. Everybody imagines that when I get in a car, I drive like a player in Grand Theft Auto, but honestly I get rid of my need for speed in the WRC. And anyway, I've got to be careful not to collect points on my licence – at WRC events we have to drive to the stages on public roads and without a driving licence you can't take part. I like really fast cars, but when I think about buying one I notice how Norwegian I am. A Lamborghini, for example, is a fantastic car, but I wouldn't want that much attention. There is a Norwegian band called Kings of Convenience, they had an album called “Quiet is the New Loud”, and that sums up the Norwegian attitude to lots of things.

En passant: The Côte d’Azur also offers the GTE the advantage of charging stations and free parking spaces.

When I drive, I want to be able to take my friends along with me. And there is the problem of parking. It is hard enough finding parking spaces in modern cities, but you can't just leave an exotic car on the street. The Golf GTE solves both these problems in one go. There’s enough space to take your mates and their gear up to the Alps for a skiing weekend. And in France, in cities like Nice and Cannes, there are plenty of special parking places with charging stations reserved for electric cars. That’s especially useful while events like the Cannes film festival or the F1 Grand Prix are on. Monte Carlo has already got more than 30 charging points, and they are planning more.

Push the button: pushing the button to the left of the ignition turns the GTE into a growling sports car.
Modern lightness: adopted Monegasque Mikkelsen loves the GTE’s mix of excitement and relaxation.

The impressive thing is the speed when you press the GTE button. This changes the whole character of the car. The engine sound gets louder, the steering gets a little tighter, and the chassis firms up. The whole car feels more direct. The DSG changes gear quicker and the box stays in the lower gears, ready to accelerate on demand. The Golf that was once gliding silently becomes a growling sports car.

 

To be honest, I’m more a fan of the “regular” Golf – the seventh-generation models have got really sweet handling, they are agile and the steering is quick and smooth. I was a bit worried that the extra kilos of the batteries in the Golf GTE might take away some of the sparkle. But it’s OK – the engineers have done their homework. The batteries are placed really low and just in front of the rear wheels so that the Golf GTE has excellent weight distribution and you don't notice the extra 120 kilos of weight at all. What you do notice is the extra boost you get when you press the GTE button – the electric motor helps the petrol engine. The two motors produce a combined 150 kW (204 ps and a meaty 350 Nm of torque. If you turn the ESC off (we don’t have driver aids in our rally cars), this is enough to get the wheels spinning in the first three gears. The car surges through the corners on a massive wave of hybrid energy. And with the Golf GTE’s all-electric range of up to 31 miles, you get a pretty free rein. The car’s overall range actually gets up close to 580 miles.

Quiet is the new loud: Norwegian Mikkelsen prefers a calm personal life.

Some people might find the GTE too much of a compromise. They might say: if you’re more of a “Think Blue.” person, get an e-Golf. Or if you want to be fast and wild, get a Golf GTI. That’s fine for them, but I see it differently. Sometimes I want exhilaration and sometimes relaxation, sometimes I need a plan and other times I want to be surprised. Why pick one when you can have both – that's how modern driving should be.
I want to be the fastest rally driver in the world, but I’m younger than a lot of the other drivers, it’s only my second season in WRC, I don’t feel so much pressure. I’m being patient. Patience makes me faster

» Why pick one when you can have both?  «

In the GTE, we pass the rows of spectators of the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monaco.

The GTE in figures.

Motorisation: Electric engine: 75 kW, Petrol engine 110 kW (150 hp), Combined: 150 kW (204 PS)

Gears: 6-gear DSG Range: Electric range: 31 miles, Total range: 580 miles

Charging time: 2.25 h (wall box), 3.75 h (mains charging cable) Consumption: Fuel consumption in l/100 km: 1.5 or188 mpg (combined) Power consumption in kWh/100 km: 11.4 (combined)

CO₂ emissions in g/km: 39 (combined) Efficiency class: A+

Acceleration (from 0 to 100): 7.6 seconds

Maximum speed: 81 mph (electric), 138 mph (combined)

Curb weight: 1,524 kg Dimensions (in mm): Length: 4,255, Width with mirrors: 2,027, Height: 1,452

Boot: 275 l

Series highlights: GTE button, Volkswagen Car-Net e-Remote, C-shaped LED daytime running light, complete LED headlights, top sports seats, 3-spoke multifunction leather steering wheel, blue brake callipers

The hybrid engine.

Everything about Volkswagen’s plug-in hybrid engine in an explanatory video: