VW’s latest GTI concept proves hot hatchbacks can be green

Every year, Volkswagen brings a group of customized cars to the Worthersee festival, a VW-centric car show in Austria, as a token of appreciation to its loyal fans. Normally, these cars emphasize styling or performance, but this year Volkswagen decided to focus on fuel economy as well.

The Volkswagen Golf GTI First Decade concept is named after the 10 GTI concepts VW has shown at Worthersee over the past decade, but it has something none of those cars did: a hybrid powertrain. So this GTI is less “fast and furious” and more “fast and frugal.”

Like a stock GTI, the First Decade uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine to power its front wheels. But it also has an electric motor, which powers the rear wheels. This creates what’s known in the industry as a “through-the-road” all-wheel drive system, with different power sources for each axle.

The car can operate in either gasoline-only front-wheel drive mode, or electric-only rear-wheel drive mode. However, the electric motor only develops 16 horsepower. It’s connected to two small batteries mounted in the rear of the car through a 48-volt electrical system. The gasoline engine produces 402 horsepower, providing the majority of the muscle.

Besides the hybrid powertrain, the GTI First Decade received some visual upgrades in the form of a two-tone paint job and 20-inch wheels. On the inside, VW ditched the rear seats, and used the space to house a 1,960-watt, 11-speaker sound system. The driver’s seat also features a back massage function that can be controlled via smartphone.

Will Volkswagen ever put a hybrid GTI on sale? With stricter emissions standards on the horizon, it might not be out of the question. VW already sells the plug-in hybrid Golf GTE in Europe, and sells the all-electric e-Golf in both Europe and the U.S. But it has never attached the hallowed Golf GTI name to a vehicle with an electrified powertrain. At least, not yet.