It’s great that there’s some new competition in the hybrid car market, with cars such as the new Volkswagen Passat offering a new and realistic option. This is a hybrid drive car, which uses a plug-in hybrid system to give a relatively short electric-only driving range that could be suitable for many short-distance commuter drivers.

Does it at last offer an option to diesel? That’s the question that car buyers continue to ask and rightly so. And the Volkswagen Passat offers that choice comparison. I’ve driven the new Volkswagen Passat GTE in recent weeks and this week I’ll compare it with the Toyota Prius featured in last week’s Irish Farmers Journal.

The new Volkswagen Passat GTE uses a combination of 156hp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine with an 115hp electric motor. Together, they combine to offer 218bhp and 440Nm of torque, with combined CO2 emissions of just 29g/km.

The Volkswagen Passat GTE remains a big car with lots of space and impressive towing ability of up to 1.6 tonnes, not that far behind the diesel versions.

Volkswagen claims that the car’s 13kW battery has 31% more capacity than the previous model. This, the company claims, will allow a fully electric, emission-free range of up to 56km (measured under WLTP) when driving in electric mode.

This Passat has a smooth automatic gearbox and I drove it mainly in Eco mode to get the best fuel economy from its 50 litre petrol fuel tank. The previous driver must have been a little heavy on the pedal, as when I first started the car up the range was showing over 560km.

A week later, driving mostly in the Eco mode and with plug-in charging and after 1,060km travelled, the range had jumped to almost 800km, giving me a fuel economy figure of 16km/litres (6.25 litres/100km or 45mpg). That compares reasonably well with the Toyota Prius, but it is not as good. In many respects, the Passat is a much finer car.

The internal layout of the new Volkswagen Passat GTE differs very little from the standard diesel model, the layout is impressive and the move from petrol to electric is seamless.

The Passat is longer and wider, with more space and a significantly bigger boot space than the Prius, but then it is a far more expensive car to buy. It also has a decent towing ability, more than double that of the Prius. At 1.6t, it is lower than the diesel Passat equivalent and I’ve a suspicion that towing with a hybrid Passat could be an expensive pastime.

The Passat GTE hybrid is getting close to diesel car economy in a car that was lovely to drive. This petrol engine is impressive in terms of acceleration performance too, with a very responsive pedal that all too quickly shows you the car’s ability. There are big wheels included and smooth-running quiet tyres. And there is a lovely driving feel to the car, but it will be more expensive to own compared with current diesel models.

Overnight charging using the plug-in hybrid system gave me a range of just over 40km and I used it to good effect for the limited town driving that I did. The plug-in system is built into the front grille and is barely noticeable.

The concept is that you can drive on the open road with the petrol engine and then migrate to electric power for short stop-start town driving. The system works; you just have to get your head into gear to maximise its potential.

The Passat GTE has all of the safety features of the regular diesel and petrol models. I’m a little surprised that this Passat has yet to achieve a Euro NCAP safety rating, as the current rating is very old. While I’ve no reason to doubt its safety credentials, a Euro NCAP badge is always re-assuring.

Entry prices for the Volkswagen Passat start from €42,495 or £36,390 in Northern Ireland. This is a still a significant price hike over the entry-level diesel Passat EVO versions.

The price gap of almost €8,000 is still too big to persuade people the make the move from diesel, and the economy benefits are not big enough either.

For rural drivers, the economy and range, as well as the lower towing ability, still mean that diesel power will be the preferred choice.

For those on a short commute or who spend most of their driving time on local short runs to the village or school and back, smart use of the plug-in hybrid system can offer running cost advantages.

This new Volkswagen Passat GTE has all of the spacious benefits of the Passat range with a solid car feel and lots of good technology. It is getting near to diesel running costs, especially if you use the plug-in hybrid system to good effect, but the price hike from diesel to hybrid is still very big.