2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid review
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Most Americans equate hybrid technology with fuel efficiency. Few understand that diesel engines are almost as efficient and that they usually cost less than their hybrid counterparts. No automaker has had more success with diesels in America than Volkswagen. In fact, 20 percent of the Jettas sold in the U.S. each year are TDI turbodiesels. For 2013, however, Volkswagen is covering all the green bases by adding a hybrid to the Jetta lineup. Let's take a look at how it compares to hybrids in general and to the Jetta TDI in particular.
Standard equipment on the base level includes vinyl upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, AM/FM/CD stereo, Bluetooth connectivity and 15-inch alloy wheels. The SE adds keyless access and starting, a touch-screen audio system, iPod interface and satellite radio. The $29,325 SEL gets a sunroof, a navigation system, heated seats and 16-inch wheels. The top-of-the-line $31,180 SEL Premium adds bi-xenon headlights that point into turns, a rearview camera, a 400-watt Fender audio system and 17-inch wheels.
Under the hood
Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy ratings have yet to be released, but VW says combined city and highway fuel economy will be 45 mpg. That compares to 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway/34 mpg combined for the diesel-powered Jetta TDI and 51/48/50 mpg for the Toyota Prius.
The control layout is simple and easy to use. Choose an SE or SEL and you get a touch-sensitive center screen to handle the radio, phone, navigation system and various other functions. It also displays a diagram of the hybrid system, showing the power flow to and from the engine, motor and battery (a similar display is found in the instrument panel). The graphics on the touch screen are quite attractive, but we find this system to be a bit too slow to react to inputs, and it lacks the access to apps that other, more modern infotainment systems offer today.
Instead of a tachometer, the Jetta Hybrid has a "power meter" with a blue range to help you drive efficiently. It also shows when the battery is charging and when the engine is working by itself.
Interior space is a Jetta strength. The front seats have plenty of headroom and legroom and they team with a tilt/telescoping steering column to offer a comfortable seating position for just about anyone. The rear seat is also rather large for the class, making this a viable family car. Volkswagen boasts that the Jetta Hybrid trunk has the most room in the class, but it's still rather small at 11.2 cubic feet--and it has a large hump at the back to cover the lithium-ion battery. That will limit your ability to put large boxes in the trunk, but split-folding rear seats will allow longer items to fit. By comparison, the Prius has a hatchback body style with a voluminous 21.6 cubic feet of space.
On the road
A disengagement clutch lets the electric motor power the car alone without the aid of the engine, and this is one of the reasons the Jetta Hybrid gets such good fuel economy. VW provides an E mode that lets the car drive on electricity alone for up to 1.2 miles at speeds as high as 44 mph. Using this mode just drains the battery, so it doesn't help fuel economy. An S mode also holds gears longer to make the power easier to access, but it results in lower fuel economy as well.
Given the engine's small size, VW's quoted zero-to-60-mph time of 8.6 seconds is quite respectable. It's about a second and a half quicker than the Toyota Prius. The Toyota Camry Hybrid, however, is almost a second quicker and similarly priced. Rather appropriately, the Jetta Hybrid's estimated 45 mpg combined fuel economy rating will fall right between the Prius's 50 mpg and the Camry Hybrid's 40 mpg. The Jetta TDI's combined EPA fuel economy rating is 34 mpg, and it costs $1,120 less.
The Hybrid is positioned as a premium car in the Jetta lineup, and that affects its road manners. The rear suspension gets the multilink independent setup from the Jetta GLI instead of the torsion bar geometry of the TDI and other entry-level models. The independent suspension aids handling and improves ride quality by isolating the effects of bumps at the sides of the car rather than transferring the shock from one side of the car to the other. Handling, while capable, isn't as agile as the Jetta GLI, because the Hybrid has softer shocks and springs and low-rolling-resistance tires that provide less grip.
The Jetta Hybrid also gets rear disc brakes instead of drums, but that doesn't help braking feel. Like many hybrids, the brakes are grabby upon initial application. The electric-assist power steering has some heft to it and provides decent road feel.
Right for you?
(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitatethis report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.