2013 Volkswagen Jetta

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2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid review

By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.5

Bottom Line:

With the best-sorted 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain on the market, the argument for the Jetta Hybrid is compelling. It is more fuel efficient than the diesel-powered Jetta TDI, and it is more fun to drive and almost as fuel efficient as the hybrid leader, the Toyota Prius. The price of entry is a bit high, but it appears that Volkswagen was wise to go with a two-pronged green strategy in its Jetta lineup.
Pros:
  • Gas sipper
  • Well integrated engine and motor
  • Refined ride and handling
Cons:
  • Highest priced Jetta
  • Is it really needed given the TDI?
  • Some plasticky interior materials

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.

Model lineup
The Jetta Hybrid is offered in four trims: base, SE, SEL and SEL Premium. Pricing starts at $24,995 for the base trim, but it is only offered by special order. That makes the $26,990 SE the base car that most buyers will be able to find.

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
The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid features a unique and complex powertrain, including the first-ever turbocharged engine in a hybrid. The engine is a new 1.4-liter 4-cylinder that makes 150 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. It is aided by an electric motor that produces 27 horsepower and up to 114 lb-ft of torque. VW quotes total output as 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is VW's familiar 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual.

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.

Inner space
This generation of the Jetta has been criticized for an overly plasticky interior, but the Jetta Hybrid atones for some of those sins. Like the GLI and other higher-line models, the Jetta Hybrid has a soft-touch dashboard and armrests, but the door tops are still hard plastic. Overall, the materials are appropriate for the price, but there is nothing here that surprises and delights.

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
Volkswagen has put a lot of technology under the hood of the Jetta Hybrid — turbocharging, small-displacement engine, electric motor, dual-clutch automated manual transmission — and made it work together almost flawlessly. The immediate torque of the electric motor offsets the lack of off-the-line punch of the small displacement engine to make the Jetta Hybrid reasonably peppy from a stop. The turbocharger then spools up to supply fairly strong midrange pulling power, and the dual-clutch transmission downshifts quickly to provide decent passing punch at highway speeds. The DSG shifts smoothly, too, and gives the engine a conventional, linear feel, unlike the continuously variable automatic transmissions in most hybrids that send the revs high and keep them there when drivers floor the throttle.

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?
The Jetta Hybrid begs the question: Why both a diesel and hybrid in the Jetta line? Well, it depends on the type of driving you do. If you have a long daily commute with a lot of highway miles, the diesel with its lower price and 42 mpg highway rating may be the right choice. If you drive a lot in the city, the hybrid will save you more money on gas. Volkswagen further differentiates the two by making the hybrid a more upscale car with a nicer interior and an independent rear suspension. Buyers will also like the Jetta Hybrid over the Toyota Prius for its superior driving dynamics and more traditional powertrain feel, but if fuel economy is the ultimate goal the Prius is still the best choice.

(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.

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BB06 - 7/10/2014 1:45:17 PM