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First Drive: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Hybrid

A hybrid sedan that’s a bit more Knight Rider than it is Captain Planet

The average hybrid driving experience can be summed up in one wozzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… sorry, I feel asleep just thinking about driving one. There are a few exceptions, but sitting behind the steering wheel of almost all hybrid vehicles is a total snore fest. Most folks don’t really care about experiencing a bit of a thrill behind the wheel though, and the main focus of a hybrid is to provide A-to-B transportation in an efficient manner. That’s fine for a lot people, but there are some who want to smile when traffic parts, roads bend, and road signs blur past the side windows.

Is it possible to you have your fuel efficiency cake and enjoy eating it too? It is now… thanks to the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid.

Sure, other automakers have produced sporty gas-electric vehicles, but they’re far more sporty and the fuel economy often falls far from EPA estimates. We’re not against the sporty machines from the likes of Infiniti (M-hybrid) or Lexus (GS 450h), but you should know you’re fooling yourself if you think those cars are green even in the slightest. The only green there is the money you’re spending to put more fuel back in them.

VW has gone a different route with its Jetta Hybrid. Has the pairing of a small, turbocharged four-banger with an electron-huffing motor and battery pack paid off? You can bet your fuel-sipping ass it has…

It’s not just about what’s going on under the hood with the Jetta Hybrid. That part certainly helps, due to the way the hybrid system behaves, but we will get there in a moment. First, I want to talk about the suspension. Under the skin of the Jetta Hybrid is the same setup employed on the Jetta GLI. That car is essentially a GTI sedan, and that wonderfully pliant system works wonders here. Through a variety of corners, this German four-door remains as flat as the bill of Jesse James’ newest hat, worn as he wistfully looks at the TV and wonders what happened. I’m dealing with a car that enjoys cruising around town comfortably as much as it does running through canyons. And I’m dealing with some decent canyon roads on this particular drive because I happen to be over a mile above sea level in the hills outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Despite the elevation, the turbocharged mill is only breathing hard when I ask it too. Under the hood sits a 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine that utilizes the wizardry of direct injection and the hearty goodness of a turbocharger. Additionally, a lithium-ion battery back supplies energy to a 27-horsepower electric motor, which boosts total output to 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. All of the power is routed through a seven-speed DSG transmission, and on out to the front wheels.

Typically, this is the part of the my average Volkswagen review where I go on a rant proclaiming my hatred for the DSG. I find it to be a manic gearbox that’s incapable of providing the proper level of shit appropriateness. It’s either destined to push for unrealistic fuel economy by shifting into top gear by 30 miles per hour, or set into sport mode where it holds gears at red line until you want to pull the car to the side of the road and attack the transmission with a bat a la Michael Bolton Office Space style. Put the bat away and disregard the PC Load Letter warnings, the DSG operates more like the Michael Bolton that your mother fell in love with in the early 90′s.

Smooth. Not quite when a man loves a gearbox, but pretty damn close.

It’s not all gearbox and suspension though, as I alluded to earlier. The VW engineers worked a bit of magic to transform a 1.4-liter mill and a electron-loving motor into a dynamic duo. If you’re concerned about fuel economy, the 2013 Jetta Hybrid is rated to return 45 miles per gallon in combined driving. Around town you can pop the Jetta Hybrid into E-Mode, which forces the batter pack to be a bit more free with its electricity. At speeds up to 44 miles per hour, this dub will run as a pure EV. Sure, it will only do so for about 1.2 miles, but we’re not dealing with a Volt or Leaf. If you’re not concerned, there’s a Boost mode that pumps as much power as possible out to the wheels when the accelerator is slammed to the floor. At this point, you wouldn’t be crazy to assume that fuel economy dips far from the 45 mpg level. It does… but it’s still actually quite impressive.

It’s not entirely impressive though, as we do have one major gripe. It lies with the regenerative brakes, which are grabbier than that one uncle who shows up every third thanksgiving to chat up your wife. Press the pedal and instantly the clamps are coming out far more quickly than I anticipate, resulting in herky jerky braking. I can eventually smooth out the issue, but it’s rather jarring at first. Still, it’s an issue that’s fairly easily overcome with just a few hours of seat time.

As I said before, I was pushing the Jetta through the twisting rural roads outside of Santa Fe. This means lots of elevation changes, great sweeping turns, hard uphill climbs, and the occasional decreasing-radius GOTCHA segment. I gripped the wheel, put the DSG into SPORT, and got into the business of “driving”. After I made it through a particularly aggressive section, I glance down at the central information screen situated between the main gauges in cluster.

“30.1 MILES PER GALLON AVG”

What the hell is going on here? Earlier, I hit 50 miles per gallon while cruising on the highway. I wasn’t trying to be efficient but I wasn’t driving aggressively either. I was merely motoring down the freeway, and I effortless achieved significant fuel economy figures. Now, I put my boot into it, and I was still seeing impressive numbers.

On the outside, it looks like a fairly standard Jetta. It’s subtlety handsome, and the higher trims bring a few exterior flourishes to further help out the looks. The SEL and SEL premium trims get the LED daytime running lamp treatment, for instance. All Jetta Hybrids, however, benefit from a few aero tweaks that bring the Cd down from 0.30 to 0.28. On the inside, it’s more of the same as the Jetta Hybrid receives all of the equipment you’ll find in non-hybrid Jetta trims, yet it gets a few extra goodies. Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone auto climate control, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel are standard on all Jetta Hybrids. Move up the trim line, and you’ll wind up bumping into the Fender premium audio system and a crisp touch screen that displays the navigation system and a rear view camera.

So Volkswagen has managed to blend a fun to drive experience with the practicality of a hybrid drivetrain. Additionally, they’ve injected the standard level of class-leading fit and finish that VW fans have come to expect. It seems like a car like this should cost a pretty penny. In fact, the car is priced rather competitively. The starting price for the base hybrid is $24,995 and the top of the line SEL Premium runs $31,180. In between those two sit the $26,990 SE and the $29,325 SEL.

This class of car should attract comparisons to the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, and, of course, the Toyota Prius. The Jetta Hybrid is priced the same as the rest of the crew, yet the interior feels like it sits a class above the competition. Sure, it can’t match the fuel economy of the made-to-do-nothing-else Prius, but none of the competition can match the smile-inducing capability that the Jetta Hybrid offers up.

Full gallery of the car:

I know you want a gallery of the gas-pump mecca we stopped at as well:

[Disclosure: Volkswagen wanted us to drive the Jetta Turbo Hybrid, so they flew us out to the smallest airport I've ever been to. Seriously, Santa Fe airport has one (1) gate! From there we were ferried to a beautiful hotel outside of Santa Fe, given food and drink, then (the next morning, after the booze wore off) the keys to a beige-colored car that's far from it.]

[Photos copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Jeff Glucker]

Currently there are "23 comments" on this Article:

  1. Bruce says:

    I'll take the M5 Studebaker

  2. CABEZAGRANDE says:

    My only complaint is why doesn't the champion company of small diesel tech in America make a diesel hybrid? I would think one of their awesome little TDI engines would pair wonderfully with the hybrid system, and considering the damned impressive mileage the regular TDI is capable of, I would think a hybrid version with a smaller engine could achieve extremely impressive mileage numbers. Is there something about diesels that just doesn't pair well with hybrid tech, or are they just not seeing what seems obvious to me?

  3. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat says:

    VW should have mated the electrical part to a TDI engine.

    Stratospheric MPG and probably decently quick to boot.

    Also, for deceptive hybrids, the '05-'07 Accord hybrid was one.

    • CherokeeOwner says:

      It would also be double cost of a stand-alone hybrid or diesel-powered car. Plus, from what I've read online, diesels don't like being routinely started and stopped, unless the tech's improved.

      • K5ING says:

        So disable the stop-start function on the diesel version. It's not like diesels gulp fuel at idle. My '01 Golf TDI only drinks it at a rate of about 0.2 gal/hr at idle speed anyway. That's unless the EPA has some sort of crazy mandate to require stop-start. That would be just silly, wouldn't it?

        • bhtooefr says:

          EPA actually doesn't consider stop-start in the city cycle, so having it doesn't help CAFE or Monroney sticker figures.

          But, all Mk7 Golfs (gasser or TDI) have stop-start standard.

  4. boostedlegowgn says:

    Sort of interesting – and nice review Jeff – but was anyone really asking for a VW with *more* electrical equipment?

  5. MJMcG says:

    All modern diesels are pretty highly strung, and are prone to expensive failures. Especially if they are used in gridlock driving. Also, they sound like tractors because on a small car there is a limit to the amount of sound proofing you can fit. The US is a very different market to Europe. Here we are taxed into small diesels by $10gal petrol and diesel and punitive tax on car purchase. And the US is just not used to how loud these motors get after a few years…

    And with respect to the Hybrid Jetta (forever a farmers car in Ireland) you now have 250lbs of batteries between the rear wheels, That will not be good for dynamics.

    I'm clinging to my gas powered car because I don't want to hear it at traffic lights and I don't want a nose heavy car that smells bad.

    • CABEZAGRANDE says:

      All the modern diesels I've experienced are almost insanely reliable. Yes, repair costs have gone up drastically in the last few years, but they just aren't that prone to those failures. And yes, they don't sound all that great, but I haven't heard an old VW TDI yet (and there are a bunch of them around my area) that was unpleasantly loud.

      That 250 lbs in the back is actually probably what makes it fun to drive. The Jetta (and really any front driver for that matter) are very nose heavy vehicles, which creates boring understeer prone handling. Putting the battery in the back greatly improves the weight balance of the car and can give it a much more balanced handling feel. And battery packs are generally very flat and placed very low in the chassis, and can actually significantly lower the CG height of the vehicle, often below what is achievable with the standard car, which again can improve handling. While your overall weight increases with a hybrid, which is bad for handling, the weight can be strategically placed to actually improve dynamics.

      • MJMcG says:

        Our 1.9TDI sounded embarrassingly loud after 2 years and only 40,000kms. It was the ancient 8 valve lump in a 2006 Passat. A hellishly heavy and dead car to drive. The 90 hp 1.6D Golf is a snooze fest,. Wife''s A1 has 105bhp and a nice oomph to the mid-range.

        Re weight. it ruins all cars. Battery pack in the Jetta hybrid is between the wheel arches, looks like it sits on the fuel tank. It won't really help the C of G, but at least it is between the axles. you will not improve the handling by adding weight. it is 250 lbs over the 2.5L Jetta.

  6. racer139 says:

    Id try a hybrid jetta just based in this review. They sound worlds better than some of the other hybrid offerings.

    • racer139 says:

      Also whats up with the mobile page its still displaying last nights last call at the top of the page. There are no new posts above it. Also the button to turn the mobile version does not work.,I had to get this article from google directly.

  7. Lex says:

    Hmm, i'd think about this even with the DSG if they'll sell me a wagon. Sounds like the perfect betterhalf car in wagon variant, checking pretty much all of the boxes and still capable of letting me enjoy the time i spend behind the wheel of the other car.

  8. Dean Bigglesworth says:

    I think it's weird that the US gets hybrid VWs while Europe gets by just fine with gas and diesel, what with us paying 9$+ for a US gallon of gas.

  9. Tanshanomi says:

    Let's bring the Jetta Turbo Hybrid's price into perspective. I was checking out new Kizashi prices online last night. The cheapest one I found had a list price of $24,499, and a few were tickling $29K. Suzuki cited the current Yen/Dollar exchange rate as one of the reasons why they're leaving the US market. Considering that a new Kizashi costs as much as this car, I can see why. As much of a Kizashi cheerleader as I have been (er, was), the Jetta T-H sends that price point's dollar/value equation into a whole 'nuther galaxy.

  10. Mike_the_Dog says:

    I've been putting a lot of miles on a 2011 Jetta TDI lately and adore the car, but the gas mileage- not so much. I've also been driving a variety of 2nd and 3rd gen Priuses, and hate the cars but love the gas mileage. A Jetta with Prius economy numbers sounds like heaven on asphalt.

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