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]