Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com
August 28, 2013
"Why is Volkswagen doing a hybrid version of the Jetta?!"
That was my response when the news first came that Volkswagen would be introducing the Jetta Hybrid. On one hand this doesn't make sense. Volkswagen is known as the diesel automaker with five vehicles that offer amazing fuel economy and performance. Plus, diesel vehicles in the U.S. are making huge inroads. According to R.L. Polk, registration of diesel vehicles have increased 24.3 percent from 2010 to 2012.
However there are still a fair number of the public who believe that diesel is EVIL! Instead they are turning to hybrids which also offers amazing fuel economy numbers. Volkswagen not wanting to miss out on this has created the Jetta Hybrid. But this being Volkswagen, they did it their way. In this case, you'll find a turbocharged engine, dual-clutch gearbox, and promises of fun to driveness. Does it fully work?
The Jetta Hybrid's design is very much a Jetta. That's to say the current incarnation is very conservative. You'll find crisp lines and a tailored rear end as its distinctive design cues. Some believe the design will age well in the coming years. I agree with that, but is that something you should be proud of in a design?
There are little giveaways that help differentiate the Jetta Hybrid from a normal Jetta, but you're going to have to get close to notice them. There is a new grille and small spoiler in a effort to improve aerodynamics. Other changes include LED taillights, new wheels, and a number of 'hybrid' badges on the vehicle.
Moving inside, it's hard to tell the difference between a normal Jetta and Jetta Hybrid. The only real giveaway that you're in the Hybrid is a new gauge cluster that replaces the tachometer with an Eco/Power/Charge gauge that makes no sense. Sure it will tell you how aggressive you are on the throttle, but it's not tied to something quantifiable. Stick with the trip computer in the gauge cluster that provides a screen that shows which powertrain is working if you want to maximize your MPGs.
Much like the exterior, the Jetta Hybrid's interior design is plain. Material quality is pretty poor as the door panels and lower trim pieces are hard plastics that look like they came from milk crates. This is a huge no-no on a vehicle with a $30k+ pricetag. The only real bright spots inside were a soft touch dash and aluminum-like trim pieces.
Another downside to the Jetta Hybrid is the infotainment system. Volkswagen uses a small five-inch touch screen that provides radio, navigation, and information about the hybrid system. While I liked the simple navigation interface and the screens showing the important hybrid information, the rest of the system is not great. The touch points on the screen are too small and I found myself repeatedly hitting them to get something to happen. You also can't pan from one part of the map to another which I found somewhat annoying. Finally, I don't like that Volkswagen uses this small screen in a number of their high-end compact vehicles (Jetta Hybrid, GLI, GTI, and Beetle Turbo). I would be willing to shell out a few more dollars just so I can have a larger screen.
Not all is bad with the Jetta Hybrid's interior. To start, the Jetta Hybrid has one of the largest interiors in the compact class. That means you and your passengers will be able to find a comfortable position in the vehicle. There is also the excellent Fender audio system which pumped out some great sound. I originally thought this would be just a stick-on name to a mediocre sound system, but I was wrong.
The heart of the Jetta Hybrid is 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder, paired with a 20kW electric motor. Total output stands at 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. A 220-volt, 60-cell lithium-ion battery pack helps power the electric motor. Volkswagen uses their seven-speed DSG transmission to send the power to front wheels.
The hybrid powertrain provides a surprising punch of power. The 1.4L turbo engine shows little lag and paired with the electric motor, provides smooth acceleration no matter the occasion. The smooth shifting DSG is lightning quick with its gear changes. At low speeds or if you are gentle on the throttle, the Jetta Hybrid will run on the electric motor alone for a time up to 37 MPH. You can also engage E-Mode which turns the engine off and lets you use the electric motor only. I found myself turning on E-Mode when entering my neighborhood to save more gas.
The one complaint I'll level at the powertrain is when I'm leaving a stop. The powertrain goes through a shuddering stage as the computer works out which mode it should go into. Volkswagen still has some bugs to work out.
Fuel economy is rated at 42 City/48 Highway/45 Combined. During my week, I got an average 40.1 MPG in mixed driving. This is a vehicle where you have to learn how to drive it correctly if you want to attain high MPG numbers.
Fun to drive isn't something you would expect of a hybrid, but the Jetta Hybrid is that. Borrowing the suspension from the Jetta GLI, the Hybrid is engaging on a nice curvy road. It's a shame I can't say the same about the Hybrid's steering which is light and not very good at communicating the road to the driver. On the flip side, the suspension is very competent on providing a comfortable and smooth ride. The steering makes it a breeze of navigating tight parking spots and the city.
The big question when talking about hybrids is 'how are the brakes?' The Jetta Hybrid is much like any other hybrid; the brakes are very grabby. Weirdly, I found the pedal would offer some brake feel sometimes and there would be none other times. This is something I believe Volkswagen should go back to the drawing board on.
The Jetta Hybrid leaves me in a bit of a quandary. On one hand the Jetta Hybrid is packs a nice punch of power from the hybrid powertrain and is very competent when you want to have some fun. But the fuel economy, interior material quality, and as-tested pricetag give me hesitation. Factor in the similar fuel economy and lower pricetag of the Jetta TDI and the Jetta Hybrid becomes a bit tougher to argue.
In summary: If you want the best hybrid, go with the Prius. If you want the most fuel economy in the Volkswagen family and something fun, go with the Jetta TDI. The Jetta Hybrid just cannot make a very compelling argument.
Disclaimer: Volkswagen provided the Jetta Hybrid, insurance, and one tank of gas.
Model: Jetta Hybrid
Trim: SEL Premium
Engine: 1.4L Turbocharged and Intercooled Inline Four-Cylinder, Electric Motor
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Seven-Speed DSG Transmission
Horsepower @ RPM: (Gas) 150 @ 5,000; (Electric) 27 @ 0; (Combined) 170 @ 5,000
Torque @ RPM: (Gas) 184 @ 1,600; (Electric) 114 @ 0; (Combined) 184 @ 1,000
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 42/48/45
Curb Weight: 3,312 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Puebla, Mexico
Base Price: $31,180.00
As Tested Price: $32,010.00* (Includes $795.00 destination charge)
First Aid Kit - $35.00