Green With Envy

All hybrids should be as good as the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta

BYJim Prueter
The Volkswagen brand is built on innovation. And the 2013 Jetta Hybrid is no exception. It’s not only the first hybrid for Volkswagen, but it’s also the first-ever turbocharged hybrid vehicle. This is a big move for diesel-devoted Volkswagen, and the result is nothing short of sensational.
 
With the debut of the Jetta Hybrid, VW shoppers will have a choice of a gasoline-powered, diesel-powered, or gas-electric–powered Jetta — something no other manufacturer offers among one model. Opting for the hybrid does, however, come at a price. For the hybrid, you’ll pay about $3,000 more than for a similarly equipped gasoline Jetta, and about $2,000 more than the diesel-powered version.
 
In the world of gas-electric hybrids, Jetta’s combined city/highway mileage rating of 45 mpg isn’t exceptional. The Toyota Prius is rated at a combined 50 mpg, and with a starting price of $24,995 is $800 less than the Jetta.
 
Drive Time
In my opinion, price and fuel economy doesn’t make the Prius a better hybrid choice. The proof is in the driving, where the Jetta is an absolute winner. If you actually like to drive, the Jetta is the hybrid for you.
 
Let’s start with the new powertrain in the Jetta: It has a 1.4-liter, 170-horsepower, turbocharged, 4-cylinder gasoline engine. This gas engine is linked to an electric motor and a silky smooth, seven-speed, twin clutch automatic transmission that stair-steps through the transmission ratios just as real cars do. The Prius, and hybrids like it, uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that, in my opinion, completely zaps driving fun from the vehicle.
 
The Jetta’s electric motor produces 27 horsepower, and you can drive the first 1.2 miles in pure-electric mode at a top speed of 44 mph. Volkswagen employs advanced lithium technology for the electric power, which comes from 60 batteries weighing less than 80 pounds and located in the trunk. You’ll lose a bit of trunk space, but the added fuel economy is worth the sacrifice.
 
The Jetta is much quicker than you would expect, and here’s the surprising part: It isn’t plagued by the typical hybrid start-stop shuddering as it goes through its normal cycles of running, shutting off, and restarting.
 
It’s not only fun to drive, it’s safe, too. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2013 Jetta a Top Safety Pick, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it four out of a possible five stars.   
 
But the Jetta is not perfect; I did have a few minor gripes. Volkswagen recommends premium fuel because of the turbocharger. Instruments and operating controls are fussy and overly complicated to use, especially the audio system. 
 
However, the bottom line is the new Jetta Hybrid is a frugal, sporty, compact sedan built with German engineering. It isn’t a Prius — and that’s a good thing.
JIM PRUETER, an automotive writer based in Phoenix, has provided reviews and advice about cars for more than 20 years.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

Base Price: 
$24,995
Price as Tested: 
$25,790
Fuel Economy: 
42 MPG City
48 MPG Highway
Likes: 
  • Excellent fuel economy
  • Superior hybrid technology
  • A blast to drive
Dislikes: 
  • Premium fuel recommended
  • Fussy operating controls
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