Behind the Wheel Jetta hybrid surprises
Volkswagen's newest Jetta has the highest mileage rating ever -- a combined 45 miles per gallon in city and highway travel.
But, it doesn't use diesel fuel, as previous high-mileage Jettas have.
The 2013 Jetta Hybrid's four-cylinder engine sips gasoline and is mated to an electric motor.
The compact Jetta Hybrid sedan is only Volkswagen's second gas-electric hybrid in the United States. The first was the Touareg Hybrid sport utility vehicle, which debuted in the 2011 model year.
High mileage isn't the only surprise of the Jetta Hybrid. This is a spunky hybrid whose acceleration and low-end "oomph" are strong enough to push passengers' backs into the seats.
The reason: The engine is both direct-injected and turbocharged to deliver 150 horsepower and up to 184 foot-pounds of torque. This torque, by the way, comes on at a low engine speed of 1,000 rpm.
Meantime, the onboard electric motor delivers more power to push the total horsepower to 170.
Pricing for the 2013 gasoline-electric Jetta Hybrid is some $8,000 more than that of a base Jetta.
But it's just $1,900 more than the starting price of a Jetta with diesel engine, and it's only $755 more than the base retail price of a new Toyota Prius.
Specifically, starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $25,750 for a base Jetta Hybrid and rise to $31,215 for a top-of-the-line SEL Premium with 17-inch wheels, a Fender audio system, rearview camera, sunroof and heated front seats among the features.
All Jetta Hybrids come with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The lowest starting retail price, including destination charge, for a non-hybrid, 2013 Jetta S is $17,515 with a 115-horsepower, gasoline four cylinder and manual transmission. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, keyless entry and heated exterior mirrors. The federal government's fuel economy rating for this base 2013 Jetta S is 28 mpg in combined city/highway travel.
The 2013 Jetta TDI, which has a 140-horsepower, turbocharged diesel four cylinder, has a starting retail price of $23,850 with manual transmission. Note the Jetta TDI has more torque -- 236 foot-pounds at 1,750 rpm -- than the Jetta Hybrid.
But the Jetta Hybrid, which is rated at 42 mpg in city driving and 48 mpg on the highway, tops the Jetta TDI's government fuel mileage ratings of 30/42 mpg with either a manual or automatic transmission.
Gasoline-electric hybrid competitors include the top-selling hybrid, the Toyota Prius, which starts at $24,995 for a base, 2013 Prius Two with 98-horsepower four-cylinder engine and nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The Prius is a mid-size hatchback and has mileage ratings of 51/48 mpg in city/highway travel. The Prius is tuned to deliver higher mileage in slower-speed driving.
The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid starts at $27,995 with 188-horsepower four cylinder and lithium-ion battery pack. The Fusion Hybrid is a mid-size sedan with mileage ratings of 47 mpg for both city and highway travel.
The Jetta Hybrid test car was so peppy when starting up from stoplights and in sudden accelerations in city traffic, the driver had to double-check that it was a hybrid. Other gas-electric hybrids don't accelerate this forcefully and they tend to provide a more sedate driving experience.
When pressed, the powertrains of other hybrids can seem to be straining and buzzing loudly to deliver more acceleration. This is particularly true of some hybrids that have continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) that don't have pre-set shift points.
But this new Jetta's 1.4-liter four cylinder has generous and flexible power at the ready.
Even better, in the test Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium, the blending of power from this engine and the 20-kilowatt, onboard electric motor was seamless.
There were no instances of hesitation between the two power supply points.
The seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission in the Jetta Hybrid managed the power delivery expertly, and because it's not a CVT, this transmission behaved like that in a normal car.
Unfortunately, the Jetta Hybrid is so fun to drive, it's easy to creep above speed limits.
In fact, because of spirited driving, the tester never got anywhere near the government's fuel economy ratings. But it still averaged 36.1 mpg. Volkswagen requires premium gasoline in the Jetta Hybrid.
Even with the not-fuel-efficient test drive, the range on a single, 11.9-gallon tank was an impressive 430 miles.
The regenerative brakes that reclaim energy that otherwise would be wasted during braking took some getting used to as they grabbed aggressively.
The Jetta Hybrid's trunk space is notable at 11.3 cubic feet, because this is akin to what's in a non-hybrid, small sedan.
Large knobs to manually adjust front seats on lower-trim models can be clumsy to use for people who don't have a lot of finger strength. Even on the SEL Premium model, seats are covered in leatherette -- nice looking but not real leather.
The Jetta Hybrid looks a bit frumpy and not exactly upscale on the outside. The test car never got a single glance from passersby, and the only big clue that is was not a regular Jetta was the hybrid badging.
Still, the Jetta Hybrid rode solidly and was poised and stable in curves.
Some road noise came into the passenger compartment, and passengers felt vibrations from road bumps.
The 2013 Jetta Hybrid received four out of five stars, overall, in government crash tests, which includes five out of five stars in side crash testing.
Standard safety equipment includes electronic stability control, antilock brakes and six air bags.
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