When a manufacturer has the cajones to advertise a hybrid as “The Hybrid. Unleashed.”, it’s asking for trouble. Unless of course it can deliver on that promise.
Let’s see if this is all marketing fluff, or if VW does in fact have a car “that proves that not all hybrids are created equal.”
2013 Jetta Turbocharged Hybrid
Base price (GT trim): $32,195
Options: $2,000 Technology Package; $200 Soul Mica Red paint
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $36,190
Under the Hood
Here is a combination that’s new for us. VW combines a 1.4-litre turbocharged inline-4 with an electric motor. The combined powertrain is rated at 170 horsepower at 5000 RPM and 184 lb.ft of torque at an unbelievably low 1000 RPM.
Also relatively unique in the hybrid world is the 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic – typically you find hybrids paired with continuously-variable transmissions. The Jetta is front-wheel drive.
Of course, a hybrid’s mission is to save the planet and your pocketbook. The hybrid Jetta’s fuel economy is pretty stellar – it’s rated at 4.5 litres/100 km (52 mpg) in the city and 4.2 litres/100 km (56 mpg) once you get on the highway. I don’t doubt that these are possible to achieve, as I averaged an astounding 6.1 L/100 km (39 mpg) during my week with it, and I didn’t make any effort to drive efficiently. As a matter of fact, I’d say I drove with a heavier foot than usual.
The tank is small at 45 litre tank, but that’s perfectly fine considering the range that’s achievable with this kind of fuel economy. The hybrid Jetta weighs in at 3318 pounds.
As I mentioned in my review of the 2012 TDI Jetta, the current styling has taken a further step into conservatism. Is it styling that will move you? Nope. But it is a nice looking car with clean, flowing lines front to back, and I think it will age well. It certainly doesn’t stand out in the crowd.
The one thing that I kept noticing when I’d walk up to the Jetta is that it no longer comes across as a compact sedan. This is a pretty bulky car. The front is adorned with bi-xenon headlights, a U-shaped strip of LED driving lights and a Hybrid-specific grille. The rear end has LED tail lights which do give it a distinctive look at night.
The hybrid’s wheels are pretty 17-inchers, clad with 205/50-sized rubber. They look less sporty than some of the other Jetta wheels, but they’ve got a character of their own.
Overall the Jetta cabin is a decent place to spend some time. VW’s materials are pretty nice – the dash is soft-touch plastic but the rest of the car gets hard plastics, all with nice textures. This is pretty typical for me in VWs – I found it to be a pretty dark, joyless cabin.
It feels spacious enough and headroom was decent for my 5″10″ frame. There’s a bit of hybrid-specific trim on the dashboard and the door inserts.
I found the heated leather seats to be comfortable, though some of the back cushion shaping didn’t work for me. There’s a reasonable amount of bolstering, which is nice. That’s awfully personal though. The driver’s side is power adjustable.
I really like the steering wheel. It has some flattened surfaces around the rim, making it very comfortable to hold. It has buttons for the phone, media and driver information screen controls.
The instrument bin holds two gauges – a speedometer on the right and a power gauge on the left. It basically shows you how efficiently you’re driving, swinging a needle through the power band from “charge” (when you’re coasting or braking, and on through a 0 to 100-percent “boost” power rating.
Between the gauges is a driver information screen that carries a pretty heavy load. I was surprised at how much stuff it handles. You can cycle through your fuel range, average speed, a digital speedometer, elapsed time, average and instant fuel consumption, a hybrid power flow graphic, a phone screen and your vehicle settings. It’s not a particularly beautiful screen, as it has pretty blocky text and graphics.
The center stack starts with a smaller touchscreen at the top. It’s pretty sharp and nice to look at, and is surrounded by some hard buttons and knobs for the major functions. It manages the car’s media, phone and navigation functions, hybrid-related power flow and consumption graphics and the back-up camera.
The 400-watt Fender sound system – I still find it funny that they’d brand a sound system with a company that’s associated with crunchy, distorted guitar sound – is decent and feeds off AM, FM, satellite radio, CD and Bluetooth streaming audio sources, as well as any number of devices that you can connect via the Media Device Interface.
Below that is a dual zone automatic climate control system.
The Jetta’s console is home to the shift lever, a traditional parking brake lever, two cupholders and an armrest with adjustable lid.
There’s a power trunk release button and overhead, a small power tilt/slide sunroof.
Entry is keyless and there’s a push-start ignition – the button for this is strangely located on the center console.
No surprises here – there are three seats, three headrests and three seat belts.
The outboard seats are comfortable, but the center seat is narrow. To make it worse, there’s a large tunnel on floor which means absolutely no foot room for a center passenger.
I found the headroom to be just OK for me but the leg room and foot room is pretty generous for anyone my size.
In terms of convenience, you get two little storage cubbies and a 12V plug at the back of the center console. There’s also a power door lock switch, which I find unusual and not super useful. My kids however found it exceptionally useful to lock me out of the car a few times, and these seem to be very funny moments for them. Of course, it was a long hike home for them.
The middle seatback folds down to become an armrest with two cupholders, there’s a single seatback map pocket and (unusually for rear seats) you get some usable door bins.
The door bins up front are pretty good too, and you get a reasonable glove compartment, where you’ll also find the Media Device interface to connect devices to the audio system.
Underneath the center stack is a handy carpeted bin – it’s open and is great for dropping a phone into, etc – there’s a 12V plug there too. Under the armrest lid is a small carpeted bin.
The trunk is quite small at 320 litres. In addition, it’s strangely shaped – what I assume to be the battery makes up a shelf in the back half of the cargo space, so you’ve got a small normal sized trunk and then effectively a cargo shelf at the back. The rear seats fold in a 60/40 split and there’s a pass-through from the trunk, allowing you to put longer, skinnier items into the cabin between the main rear seats.
VW advertises that the hybrid Jetta is a sporty driving experience, and the commercials even go so far as implying the customer thought he got the wrong car because it’s so peppy.
It is actually a power-feeling hybrid car, especially relative to some of the other common hybrids out there. Prius, I’m looking at you. There’s definitely a little lag when you step on it – considering the peak torque is available at 1000 RPM according to VW, I guess that was delayed throttle response. Interestingly, I noticed the same lagginess in the diesel Jetta. But then the electric torque kicks in quickly and in concert with the gas engine, it provides a smooth, powerful driving experience. During every day driving, it’s a decent car and never feels underpowered, and when you need some extra oomph, it’s got it on tap. I was pretty impressed.
The transmission is always smooth and completely inobtrusive. It does have a sport mode, but I never found it to make a big difference. It can also be shifted manually with the gear selector (no paddles here). The manual shifts are reasonably quick, but not like what you’d expect from VW’s DSG. They’re much sportier in the GTI.
You also get an E-Mode button – in this mode, the vehicle will try to maximize how often it drives as an electric vehicle.
I thought the Jetta rode nicely, and was pretty firm but comfortable. The suspension got a bit slappy and even a tad noisy over some road irregularities, and in those times, I thought it felt cheap. Thankfully those instances were rare. The handling is quite good. I never felt the Jetta was uncomfortable taking on corners. There’s some body roll, but for a car this comfortable, the handling still remains happily European in its sportiness and I’d take it over many of the other offerings in this class.
Here’s the sore spot. I always expect hybrid brakes to be grabby – they regenerate a large amount of energy during braking and it’s part of the hybrid deal. But the ones in the Jetta hybrid are not good. They’re very grabby. But what I found disconcerting was that, even when you’re applying the brakes lightly, they’re grabby and get progressively more so, even if you’re not braking harder. This makes them very hard to modulate, and was horribly irritating during stop and go traffic. In addition, the moment you let go of the brakes, the torque from the electric motor kicks in and you start rolling ahead. It made for a taxing commute to work during bumper to bumper traffic.
Visibility out of the Jetta is very good.
At this price level, I was a bit surprised to find a lack of automatic headlights. I’d happily give up that goofy rear seat door lock button and take automatic headlights, thank you very much.
I thought the manual shifting exercise was a bit dumb when it comes to sporty driving, since you don’t get a tach with this car. So basically you’re going with the engine sound as your only indicator of RPMs.
I found the Jetta Turbocharged Hybrid to be a pretty good ride. It offers a decent amount of utility, comfort and luxury. It retains its “Engineered in Germany” badge, though they haven’t been made there for ages – but that cachet is what some people are after. And it certainly makes good on its promise to achieve fantastic fuel economy without the typical driving fun tax that most hybrids take out of your hide. It handles well, and it’s got plenty of power.
The brakes are a definite problem in my books – some might care less, but this could actually be a deal breaker for me, as I commute in stop and go traffic every day. And the trunk space might not be enough for some families – it would be a tight cargo room for a road trip.
I give it a 6.5 out of 10.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was OK. She wasn’t as enthralled with it as she was with the TDI a year ago. She said she felt the looks are aging a bit, and she thought much of the interior comes across as a bit cheap. And she absolutely hated the brake feel.
I’d say the hybrid Jetta is worth your consideration if you’re shopping in this category, keeping in mind the good and bad points I noted. But more so, I’d keep in mind it’s stable mate, the Jetta TDI. VW’s diesel drivetrain is nearly perfect, and will nearly rival the hybrid’s fuel economy. Though I enjoyed the hybrid for the most part, the TDI would be the one I’d choose if I was buying a Jetta.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Volkswagen Canada
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