The entire Jetta line was revised in 2011, made more distinct from Golf hatchbacks, and the 2013 Hybrid represents the fifth powertrain option for this sixth-generation model range.
Thus far, sales have climbed modestly. In March, its 451 units sold equaled the number of Honda CR-Z hybrids sold, and it should have room to go higher.
As a front-wheel-drive Jetta, it retains the family look and road handling capability, but as a hybrid it returns the line’s highest EPA fuel efficiency rating, boasting low-to-zero emissions as well.
Starting at $24,995 for the special-order only entry level model, and ranging through the SE and SEL trim levels, Volkswagen’s highest Jetta MSRP of $31,180 is commanded for the top-line SEL Premium.
Volkswagen does pack a fair amount in however. The Jetta Hybrid is the only turbo hybrid in the compact class. It features the only dual-clutch automatic transmission and has a more sophisticated suspension than lesser priced regular Jettas.
All combined, it verges on being a sports sedan when you want it to be, or you can mellow out and experience it as a fuel-efficient car that does well against other hybrids.
Much New Under the Hood
The gas portion of the powertrain is a direct-injected, turbocharged, 1.4-liter, four-cylinder; one of VW’s latest EA211 series of small engines. The TSI engine carries little over from the previous E111 generation, and offers improved compactness, torque, and suitability for turbocharging.
It delivers a total of 150 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 184 pounds-feet of torque from 1,600 rpm. To help achieve this, it sports a high 10.5:1 compression ratio, thus requiring premium gasoline as do all of VW’s turbo engines. What happens if you pump in regular gas? The ECU will retard the timing, and power and mileage will likely suffer.
The electric part of the powertrain comes via a 27-horsepower (20 kw) motor capable of 114 pounds-feet of torque. It’s sandwiched between the transaxle and gas engine and can decouple via a clutch to save fuel in all-electric mode at lower speeds, or up to 84 mph such as when coasting down a hill, with foot off the gas, or decelerating. These are tricks Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist cannot accomplish.
The motor gets its power from a trunk-mounted 1.1-kwh battery positioned above the rear axle. The 220-volt, 60-cell pack lets the car travel over a mile on electric power at up to 37 miles per hour. Selecting “E-Mode” lets it travel electrically up to 44 mph with more aggressive accelerator input.
Also available for quicker-paced driving or passing power is a boosting mode in which both the engine and motor work together. This is enabled in the sport mode, manual mode, and under full throttle in drive mode.
The total gas-plus-electric system can deliver 170 horsepower and its peak 184 pounds-feet is not one iota more than torque delivered by the gas engine alone. Why? The electric motor is held back to spare the VW’s otherwise most-efficient DQ200 dual-clutch transmission from excess wear and tear.
So what does the electric torque do then? Aside from contributing to forward propulsion under various circumstances mentioned, it adds torque at lower rpm. With the help of the electric motor, peak is achieved at 1,000 rpm.
Naturally, the system uses regenerative braking in addition to the battery charging the engine-driven motor-generator also provides, and the Jetta Hybrid incorporates stop-start.
All told, VW’s new hybrid system works well. It provides acceleration on par with a 200-horsepower but heavier, larger Camry Hybrid, and it’s definitely quicker than the 44 mpg compact-class Civic hybrid it’s most closely positioned against.
The Jetta Hybrid’s exterior shape is the same as regular Jettas but it gets a few aerodynamic tweaks to reduce coefficient of drag to 0.28 from 0.30.
Up front, the main visual cue is a solid grille – accented also by a blue-inlaid VW badge to match one on the rear and silver and blue “Hybrid” logos flanking the sides. The sealed grille controls cooling air through the engine compartment. The front airdam that broaches on being a sports car’s splitter is also mildly revised and out back is a functional decklid spoiler. Also unique are extended side skirts and underneath are trim panels and end plates leading to a diffuser at the rear to reduce turbulence and control air flow.
The result is a merging of semi-sporty aspects into a car primarily designed for high mpg and low emissions. In fact, the Jetta Hybrid is both – an either/or proposition, and it’s this flexibility that will be appreciated by traditional car enthusiasts who may be trepidatious that going green means accepting a gelded car.
That said, the redesigned Jetta does look somewhat plain without pretentious sport-styling cues, swoopy creases, or the like. It does not call excess attention to itself, but a closer look reveals lines that are purposeful and tastefully done.
Inside the Jetta Hybrid, it is form-follows function – to a point. Instruments and gauges are logically placed. Steering wheel controls lend hands-free operation to several key functions.
That this is a hybrid is soon obvious as there are a total of three possible ways to monitor what the gas-electric powertrain is doing.
On the left of the main instrument cluster, in place of an analog tachometer, is a Power Meter. It looks sort of like a tach, but has a green colored zone to indicate regenerative battery charging, such as when off the gas, or on the brakes.
As the needle sweeps in a clockwise direction, above the green is a numbered blue Eco zone indicating back-and-forth gas-electric-charge operation. And beyond that, number six to number 10 on the face indicates engine power alone is being used. Beyond that is Boost which indicates gas-plus-electric are being used.
This nifty arrangement is all well and good, but given the car can be manually shifted, a tachometer would have been nice.
We’d call this an avoidable omission, and an enthusiast will need a good ear to listen to engine note for when to shift, or to memorize shift points by the mph marks on the speedo.
Nitpicks aside, the rest of the interior leaves little to fault. Fit and finish are good, materials are pretty good – a mix of soft-touch vinyl on the dash and arm rest, with harder plastics that have the same appearance down by the shifter, and on the doors.
Room inside the 104.4-inch wheelbase car is respectable also. Front headroom is listed as 38.2 inches; front legroom is 41.2 inches. Rear headroom is 37.1 inches, and rear legroom is 38.1 inches. As a comparison to a benchmark hybrid sedan one size up, the Camry hybrid, the Jetta Hybrid is down a couple inches or so here and there, the Camry’s wheelbase is about five inches longer, but the VW will fit a wide variety of people.
The VW is more comparable to the Honda Civic Hybrid. As a five-seater, it’s definitely good for four, and an occasional fifth, especially if the fifth person in the middle back row is shorter or a child.
Otherwise, the front driver’s seat could be adjusted for my 6-foot-0-inch height, and 34-inch inseam, and I could then hop in back behind the driver’s seat, and have sufficient room.
On the Road
The Jetta Hybrid attempts to be widely versatile, offering something for almost everyone. Do you want to hypermile it and see if you can crest 50 mpg? This is possible. Do you want to carve corners on your favorite back road haunts? You can do that too, if you don’t mind chopping mpg by a third or half.
Starting via a pushbutton on the shifter console, the Jetta Hybrid defaults to standard Electric Mode. It will try to emulate an electric car up to 37 mph, assuming mild accelerator inputs, and suitable conditions. The E-Mode button works as advertised, allowing more aggressive accelerator input at up to 44 mph.
Pressing the gas to the floor of course kicks the engine on. You can always keep track of what’s going on with a choice of the Power Meter, left mounted on the central instrument cluster – or, in the center is a second display that shows the powertrain as it toggles between charging or engine power or electric motor power.
And redundantly enough redundant, on the infotainment touchscreen, a crisp colored graphic shows the energy flow.
Best mileage of course is achieved with judicious operation in Drive mode, and letting the car decide when to shift. The ECU uses the broad torque to short-shift to a conservative-as-possible gear.
If you toggle the shifter right into manual mode, you’ll find yourself in a numbered gear. Even at less than full highway speeds you could be in a relatively tall 5th, 6th or 7th gear. So, once in manual, you can downshift to a higher-revving gear by pulling back on the lever. The ECU will let you shift to as low a gear as possible without redlining. Or, you could upshift by reversing this action.
Shifts are not heart-beat quick, and there is a few millisecond lag time, so this is not a Tiptronic made by Porsche. The shifts are otherwise flawless however.
If you do nothing and drive in manual, the car will linger in a given gear as long as possible before automatically upshifting. It also automatically downshifts. This is a sure fire way to ruin your average mpg score, but VW assumes some drivers will want to have the control for sport driving.
And, for a hybrid, it can be quick, but it’s no ripper with a 0-60 time of somewhere around 7.9 seconds – we’ve seen one magazine that clocked it at 7.2, and VW conservatively says less than 9 seconds. It’s electrically governed to 125 mph, and being designed for the Autobahn, is very comfortable pulling 85 mph or a good bit more all day long.
Coming to a stop, the car’s stop-start function works as it should. You may just take off in all-electric, especially if in E-Mode. Or the gas engine will turn on depending on conditions and acceleration rate. When the engine does start, you hear it, and feel it smoothly feed in power.
Cornering is acceptably controlled with the German-market-spec rear suspension adding to the compliance, and steering input fed through the electrically assisted rack and pinion. The car conceals its 3,312 pounds well, and the battery in back adds to the balance. The ContiContact low rolling resistance 205/55-16 tires on our SEL gripped well, and did not squeal under fairly brisk cornering. Braking similarly is up to the task from the three-channel ABS-equipped, 11.3-inch vented front, and 10.7-inch solid rear discs. Acceptably quick stops are possible with control.
Again, the car is sporty, but not a GLI, and if pushed harder, the Hybrid does have less grip for cornering and braking. While cornering, its spring and damper rates feel softer than would be desired for a pure sports sedan. In undulating roads, the car can get a little wallowy if pushed, but it never feels like it would pitch you off the road unless you did something really ham fisted and careless.
Tip: To optimize it as a sports sedan, an aftermarket A-pillar mounted tach might be sourced, along with sports suspension mods and grippier tires. Mileage may decline a little, but versatility will increase.
Unusual for hybrids, city mpg is lower than the highway. Achieving the advertised numbers, as mentioned is possible but it all depends on how you drive. If you are normally a speeder, like to jam the gas to the floor from a take-off, and are not smooth with the accelerator, expect mpg to plummet into the 30s, even the high 20s. If you have good mpg-enhancing technique, you’ll find Volkswagen did the job right.
Our test car came with around 2,100 miles and it had been driven by a plethora of who-knows-how-many random individuals, with driving styles undoubtedly from mild to wild. Its mileage meter said it had averaged just over 35.2 mpg in its short lifetime.
A Unique Offering
German automakers have in years past resisted hybridization, showing less enthusiasm than, say, Toyota. But the U.S. market and global regulations besides are demanding it.
Higher-line hybrids from Porsche, Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and even VW’s supercharged Toureg Hybrid all show a tendency to co-opt the electric motor into one more speed accessory. Their idea of a hybrid has been to skew the balance of power toward only mildly improved economy, while making a vehicle as fast or faster than all-gas stablemates.
The VW Jetta Hybrid does not utterly abandon this heritage, but its power vs. mpg balance is weighted closer to center and it can deliver competitive mpg when asked.
Competitive also to a point, is its price, which is in range of other similar-level compact and mid-sized hybrids depending on trim and options. The base Jetta Hybrid starts, as mentioned, at $24,995; above that is the $26,990 Jetta Hybrid SE, $29,325 Jetta Hybrid SEL, and $31,180 Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium.
The 200-horsepower mid-sized Camry Hybrid can perform similarly, but it uses a CVT transmission not favored by some enthusiasts and is heavier and softer. The Korean cousins from Hyundai and Kia do come with six-speed automatic transmissions, and are also competitive. Ford’s Fusion Hybrid is also one to consider. The actual direct competitor, priced within a few hundred dollars, the Civic Hybrid from Honda is not as quick, but weighing only 2,870 pounds or so, can hold the road well while returning similar economy.
Volkswagen’s own Jetta TDI is also a contender. It costs a little less to get into, and overlaps in price depending on trim and options. Its torque is strong, but max power is less. It requires pricey diesel versus (pricey but less expensive) premium gas. It will also likely emit more, if that matters to you beyond mpg considerations. The Jetta Hybrid has a gauge to chronicle 30-minute snapshots of its emissions right on down to zero emissions only possible with electric power.
But beyond this, we’d contend this is a highly qualified decision. Some reviews try to whittle it down to a mere dollar-and-cents equation, and while that’s important, numerous other factors should be considered.
In its favor, the Jetta Hybrid with its DCT transmission offers decent levels of fun for what it is. Unknown is how the long-term reliability record will be with three clutches, and all that new hardware packed into a new form factor.
All told, it promises a lot, and we’d say Volkswagen did a great job, and more such hybrids are promised by the people whose slogan is “Think Blue.” While it’s actually a subjective choice, the Jetta Hybrid as delivered is versatile, fun, yet efficient when you want it to be. In our view, that is a unique balance of attributes, and worth a closer look.