Adding a turbocharger to a small displacement four-cylinder engine is becoming a common pairing for car companies wanting to boost both power and fuel mileage.
Uncommon on the other hand would be combining that with gasoline-electric hybrid technology, but that’s what Volkswagen did with the Jetta Hybrid.
While you won’t see turbo in the name, the 2016 Jetta Hybrid scoots down the road with a combination of internal combustion, forced air induction and an electric motor with its juice provided by a battery.
The only turbocharged hybrid in the compact-size segment, the Jetta Hybrid is also the only model to feature a dual-clutch automatic transmission in the class. Add an independent rear suspension borrowed from the sporty Jetta GLI and you have a hybrid car that can be appreciated by enthusiasts who may have trepidations that going green means driving boredom.
For a hybrid this size, Jetta’s EPA fuel economy rating of 42-mpg city/48-mpg highway and 45-mpg combined is just OK. And yes, unlike most hybrids, city mpg is lower than the highway.
Volkswagen follows this thinking and the 2016 Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium is the sole choice. The price of $31,120, plus $820 destination charges, is hefty for a car without a premium reputation. However, it does have an impressive arm’s-length list of included convenience and safety features.
The Jetta Hybrid Drive
Driving the Jetta Hybrid is a hoot. I think it’s the best handling hybrid south of $50K and, it has two personalities. It can be a fuel-efficient car that does fairly well against other hybrids or, it can be on the threshold of a sports sedan, carving corners on your favorite backcountry roads.
Choose the latter and the four-cylinder engine shows its moxie. The 1.4-liter aluminum block four features a 10:5:1 compression ratio, direct injection and a single intercooled turbocharger to spit out 150 horsepower. It’s torquey for a tiny engine, with 184 pounds feet available at just 1,600 rpm.
When extra power is needed, the water-cooled electric motor/generator tucked between the engine and transmission adds 27 horsepower and a constant 114 pounds-feet of torque to the mix. Combined, the hybrid system output is 170 horsepower, good for a 0 to 60 mph sprint in the low seven seconds.
As noted above, acceleration is brisk and when everything is up and running, the Jetta Hybrid is quite enjoyable. Freeway driving and normal passing is mostly handled by the gas engine alone, and only on occasion does the driver need to ask the electric motor for additional power.
Ride and handling are nicely balanced — the ride just a little on the firm side while the poised, competent handling will satisfy most enthusiasts. Cornering is acceptably controlled with well-tuned steering and the rear suspension adds to the compliance.
Cornering control is enhanced by manual shifting the seven-speed DSG, a welcome escape from the drone box CVTs of the typical hybrid. Move the shift lever to the right and you’ll find numbered gears.
Shifts are not tantalizing quick — there is a few millisecond lag time — but are otherwise flawless. Downshift heading into a bend and the selected gear will hold to redline.
Pushed hard, the Jetta will lose some cornering and braking grip that can be blamed on the low rolling resistance tires.
The gas engine will of course gulp the fuel when the urge to test the limits of the car takes over. During a fun-filled 137 miles on two-lane back county roads with the turbo spooled up much of time, the little four mustered up 32.3-mpg, still a respectable number.
But the other half of the Jetta Hybrid’s resume is about fuel economy. In town it isn’t difficult to stay in electric power after getting up to speed via the gas engine. Coming to a stop, the start-stop operation works as it should with the gas engine going through its hybrid-normal cycles of shutting off and restarting without calling attention to itself.
Cabin noise is at a minimum, even at highway speeds, with less road noise and wind whistle than expected for the class.
After clocking 102 miles on city streets, and 241 miles of mostly Interstate driving, the mpg readout indicated 45.7 mpg, meaning the EPA is about right with its estimate of 45 mpg.
The Jetta Hybrid Car, Outside And In
When Volkswagen redesigned the Jetta in 2011, the car grew in size, straining the definition of compact and pushing the envelope nearly into the mid-size arena. By adding nearly three inches to the cabin space that must be negotiated by hips, thighs, knees and toes, VW turned the backseat into adult-ready territory.
While the Jetta is not stirring or striking, it is clean with sharp lines that provide an overall appearance of understated sophistication. It’s a look that outdistances its intended compact car competitors. When the hybrid version arrived in 2013, it had subtle changes to improve aerodynamics.
For 2015, the Jetta lineup, including the hybrid, received a mild refresh that includes a slightly redesigned front end and an updated rear design, including a new trunk lid, taillights, emblems, and bumper. Other than a new touchscreen interface, there are no changes to the 2016 Jetta Hybrid.
The 2016 Jetta Hybrid gives little indication of its eco-friendly credentials. Up front, the main visual hint is a solid grille that’s accented by a blue-inlaid VW badge to match one on the rear. Unique are the air intake, air dam and side skirts. Silver and blue “Hybrid” badges flank the sides.
The exterior’s contemporary look is carried inside the car, and VW wisely updated the cabin with rich looking, soft-to-the-touch materials that border on what you find in an Audi. The dash design is clean and contemporary. Instrument cluster gauges are now framed in chrome and have a new “tunnel” design. The hybrid Jetta is given its own color instrument cluster with a power meter that forgoes the tach and shows readings for eco, charge, and boost.
Kudos go to designers for keeping manually operated audio controls. They not only have the solid feeling expected in a German automobile, they were great for controlling the music on my iPod. Also, my applaud goes to those who decided to replace the small, difficult to read five-inch display screen with a new 6.3-inch screen. But really, what not a seven incher?
Hybrid batteries have to go somewhere and the Jetta’s 1.1-kilowatt hour lithium-ion battery pack is positioned in the typical hybrid spot, above the rear axle. This reduces trunk space to 11.3 cubic-ft. versus 15.5 in a standard Jetta. Unlike other hybrids you do get fold-down rear seatbacks for long item storage.
As noted earlier, the Jetta Hybrid is loaded with standard features that include Bi-Xenon headlights, rain sensing wipers, heated front seats, leatherette — VW’s name for leather-like vinyl — seating, navigation system, backup camera and a sunroof. Driver assistance safety systems include Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert and Park Distance Control.
Speaking of safety, the Jetta Hybrid earned an overall score of five stars (out of five possible) in government crash tests (out of five possible). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Jetta its best possible rating of “Good.”
The Jetta Hybrid In The Marketplace
Up until a few months ago, Honda’s Civic Hybrid was the most comparable comparison. But Honda discontinued the compact hybrid, which leaves the Ford C-Max Hybrid that comes the closest to the Jetta. It too seats five in relative comfort and has a fun-to-drive side. But its EPA fuel economy rating of 42 city/37 highway/40 combined falls short of the Jetta. And while the $25,045 starting price appears to be a bargain in comparison, by the time you add the optional features that are standard on the Jetta, the price gap is only a couple thousand dollars.
If you are leaning towards a luxury hybrid, the Lexus CT 200h is almost fun to drive, but like the Ford, fuel economy numbers of 43-city/40 highway/42 combined don’t match the Jetta. A starting price of $32,190 sounds reasonable and competitive, but again to match features will cost you — around $5,000.
Final Word — It’s About Dieselgate
The startling news about Volkswagen falsifying diesel vehicle emission measurements for many years on more than 10 million vehicles has cast a dark cloud over the German automaker, which until now had enjoyed a brand name that stood for reliability and trustworthiness. Some consumers will dismiss Volkswagen and never consider buying any of their vehicles.
If you are a person that sees their cheating as related only to diesel-powered vehicles that hasn’t rubbed off to Volkswagen gasoline and hybrid vehicles, head to a VW dealer and test drive the 2015 Jetta Hybrid.
As delivered, the Jetta Hybrid promises driving fun, yet efficient when you want it to be. In my opinion, that’s a peerless balance of attributes, and worth a close look.