First Drive: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid volkswagen reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews first drives
2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

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Volkswagen Jetta

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Jetta Reviews

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

Santa Fe, New Mexico – For many, the notion of a Volkswagen hybrid is about as far-fetched as that of a Prius diesel. Volkswagen, after all, has been the purveyor of affordable diesel vehicles for decades, with diesels being a pillar of the company’s reputation and branding. And while it’s true that Volkswagen did introduce a Touareg Hybrid to the US market in 2010, it’s in very limited production and was never available in Canada.

But that Touareg must have been a hybrid toe in the water for Volkswagen, because starting at the beginning of 2013, just in time for January’s Montreal Auto Show, you’ll be able to buy the all-new 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid at a price of $27,895 for the entry-level Trendline model. And just to be clear, it’s a gasoline hybrid, not a diesel hybrid.

Does this mean Volkswagen’s abandoning diesel as its alternative fuel of choice?

“Not a chance,” according to Volkswagen Canada’s Public Relations Manager Thomas Tetzlaff. “We’re introducing a hybrid,” he explained at the Jetta Hybrid’s international launch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, “because there are people, especially in North America, who want to buy a hybrid. If the market’s there, and we believe it is, we have to be in it.”

First Drive: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid volkswagen reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews first drives
2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

Okay, but what can Volkswagen bring to the hybrid market at this point, as opposed to Toyota, Honda and other established hybrid manufacturers? When you think about it, other companies have already done the research-and-development heavy lifting with hybrid technology. Late-comers like Volkswagen arguably have an advantage as they can refine the technology without being wedded to existing platforms or engineering.

So it is that the Jetta Hybrid uses a turbocharged 1.4L, direct-injected (TSI) engine combined with a 27-hp electric motor and a compact 1.1 kWh battery that in combination make 170 hp at 5,000 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm. This is not an underpowered car, in other words, which is already a departure for small hybrids.

True, the use of a turbocharged, direct-injected engine in a hybrid vehicle is not completely new, but it’s very rare (the BMW 7 Series Active Hybrid uses twin-turbocharging, but it costs over $100,000). What is completely new to the market is mating such a hybrid powerplant to a seven-speed, double-clutch automatic transmission, which is standard on the Jetta Hybrid. No CVT for this car!

First Drive: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid volkswagen reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews first drives
2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

As a full hybrid, the Jetta Hybrid will operate at up to 70 km/h for two kilometres in electric vehicle (EV) mode, which can be activated by an e-Mode button on the centre console. But that’s not the most effective use of this capability. In everyday driving EV mode is most likely to be implemented when stuck in stop-and-go traffic for an extended period. In those situations, you’ll be running on zero-emissions electricity captured by the hybrid system when decelerating, and stored in the battery that sits behind the rear seat.

Because of the hybrid battery’s location, the fuel tank is smaller than other Jetta models, holding 45 L of gasoline rather than 55 L. But the Jetta Hybrid will be advertised as Volkswagen’s most fuel-efficient vehicle (yes, even more fuel efficient than the TDI, although that really remains to be seen). Regardless, the official Canadian numbers are not out yet, but Volkswagen suggests 4.4 L/100 km for highway driving is its target.

Other differences between the Jetta Hybrid and its Jetta siblings are the use of a multi-link rear suspension (shared with the Jetta GLI), unique wheels, a new exhaust system, an enclosed grille, air dam, and standard rear spoiler. In combination, the exterior modifications reduce the Jetta’s coefficient of drag from .30 to .28, contributing to overall fuel economy, according to Volkswagen Canada.

Like all Canadian market Volkswagens, three trim levels are offered for the Jetta Hybrid, starting with the entry-level $27,875 Trendline, as mentioned above. The Comfortline and Highline are $30,175 and $34,025 respectively.

All trim lines are equipped with alloy wheels (15-, 16- and 17-inch from Trendline to Comfortline to Highline), heated seats and washer nozzles, multi-function steering wheel, hybrid specific gauge cluster and trip computer, hill hold assist, power group, and start/stop technology. The Trendline adds Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless access and start, media device connectivity, premium audio and fog lights. Highline models get leather upholstery, bi-xenon headlamps, Fender audio, backup camera, LED daytime running lights, sunroof and navigation.

First Drive: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid volkswagen reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews first drives
First Drive: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid volkswagen reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews first drives
First Drive: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid volkswagen reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews first drives
First Drive: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid volkswagen reviews hybrids green scene green reviews greenreviews first drives
2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

On the road the 2013 Jetta Hybrid is a compelling car. Handling is sharp and direct, and the ride smooth and refined. Outward visibility is excellent and rear seat passengers get plenty of legroom. The hybrid powertrain is quiet and responsive, with none of the occasional whining or odd noises associated with the brake regeneration system evident in other hybrid vehicles. Passing power is excellent, and acceleration from a standstill is also first-rate, what with so much torque available at low engine speeds.

The Jetta Hybrid comfortably cruises at the high highway speed limits found in New Mexico, and creeps along in EV mode in stop-and-go traffic as advertised. Our fuel consumption for the half-day’s driving from Santa Fe to Taos and back averaged around 5.6 L/100km. This at an altitude of 8,000 feet.

There is really very little negative to say about the 2013 Jetta Hybrid, which will surely be the best small hybrid on the market at its introduction. It’s a wonderful car to drive, combining German road manners with excellent power and fuel economy. Quibbles include the lack of Bluetooth in the Trendline model, which given new laws regarding cell phone use, should be a standard feature.

Also missing is an Accommodations category when searching Points of Interest using the navigation system. It seems a strange oversight, but is a feature of all Volkswagens using this particular system (which couldn’t find its way to our Santa Fe hotel, incidentally).

The celebrated large Jetta trunk is compromised by the presence of the hybrid battery, but both rear seats do fold to reveal a pass-through that is the same width as that found in other Jettas, although not as high.

Finally, the price. This is not an inexpensive Jetta to buy, although all variants are well equipped. Will fuel savings from this hybrid provide you with payback in the near future? No. Over several years, maybe, but buyers will likely have moved on to another vehicle by then.

There are several hybrid competitors, of course, but many of them are not really in the same vehicle category (they are midsize, as opposed to compact), which makes side-by-side comparisons difficult. The Honda Civic Hybrid is the closest in size, and although it costs less than the Jetta Hybrid, it’s much less powerful and it uses a CVT transmission rather than the engaging DSG from Volkswagen. The Prius is about the same price, also uses the less desirable CVT automatic and is arguably underpowered and softly sprung. But it, too, is a bigger car, as are the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Kia Optima Hybrid, both of which have good (200 hp) power, a six-speed automatic transmission and lots of room.

Will the Jetta Hybrid convert Volkswagen’s diesel buyers? Doubtful. A more likely scenario is that it will bring those looking for a hybrid sedan to Volkswagen, which is the company’s intention. According to Volkswagen, hybrid buyers are apparently looking for a combination of fuel economy, zero emissions, modern technology, and a more sustainable transportation solution, and not necessarily quick payback to compensate for a comparatively higher purchase price.

With that in mind, and given predictions that the hybrid market will continue to grow, the fun-to-drive 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid should easily be able to carve a presence for itself in that market segment. It’s a hybrid that doesn’t drive like one.

Pricing: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
Trendline: $27,895
Comfortline: $30,175
Highline: $34,025

Available: January, 2013

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