Review and photos by Justin Pritchard
The drive from Sudbury, Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan involves heading a few hundred kilometres west on Highway 17. On a February evening, it’s a dark and lonesome length of road, usually two lanes wide, with speed limits frequently changing between 50 or 60 and 80 or 90 km/h. Mostly, this slightly hilly stretch of Northern Ontario asphalt is flanked by tall pine trees, rock cliffs, tall snowbanks, and little else.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Hybrid. Click image to enlarge
All of that to say, this is one boring-ass chunk of highway – though one that would prove a decent setting to check out the new 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, and in particular, its highway fuel economy, in the real world.
Woah – whaa?? Jetta Hybrid? What about the TDI?
In order to bolster selection and answer the call of shoppers after a more efficient Jetta variant that doesn’t run on diesel, VW engineers came up with this latest model. Addressing prejudices about diesel power in the marketplace, the hybrid gets a 1.4L four-cylinder gasoline engine powered by a tank of fuel, and an electric drive system powered by a tank of electrons (battery pack) that resides comfortably in the trunk.
In simple terms, the electric and gasoline drive systems take turns powering the Jetta Hybrid, assisting one another or combining their efforts at times, depending on the situation. Jetta Hybrid will cruise down lengthy hills with the gas engine off, using the excess momentum to drive the motor-generator unit, filling the battery with fresh electrons in the process. Lower-speed, electric-only driving is also possible, and the gas engine shuts down at traffic lights or whenever the vehicle is stopped.
So, had I been held up by an ‘Idle No More’ protest on my trip, there’d have been no irony. Thankfully, I wasn’t.
With all of the blending and switching between propulsion sources at any given time, you’d be right to think there’s a whole lot happening in the Jetta’s driveline. It’s all self-controlled in a way that requires no involvement from the driver, albeit for a selectable ‘E-Mode’ that encourages the system to spend more time driving on battery power when speeds are kept down.
From inside the Jetta Hybrid, it’s all pretty much invisible. You’ll hear the odd click of a relay and feel an occasional squirm as power is combined for propulsion. Occasionally, as the gas engine re-engages, the throttle becomes more sensitive. But while sitting back, enjoying the ride and blasting some Rammstein, you’d never notice a thing.
Three available readouts let drivers keep their eye on hybrid system operation in real time. The Jetta Hybrid uses a charge/boost/power gauge in place of a tachometer, with a blue ‘ECO’ zone encouraging drivers to stay out of heavy throttle application by suggesting about 25 percent or less of total power output is more economical than 25 percent or more. The indicator needle enters the green ‘CHARGE’ area when drivers ease off the throttle, and enters it more deeply when they brake. On the other end of the gauge is a ‘BOOST’ zone, which the needle delightfully snaps to when you give the Jetta Hybrid some stink.
The specs? Drivers get a combined 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Like the GTI, Jetta Hybrid is turbocharged and comes with a DSG transmission that can change gears in a jiff. Take that to mean that this is a hybrid that intends to be a bit on the sporty side. And that Jetta Hybrid doesn’t force drivers into use of a CVT transmission, which for sports car types is only slightly more appealing than eating a lit road flare.