First Drive: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

This week in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Volkswagen officials offered some new details and information about the the brand’s upcoming 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid.  The car is expected to be a leader in achieving the brand’s goal of efficient motoring alongside the diesel powered TDI model and also serve as the last piece in the Jetta lineup which now offers customers five different versions of Jetta to choose from.

A key piece of the model’s unique blend of attributes is the car’s flexible pricing ladder for all trim levels. Base models will begin at $24,995, with SE and SEL trims starting at $26,990 and $29,325 respectively. The Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium model (which is the top trim level) will start at $31,180. While this pricing ladder does make the hybrid more expensive than some of its competitors (the Toyota Prius and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, for example), buyers of the Jetta Hybrid will still get plenty of technology and performance for their money which is something that cannot be said of many current hybrid offerings out on the market today. This pricing is also aimed at helping the Jetta Hybrid take a slice of the compact hybrid market which accounts for 66% of hybrid-car sales.

To achieve the company’s claims of balanced performance and efficiency, the Jetta hybrid is powered by a 1.4 liter direct injected turbocharged engine (also found in the new Golf and Audi A3) which works hand-in-hand with a 27 horsepower electric motor to achieve a net rating of 170 horsepower and 184 lb ft of torque. This combination also achieves a 0 to 60 time of 8.6 seconds and a estimated fuel economy rating of 45 mpg.  Top speed is 125 miles per hour.

The interior of the 2013 Jetta Hybrid also retains the premium feel found on many other Volkswagen models and equipment such as a premium Fender audio system, heated seats, Bi Xenon headlights with LED inserts, touch screen navigation, and a rear view camera will help eliminate the minimalist stigma faced by other hybrid offerings

A rear-mounted 222-volt lithium-ion battery pack supplies the electric power side of the equation and comes equipped with 60 individual battery cells. Impressively, the battery pack weighs in at a scant 80 lbs which is less than many competitors’ battery packs, and allows the Hybrid to retain a reasonably sporting character.

Power is routed through a 7 speed DSG automatic transmission which is the sole transmission choice available on all hybrid trim levels.  No manual option currently in the works. The 7 speed DSG includes an “E mode,” which extends the amount of time pure electric power is utilized and can be used at speeds up to 44 mph (higher than the 25mph max on the Prius) for a distance of 1.2 miles before the turbocharged motor kicks into action. In addition to E mode, the car is also equipped with a “E meter” which allows customers to keep an eye on their driving style and to change it accordingly to achieve maximum efficiency. Customers that are wondering whether the Hybrid is capable of achieving decent handling figures will be pleased to hear that the Hybrid will utilize the same suspension tuning found on the high-performance GLI model, albeit with new front dampers in place to reduce unwanted noise levels.

Along with the technology found under the hood, Volkswagen engineers also outfitted the car with numerous exterior enhancements, which include underbody aero cladding, specially designed tire rims and a “hidden” exhaust which allows the Jetta Hybrid achieve a .28 cd drag coefficient; that’s slightly better that the .30 cd rating achieved by the non-hybrid version of the Jetta.

Driving the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid in the streets of downtown Santa Fe as well as the challenging driving roads of the Taos mountain range revealed that while Volkswagen engineers did a great job in retaining the Jetta’s reputation as a fun to drive vehicle, there are still a few compromises that keep the hybrid version from truly achieving a perfect blend of driving fun and efficiency.

Acceleration from the 1.4 liter turbocharged motor was brisk and confident with plenty of power and low end torque available for passing maneuvers and freeway driving (something that cannot be said of the Prius and its lazy torque curve). Shifts from the 7 speed DSG automatic were slick and accurate, though the transmission’s habit of skipping second gear in manual mode (at certain speeds) proved to be an annoying trait – especially in the uphill portions of Taos, where a lower gear was often required for some driving situations.

A key feature of the Jetta Hybrid is its new “E Mode” which allows for pure electric driving at speeds up to 44 MPH. This feature was useful in city driving and the 44 mph maximum speed for this pure electric mode is not only faster than the 25 MPH limit found on the Toyota Prius family, but also allows for more practical driving and the ability to use the EV mode as a more feasible means of saving fuel which should please future owners. Volkswagen claims that the Jetta Hybrid is capable of achieving a combined fuel economy rating of 45 MPG, which is plausible, though it will vary depending on your driving style.  In my case, I netted mileage numbers that were consistently in the upper 30s.

Braking was consistently good, with smooth, steady stops.  However, a slight shudder from the regeneration system could be felt through the brake pedal and the grabby nature of the rotors did take away some driver confidence when navigating the trickier sections of the Taos mountain range. That said, the Jetta Hybrid’s handling characteristics were first-rate, with little body roll and accurate feedback from the electric power steering, which made going through tight corners and the curvy sections of the mountain range an enjoyable experience.  In-town  driving, navigating the narrow streets of downtown Santa Fe to visit the numerous art shops and attractions the city has to offer. The suspension is nearly identical to that found on the souped up GLI model, and in addition to its handling talents on twisty roads, it also did an excellent job absorbing bumps and dips on city streets.

The interior of the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid thankfully does not follow the route blazed by some of its competitors when it comes to material quality. A leather wrapped steering wheel and soft touch materials on the dashboard and instrument cluster were welcome premium touches that made the cabin look and feel upscale, as did the supportive leatherette seats, which did an excellent job holding me in place during my time behind the wheel.  Buttons and switches for various controls were well-marked and easy to use, with exception of the button for the E mode, which was located too far from the driver and required a good reach to access.  In contrast, the Prius’ EV button is much easier to find and use. Navigating through the Jetta’s touchscreen audio system and its various features was also easy, though glare from the ever-present New Mexico sunshine did obscure the display occasionally.  That made certain tasks (such as changing radio stations) difficult.

The Jetta Hybrid’s exterior styling retains many of the traits and cues found on the non-hybrid version of the Jetta, which should please Volkswagen loyalists. Wheras the Prius and its futuristic styling look like something that came straight out of a spaceship in Roswell, the Jetta’s more conventional look is simple and elegant, if not a tad underwhelming. Hybrid versions do gain goodies such as Bi Xenon headlights with LED inserts, backup camera, and unique blue hybrid badging which should make them stand out from other Jetta models. LED taillights are also available but only on higher-spec SE and SEL trims.

Overall, Volkswagen engineers have done an excellent job in creating the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, and while it is not the perfect blend of fuel efficiency and performance, it should still please customers that want to avoid gas stations while having fun driving at the same time which is something that seems to be missing from many hybrids currently out on the market.

Volkswagen provided airfare, hotel, meals, and the use of a Jetta Hybrid for this review.

Author: Carl Malek

Carl Malek is Autosavant’s resident German car fanatic and follower of all things General Motors. Carl first entered the world of automotive journalism as a freelance photographer during his freshman year of college before making the switch to automotive writing several years later. Carl developed an interest in cars at an early age, which helped him overcome the challenges of a learning disability in mathematics. In addition to writing for Autosavant community, Carl also contributes to many car forums and enjoys attending automotive events in the Metro Detroit area with his family. Carl’s message for others with learning disorders is to believe in yourself, be persistent, and face all challenges head on.

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1 Comment

  1. interesting to finally seea review of something sorta-equivalent to an “EcoBoost” Hybrid.
    I’ve been wondering if developing Atkinson engine versions for hybrids are worth it anymore

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