Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL

Hybrids: The mere mention of the name in relation to automobiles brings a collective yawn to lots of auto enthusiasts. While many gas/electric hybrids might be both practical and frugal, few are rewarding to drive. Recently, Volkswagen threw its German hat into the hybrid game with the introduction of the Jetta Hybrid. While VW may be best known for its frugal and torquey TDI diesel with relation to fuel economy—it already gets over 40 highway MPG—the Jetta Hybrid is rated at 42 city, 45 combined, and 48 highway—better than the diesel. And in classic VW fashion, this hybrid is actually rewarding to drive. Much of this is due to the fact that VW has paired a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with a powerful electric motor. Yes, this is a turbocharged hybrid. In fact, the window sticker even says “The Hybrid for Turbo Fans.”

Volkwagen Jetta Hybrid grilleThe latest Jetta has been selling well for VW, despite it being panned by some automotive media outlets. Truth be told, this was my first experience of any sort with the most recent Jetta. From the outside, it does look pretty bland, and even more bland in “Moonrock Silver Metallic,” aka beige with the plain-Jane 16” wheels. The solid bar-style grille and small deck spoiler are unique to the Jetta Hybrid, but still don’t distinguish it much from non-hybrid Jettas. Those looking for that eco-chic thing will want to look elsewhere. The Jetta Hybrid’s exterior styling does nothing for me. While it isn't ugly, it isn't much to look at.

So far, it’s not sounding too fun, right? That’s about to change …

The 1.4-liter turbocharged TSI engineThe big story here is the drivetrain. The combination of the turbocharged gas engine and torquey electric motor leads to a surprising amount of gusto. Total power output is 170 horsepower and 184 ft./lbs. of torque. Our Jetta Hybrid was mated to the wonderful seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox which provided quick gear changes, whether shifted manually or in full automatic mode. Mash the throttle and you’ll be introduced to more wheel spin that you’d ever expect from a compact hybrid sedan. This thing really scoots. I kept thinking, finally—a hybrid for the masses that has some guts! Honestly, this was the most fun I’d had in a hybrid vehicle to date. Too bad it doesn’t look as fun as it drives. I will say this: This is the least hybrid-like hybrid I've driven to date. Power is ample, linear, and natural. And unlike some of its gas/electric competitors, sometimes you forget you're driving a hybrid vehicle.

Acceleration, of course, is only part of a vehicle’s overall performance. While not a sporty model, like a GLI, the Jetta Hybrid did handle responsively. Again, it wasn't up to GLI performance by any means, but it did handle competently. The supple suspension easily soaked up bumps whether around town or on the highway. Speaking of, the Jetta Hybrid’s highway ride was very good, and it cruises easily and comfortably.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL interior

Inside the Jetta Hybrid there is an airy, minimalist cockpit. Again, no flashy designs or gimmicky trim bits; it’s simple, straight forward, and basic. Luckily, it also felt very solid. I actually didn't mind the interior, which again, had been criticized by the motoring press. Most of it was very easy to use and was also very comfortable. But yes, there was more beige. Even the interior color is called “Cornsilk Beige.” Not exciting, but at least it is well crafted and comfortable.

Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid gauge cluster

As I've eluded to already, this is the least hybrid-like of any hybrid I've driven, and that theme continues inside. There are some bits that’ll remind you you’re driving a vehicle partially powered by electricity, such as the gauge cluster. That dial on the left? That’s showing your power. The dial displays Eco, Boost, and a neutral area in between. Want fuel economy? Stay in Eco. Want to move quickly? You’ll find yourself in Boost. Of course, there’s the Charge area, too for when you’re sending power back to the battery pack. Additionally, if you really want to see where the power is going and how it’s being used, you can select a menu on the infotainment system that’ll show you when the gas engine is running, then the electric motor is turning, and when power is being sent back to the battery. The best part? You can easily turn it off. It’s a very simplistic animation to look at, and I tried to use it to get the fuel economy possible … at least when I wasn't on the boost.

There was an excellent stereo system with easy-to-pair Bluetooth connectivity and a good navigation unit, all of which controlled via touchscreen. Additionally the V-Tex leatherette seats felt supportive and were heated. Those relegated to the back seat will have plenty of space and comfort. Finally, there is a power moonroof to open things up on nice days. Need to carry some cargo? Part of the trunk is occupied by the battery packs, but you can still get medium-sized pieces of luggage in there without issue.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL from the back

Now comes the inevitable question: Jetta Hybrid or Jetta TDI? The Jetta Hybrid SEL stickers for $30,155 including destination. This nets you the 42,45,48 MPG numbers (premium fuel required), a DSG gearbox, and a good bit of get-up-and-go. A similarly equipped Jetta TDI will run you about $29,000, but fuel economy is rated at 30 city, 34 combined, and 42 highway, so the hybrid does return better numbers according to the EPA’s estimates. I got about 40 MPG with our Jetta Hybrid, likely because I was on the boost quite a bit, and the majority of my driving was in the city.

Let’s put it this way: If I had to buy a compact hybrid sedan, I’d buy a Jetta Hybrid. Despite its unassuming looks, I was impressed by its build quality, power delivery, and ride. However, if I had to opt for a Jetta, I’d still go with the TDI for the torque and the availability of a true manual transmission. But as far as hybrid vehicles go, Volkswagen has done a great job with the Jetta Hybrid. I just wish it looked as good as it drove.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

They are excellent cars that have great mileage and will last a very long time. Now, that being said, people love theirs so much that they hold on to them.