2013 VW Jetta Turbo Hybrid

SANTA FE, N.M . —  If one believes the automotive hype, the new darling of the industry seems to be electric vehicles. But, maybe not. There is a technology that seems to be appearing in many car lines that’s been around a while…but hasn’t received the respect it deserves — and this time I’m not referring only to diesels. What I’m talking about is hybrids.

Some of the initial examples were the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight. Almost overnight the Prius became the car to be most seen in by the celebrity crowd. Over the years, however, the Prius finds itself in a crowded field that it once had almost to itself. The latest example is the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid.

For 2013 the Jetta Hybrid joins the sixth-generation Jetta (introduced in the 2011 model year). It’s easily distinguished from its siblings by the blue-highlighted VW emblem, hybrid badging, unique front grille and its equally-unique wheels.

Furthermore it sports a hybrid-specific air intake that controls the flow of cooling air passing through the engine compartment, a custom trunklid spoiler, front airdam and extended side skirts designed exclusively for the for the model’s aerodynamic needs. Ironically, during our test drive through portions of New Mexico we were behind a 2013 model driven by a colleague as he was passing an older model Jetta so the physical differences were easily discerned.

For 2013 the Jetta Hybrid comes in four trim levels: base, SE, SEL, and the top-of-the-line SEL Premium. The base-level MSRP is affordable enough at $24,995 but for the relatively low difference of $6,185 a buyer can move to the top tier that contains more content than a department store at Christmas.

Included are such features as LED taillights and keyless access w/push-button start, premium touchscreen audio system with color energy flow display in the center console, a Media-Device interface with iPod cable and SiriusXM Satellite Radio, 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, power tilt and slide sunroof, touchscreen navigation system, heated seats (with power adjustment on the driver’s side), Bi-Xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lamps, foglights with cornering lights, a rearview camera and a Fender premium audio system. 

Obviously the heart of the Jetta Hybrid is the powerplant and it’s going to be difficult to find a better and smoother one among its main competitors, which are giants in the segment as well. Among Jetta’s hybrid “neighbors” are the Ford C-Max, Honda Civic, Honda Insight, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Prius.

Jetta is equipped with a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 27-horsepower electric motor. The gasoline engine produces an admirable 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque (at 1,600 rpm). The combined system puts out 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque at 1,000 rpm.  It connects to a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission and employs a dry-clutch designed as opposed to the wet-clutch arrangement in other VW products. (Full discloser: I have NO idea what this means but it must be something unique or it wouldn’t be utilized in the process.)

Zero-60 mph time is a very impressive 8.6 seconds; top speed is 125 mph. If it will make you feel better about your vehicle a modified Jetta Hybrid recently set a speed record of 187.607 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats — the highest top speed ever recorded for a hybrid.

What’s even more impressive is the driving range of the new Jetta Hybrid. Combined city/highway fuel estimate is 45 miles per gallon, meaning with the vehicle’s 11.9-gallon tank you could probably count on a highway range of almost 550 miles — the equivalent of driving round-trip between Detroit and Chicago on the same tank of gas.

In real-world driving I found the turbo to be incredibly reliable in some of the higher altitudes during mountain driving and equally effortless at lower levels. Passing vehicles at both heights was sure and safe. Jetta Hybrid’s suspension, designed for lively handling (read: sporty driving) and comfort and stability, employs damper struts with lower control arms and an anti-roll bar. Rear multi-link, gas-pressurized dampers and separate coil springs combined with VW’s latest electric power steering system, complete the process.

Rather than provide a conservative, stodgy ride so often associated with a vehicle designed for economy the new Jetta is really awesome to drive.

Like the rest of the members of its family, the 2013 VW Jetta Hybrid has an extremely strong body structure that uses hot-formed steels and is designed to optimize the vehicle’s performance in front, side and rear-impact crashes. It has a number of specifically-placed airbags, anti-lock braking, electronic brake-pressure distribution, electronic stability control, hydraulic brake assist and VW’s Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS) that unlocks the doors and turns on the hazard lights as well as shutting down the fuel system in certain types of collisions. It’s also offered with the Carefree Maintenance Program that covers all scheduled maintenance during the vehicle’s standard new car limited warranty of 3-years/36,000 miles.

The instrument gauges are large, clear and concise. Where the traditional tachometer is found the new hybrid has a “Power Meter” that begins at “Off,” followed by a green “regeneration” section before reaching the baseline drive-ready state that is represented by a zero. This begins a blue section of the dial that signifies the most efficient driving style, alternating between electric and gasoline engine power. It’s rather fascinating to watch but if one is easily distracted it can be a problem. (My advice is, if you’re easily amused by this process let someone else drive; the gauge is easily-seen from the passenger’s side.)

Between the power meter and speedometer is the vehicle’s standard Multi-Function Instrument that depending on the setting, shows a wealth of operation information and driver’s preferences.

The steering wheel is perfectly sized and contains a host of redundant buttons allowing the driver to adjust the audio entertainment without taking his or her eyes off the road. Speaking of the entertainment system the vehicle’s positioning of the multitude of speakers is the ultimate surround-sound. Two of them are located in the A-pillars. There’s a host of woofer, tweeter, amplifier and other audio information I don’t understand, but I do know this: the sound is phenomenal. I also know a slick navigation system when I see one and the new Jetta’s is among the best. It’s touchscreen and has fantastic resolution.

The materials used in the 2013 Jetta Hybrid’s interior is first-rate. The seats feature quality stitching and the fit and finish of the dashboard is tight as a drum. A side benefit is the limited amount of interior road noise. The seats themselves offer a high-degree of comfort and I would suspect by the time you completed that Detroit-Chicago round-trip your body may be tired…but as Peg Bundy used to ask for on the old “Married…With Children” sitcom, you won’t need a “tushy rub” when you leave the vehicle.

Speaking of “rears” the back seat leg room is very…roomy. While front-seat legroom is 41.2-inch the rear-seat legroom isn’t far behind at 38.1”. Total passenger volume is 94.1 cubic feet and the cargo volume, while not setting the world on fire, is 11.3 cubic feet. All of these figures are fairly good, especially for a vehicle listed by the EPA as a “Compact.”

One item I would like to see available (not only on the new Jetta but on every vehicle that ever rolls off an assembly line) is a blind spot information system. Like all vehicles the Jetta has a certain degree of blind spots and because it’s a smaller vehicle this obstacle is better dealt with. However, offer a system like BLIS and the world will be a better place, my friend.

If I were a member of the competition I wouldn’t be so philanthropic in offering my welcome to the segment to the 2013 Volkswagen’s new Turbo Hybrid. There’s a new sheriff in town…and its name is Jetta.

— Al Vinikour