The Little Engines That Could

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Silence is Golden in Slick New VW Jetta Hybrid

There are three key parts to making a successful hybrid…1) great performance, 2) a smooth powertrain, and 3) outstanding fuel economy. VW has done it all and more with their “Serene Hybridness” – the new top of the line 2013 Jetta, the slick and sophisticated Hybrid (starting at $24,995).

By now, most of you know the current generation Jetta…larger car…lower price, with more mainstream appeal than the earlier forays into sports sedan territory. To create the Hybrid, VW started with the new Jetta and added the independent rear suspension and soft touch interior from the Jetta GLI (yes, the “real” Jetta for you sports sedan holdovers). So, we know it feels good to your hands and the road feels comfortable to your bottoms, even when the pavement gets rough. To the naked eye, other than very subtle badging, it looks just like a Jetta.

But, then, the VW engineers (and perhaps some Black Forest wizards as well) came along and added a compact powertrain unit comprised of a 1.4 liter 4 cylinder turbo (150hp/184ft-lb torque) and a 27 hp electric motor, producing a combined output of 170hp and 184 ft-lb through an industry-first, very smooth 7 speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. Those are the numbers…so how does it work? After over 125 miles of highways and 2 lane hills and curves, it works somewhere north of wonderful. This powertrain is silky, free-revving, responsive, quiet, and I dare anyone to hear or feel the transition point between gas and electric operation. You can see it on one of the most clear and easy to understand hybrid system gauges…but the transition is absolutely seamless and soundless. With added insulation and new structural improvements, this is an amazingly quiet vehicle inside. One rest stop short of the end of the drive my overall fuel economy was 47.1 mpg…a tenth better than the VW spec. Then, I got on it harder on the highway, where the electric motor is just along for the ride, and managed to drop it only to 45.2.

The Jetta Hybrid interior is well crafted and maintains a Teutonic look, even as it provides comfort for a wider range of Americans. The seats are firm and supportive in all the right places. The driving experience is biased toward comfort and the smooth, quiet engine is well matched with the softer, but well controlled ride. Steering efforts are well chosen, but I’d prefer more feel/feedback and more response on-center from the electric steering system, but I’d also want that wrapped in a GLI to go hunting for traffic circles. Most buyers may feel quite comfortable as is.

The hybrid wars are heating up, with major entries in different body styles from Europe, Asia, and North America launching every year. For the mainstream buyer who enjoys VW’s German engineering, and is seeking a comfortable and responsive hybrid sedan in the small to midsize range, the new Jetta Hybrid is a delightful answer right now.

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