Vital Stats

Engine:
1.4L Turbo I4 / 20kW motor
Power:
170 HP / 184 LB-FT (comb.)
Transmission:
7-Speed DCT
0-60 Time:
8.6 Seconds
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,300 LBS
Seating:
2+3
MPG:
42 City / 48 HWY
More Fun Than A Prius, Less Sensible Than A TDI



Let's have some fun, and do some math. We're talking pretty rudimentary stuff, multiplication and division, to figure out if the upcoming Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid can make a baseline case for itself against two very strong competitors in this segment. The competitors in question, at least for now, are two more Jettas: the diesel-drinking TDI and the fit-for-the-masses SE with VW's long-serving 2.5-liter engine.

To keep the equations clean and simple (hey, we're writers), we'll calculate based on the most flattering EPA miles per gallon stat from highway driving for all cars, assume a healthy 20,000 miles driven per year, and factor in today's average cost for the respective fuels these three require: diesel (TDI), regular (SE) and premium (Hybrid). We'll also start with the base prices for all models.

With all of that info loaded into our mental hoppers, how much time does it take to make the 45-mpg fuel economy of the Jetta Hybrid offset its premium price? To refresh, the $24,995 Hybrid is $2,005 more than the TDI and a heady $6,000 more than the SE. With highway economy ratings of 43 mpg for the TDI and 48 for the Hybrid, even considering that diesel fuel is more expensive, it'd take you about seven years of Hybrid driving before you've paid off the technology premium. The regular-gas sipping SE is a still more compelling argument for the frugal, as you'll need to drive your hybrid for roughly 13 years to make up the sticker difference at today's fuel prices. Bring the miles driven down to a closer-to-average 12k per year, and the payback takes even longer.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid side view2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid front view2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid rear view

We want both better mpg-performance and at least as much driving fun as the TDI, or, really, what's the point?

So what? Run a similar thought experiment with any other sets of gasoline- and hybrid-powered models in the universe today and you're likely to come up with very similar results – hybrid technology is still too expensive to "pay for itself" in almost every instance. The difference here, especially striking to those enthusiasts (like us) that have driven and enjoyed TDI products in the past, is that VW has long seemed to be the anti-hybrid, high-mpg beacon of driving fun in a world that becomes more Prius-shaped each time we look up from the Porsche catalog long enough to wince at it. So going into this full-bore test drive of the Jetta Hybrid, we want both better mpg-performance and at least as much driving fun as the TDI, or, really, what's the point?

At the heart of the Volkswagen hybrid proposition is a powertrain comprised of a 1.4-liter turbocharged gas engine and a 20kW electric motor that draws power from a 220-volt, 60-cell lithium-ion battery pack. Total output for the system is 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, with the electric motor good for a consistent 114 lb-ft of torque on its own, though the actual put-through number is electronically limited by the car's transmission.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid engine

The Hybrid feels every ounce as quick as the 2.5-liter five-cylinder-equipped Jetta.

The electric motor is also able to work on its own, in a fully electric mode, when state of charge and load demands allow, up to 37 miles per hour (or 44 mph when one has selected to drive in the more efficient "E-Mode"). In practice, we found it fairly difficult to use this EV mode much, even around town, unless we were very conscientious about maintaining an even, slow application of throttle. The EV mode will probably prove much more useful as an incremental addition to overall good fuel economy figures than it will contribute long periods of emissions-free driving.

Of course, the electric motor is also used in tandem with the turbo gas engine to offer more scoot during full-throttle runs. Here we were quite pleased with the overall torquey feeling of low-speed acceleration, as well as the ability to execute passing maneuvers at highway velocities. The Hybrid feels every ounce as quick as the 2.5-liter five-cylinder equipped Jettas we've driven en masse, though doesn't offer the torque punch that the TDI has in store.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid headlight2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid badge2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid wheel2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid taillight

This Jetta is a far more fun-to-drive hybrid than most of its competitive set.

With that said, and factoring in the ultra-smooth-shifting, seven-speed DSG gearbox with its attendant willingness to drop or add gears rapidly in either auto or manual modes, this Jetta is a far more fun-to-drive hybrid than most of its competitive set. Certainly mainstream Prius drivers would be likely to call the Jetta "sportier" than Toyota's segment leader, though we're not sure exactly how many mainstream buyers care about that capability.

Likewise, the ride and handling profile of the Jetta Hybrid is a bit crisper and more enthusiastic than your bog-standard compact gas-electric, though that's a bit like calling it "almost not boring." We found the suspension to be largely smooth and unfussed when dealing with poor road surfaces, and only moderately squishy when asked to take a corner at faster velocities than the posted limits would recommend. The front end of the car was somewhat willing to turn-in quickly, though the added weight of the Hybrid battery pack, along with the Jetta's natural tendency towards safety-first understeer anywhere near the limit, saw the front end pushing well wide of any apex we may have been foolish enough to aim it at. (Unless we aimed very slowly, of course.)

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid interior2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid rear seats2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid trunk

The car's controls, from the fuzzy-feedback steering experience to the non-linear grabiness of the regenerative brakes, were predictably not-crisp, sadly. The throttle was squishy in the first inch or so of travel, too. We adjusted to all of this, even the strange brakes, in just a few days of driving, but the point is that we were not exactly dazzled for a hybrid that may have been the enthusiast's answer to the run-of-the-mill.

We ended up with a figure of 36.2 mpg for our total test period.

The other critical expectation of the Jetta Hybrid, of course, is that it offers really kick-ass fuel economy. And here, we were disappointed. Our test of the car ran for more than 300 miles over a week of driving, including hundreds of miles on the freeway headed to and back from the west coast of Michigan. We ended up with a figure of 36.2 mpg for our total test period. Even if we take those numbers with a grain of salt – there was certainly a lot of fast driving when we were on back roads, and on the highway, our cruise control tended to be set at 75 mph or higher – they strike us as significantly less impressive than the last set we generated behind the wheel of a Jetta TDI, and less still than the Jetta Hybrid's EPA combined rating of 45 mpg.

With that, and considering that the Jetta Hybrid is almost a carbon-copy of every other Jetta from interior, fit/finish and exterior points of view (the car does have a snazzy set of optional wheels that are specific to the trim), we have to wonder who this new high-tech hybrid is aimed at.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid rear 3/4 view

Volkswagen estimates some five-percent of Jettas sold will be Hybrids.

Earlier we asked in a seemingly rhetorical fashion, "What's the point" of this Jetta Hybrid? A true answer to that question can be given in many ways, depending on who you are and what your priorities are. Certainly you can make environmentally responsible concessions for the lack of mpg-dominance for the car, based on its all-electric mode and quantifiable reduction in tailpipe emissions as a result. You could argue for convenience if there's a paucity of diesel pumps around your home court, or you may even claim a fondness for the slightly more refined running of the Hybrid's gas/electric operation. If you're a VW product planner, you will almost certainly point out that, with green American dollars being thrown at hybrid models in increasingly large volumes, it would be fiscally irresponsible not to be a player in the growing segment. (For what it's worth, Volkswagen estimates some five-percent of Jettas sold in the model year will be Hybrids.)

Realistically, there's not an ironclad case for ownership to be built here. You want what you want, and buy what you buy. A hybrid doesn't make any less sense than a GLI, for instance, it just makes sense in a different way, to a whole different set of shoppers. We'd still plunk our Jetta money down on the TDI model, probably ten times out of ten, if fuel economy is our jones. Not because the Jetta Hybrid isn't good to drive, and probably to own, it most certainly could be. It's just not as good, which is enough to make all of the difference.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 116 Comments
      John
      • 1 Year Ago
      I think they are forgetting one main difference. The Jetta Hybrid qualifies for the NY Clean Pass which allows it to travel in the HOV lane. This is something that my 2012 JSW TDI does not do.
      Bruce Lee
      • 1 Year Ago
      Why would you compare it to the highway mileage when hybrids are pretty much meant for city use?! Go look at what cars the cab drivers in NYC buy...they're virtually all hybrids nowadays with people preferring camry hybrids or escape hybrids because they make a lot more money when they're not burning 2-3x as much gas in a conventional model in stop and go traffic. Sure, you can take the best possible case mileage for a gas car and then compare it against the hybrid in highway mileage where it's advantage is the least noticeable but that's plain idiotic. On top of that even comparing it this way it does eventually save back most/all of the money within the expected lifetime of the vehicle. If all you do is drive highway miles then go ahead and buy the TDI but if what you mostly do is stop and go traffic then get the hybrid, it's that friggin' simple. Cars aren't one size fits all so why would you try to insist that one version is "the" one to get. VW sells all 3 powertrains because there's different customers you know.
      BipDBo
      • 1 Year Ago
      Why are you looking at the highway numbers? If youonly drive on the highway, get a diesel for sure. For most people, however, the city mpg number reflects more of thier driving than the highway number. Jetta hybrid highway / city mpg: 48 / 42 Jetta TDi highway / city mpg: 42 / 30 42 mpg vs 30 mpg is substantial, especially when the fuel being drawn at 30 is more expensive. Diesel owners like to brag about sky high mpgs, but it's always after they went on a road trip. For everyday driving, mostly city driving, diesels make good mpgs, but not great, much less than most hybrids. Another benefit of hybrids over diesels is no piss tank. I'll give hybrids one big plus though. You can get them with a stick shift.
      Joe Liebig
      • 1 Year Ago
      36 mpg isn't bad. That turbo-engine just lets you accelerate much faster than the prius HSD, and that's where you lose the fuel economy. Considering that, I think it's ok. However, the limited trunkspace is my personal dealbreaker.
        kEiThZ
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Joe Liebig
        The trunkspace is substantially more than my 2003 Lexus IS 300. The trunk isn't that bad. It's just that people are comparing it to the cavernous Jetta trunk.
      goodoldgorr
      • 1 Year Ago
      This article is empty. What model of these three jettas have the best drive.
      tiguan2.0
      • 1 Year Ago
      I stopped reading when I read that you calculated cost of Hybrid vs. Diesel Vs. standard based on HIGHWAY only. WHO pulls out of their garage, and drives 100% highway only?
        kEiThZ
        • 1 Year Ago
        @tiguan2.0
        To be fair, the hybrid is supposed to get 48mpg highway. So it is a little disconcerting that it scored so low.
      Ang
      • 1 Year Ago
      VERY misleading cost comparison. What he's overlooking is that the Hybrid models have a lot of other features standard that greatly improve the class of the car. For starters, the independent rear suspension that is only available on the GLIs (starting at $23,945, just $1000 less than the hybrid), soft-touch dashboard (requires SEL package at $22,895) and the dual-zone climate control (requires $26,195 GLI Autobahn), to name a few. I also love how he claims the hybrid felt, "every bit as quick as the 2.5". Very astute, since every other test confirms it is faster by every measurement (that's what more torque, a flatter powerband and better gearing typically gets you). Lastly, if he wants to really start comparing costs of ownership, he should factor in the costs of all of the brake jobs that he likely WON'T have to worry about with the hybrid over those miles. He does take some nice pictures though....
      paulwesterberg
      • 1 Year Ago
      The TDI only gets 30mpg in the city, the hybrid gets 42mpg in the city so the hybrid will definitely save you more money in gas if you ever drive through town or get stuck in traffic, at lights etc.
        Pinhead
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        Agreed - I think that's the point of a hybrid. Our hybrid (honda) gets a real life 43mpg *in*the*city*. The diesel will not do that. If you're a high way driver, get the diesel, it only make sense. But I'm a city driver, I like the hybrid goodness.
        Vinuuz
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        After having paid a lot more money in buying the car - the money saved in driving through town will need to be considered for several years - 10 or 15 to make economic sense.
        mapoftazifosho
        • 1 Year Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        I've had no issue getting 37 MPG in my TDi under city driving.
          mapoftazifosho
          • 1 Year Ago
          @mapoftazifosho
          Now that said, I also get 50 MPG in the city out of my hybrid.
      fakiu
      • 1 Year Ago
      The car is made is Mexico, and I happen to work for a company(also in Mexico) responsible for some crucial parts of its gas / electric drivetrain, and the only thing I can tell you is that this car has some serious design quality problems, some of the design problems were "fixed" by our engineering department (totally incompetent btw) and most of the car was designed by people in Mexico (I also happen to know a lot of people working in Puebla, also, totally incompetent). The car just sucks, it looks like a frigde with lights. I work as a SAP engineer, and I'm not really involved in the engineering / quality process for this car, but I know the people who, and I can assure you that no car built at VW Mexico can be trusted...
        Kwijiboz
        • 1 Year Ago
        @fakiu
        Well there it is, folks. You read it on da internet!
        kEiThZ
        • 1 Year Ago
        @fakiu
        With employees like you, VW needs no enemies.
        scion_tc
        • 1 Year Ago
        @fakiu
        I trust NO VW product made ANYWHERE. Don't blame crappy VW products on Mexico.
      JonZeke
      • 1 Year Ago
      Context. If AB wants to leave blogging behind and be certified auto journos, you have to start a dialog about context. Who cares what you guys like: does this car work in a context that you might not find yourselves in? Several commenters have already posited different scenarios where a Jetta hybrid might make sense. If you wish to move AB into a different realm of respectability a deeper dive on drivers and people would set you guys apart from the rest of the blogo-sphere-wanna-be-auto-journalists.
      Wetstuff
      • 1 Year Ago
      They are missing the point ..just like Honda. The first part of buying a Hybrid is to be able to 'show' your neighbors that you care more than Outback drivers. Leave me alone and give me a decent, small diesel SUV. Jim
        Vinuuz
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Wetstuff
        Exactly!
        dzspleen
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Wetstuff
        Unfortunately that's the kind of crap that most car manufacturers have bought into, but it's only true now because most hybrids are $25k and up. Of course when there are few to no affordable hybrids, they're mostly going to be bought for status reasons.
      pickles
      • 1 Year Ago
      So, Autoblog pounded the car for 300 miles, driving more than any speed limit (75mph -ok, maybe you can do that in some blank part of Texas) with cruise control. But it didn't occur to your testers to try driving it like a Jetta driver? If it got 36.2 in extreme conditions, that doesn't really tell me what someone with the mindset of 'economy, as percieved through driving a Jetta Hybrid' would experience. Why not try testing 150 miles as a horny 17 year old would drive and 150 miles as a 43 year old dude who's over speeding tickets and just likes to get a little turbo boost once in a while? Typically, I like your reviews but this just seems like poorly judged seat-time which tells potential shoppers little of what might be realistic for their mpg.
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