First drive: Volkswagen turbocharges its 2013 Jetta Hybrid for grins without much gas

2013 Jetta Hybrid

Automakers realized shorty after the Toyota Prius debuted that new car buyers want to buy their new cars from an automaker that sells a hybrid model. They don’t necessarily want the hybrid themselves – hybrid sales only make up around five percent of total yearly US new car sales – they actually want the turbo model. Buyers simply enjoy knowing that the automaker, from which they’ve purchased a vehicle, cares enough about the planet to build and sell a hybrid.

Enter the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Complete with a turbo, it’s the best of both worlds.

As the second hybrid that VW has offered (the first being the 2011 Touareg Hybrid), the Jetta Hybrid has a lot of impressive competitors to go against. Featuring a 1.4-liter turbocharged TSI gasoline engine, a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission, and an electric motor/generator wired up to a lithium-ion battery pack, the Jetta Hybrid puts a new, sporty spin on the traditional four-door hybrid.

While the turbocharged engine is small and efficient, it still produces 143 horsepower. The compact motor/generator, which is powered by a 60-cell battery pack, adds 27 horsepower to the system for a net output of 170 horses.

Capable of reaching 60 mph from a dead standstill in eight seconds, the Jetta Hybrid stands as one of the quickest hybrids on the market (the Prius does it in 10 seconds) and is capable of an electronically limited 125 mph. The Jetta Hybrid’s impressive stats don’t end there. The Jetta Hybrid is capable of a combined 45 mpg and starts at a base price of $24,995. So it won’t blow your budget at the dealer or at the gas pump.

On the exterior, the Jetta Hybrid doesn’t look much different than the standard Jetta; at least to the untrained eye. VW has re-sculpted the front fascia and rear bumper, giving the Jetta Hybrid a drag co-efficient of 0.30. Distinguishing it further from the rest of the Jetta line are distinctive “Hybrid” badges, which have been accented with blue in reference to VW’s “Think Blue” mentality.

Available in four trim levels (Turbo Hybrid, Turbo Hybrid SE, Turbo Hybrid SEL, Turbo Hybrid SEL Premium) the interior of the Jetta Hybrid will surely impress. VW realizes hybrid drivers love the advanced technology under the hood as well as advanced tech in the cabin. VW has included in the Jetta Hybrid an Eco gauge in the instrument cluster, a digital readout next to the speedo that displays several different vehicle information screens, and a touchscreen in the center stack that works as a hybrid drive information module, an advanced stereo, and a navigation display. To say the 2013 Jetta Hybrid is tech savvy would be an understatement.

Connecting the distinctive drivetrain to the sleek and modern interior is a small black button behind the shifter that reads “E Mode.” Press that, and from a standstill, the Jetta Hybrid is capable of driving 2.1 miles and up to 44 MPH in electric or “EV” mode. Leave E Mode disengaged and the Jetta Hybrid can maintain EV mode up to 37 MPH, provided the driver works the throttle pedal gingerly.

The turbocharged hybrid drivetrain of the 2013 Jetta Hybrid is impressive, and not just on paper.

Typical hybrids tout fuel economy as their shining achievement, often the expense of drivability. Hybrids are anemic on power, lumpy while delivering that power, and generally have the handling characteristics of say, a manatee or the space station. The Jetta Hybrid, is none of these things. We had worried VW might have Prius-ized the Jetta. Thankfully, it hasn’t.

VW had been derided for cheapening the base model Jetta and replacing its great-handling multi-link rear suspension with a less expensive – and far worse handling – setup. Only on the GLI model did the new Jetta retain the suspension components of the outgoing version. Delightfully, the Jetta Hybrid, too, has been fitted with the multi-link, independent rear suspension. And you can tell. In corners, the Jetta Hybrid is confident and sure-footed.

Off the line in a typical hybrid, regardless of the rate of acceleration, the switch between EV mode and the firing up of the gas engine is a lumpy and generally unpleasant affair. No automaker had worked out a way to make the transition of power a smooth one. That is, until the Jetta Hybrid. Just like its competitors, the gas engine in the Jetta Hybrid shuts off at stop lights, but unless you’re paying attention (and sometimes even when you are) you wouldn’t notice it. Then when it kicks back on, it’s just as seamless. The jarring start and stop of the gasoline engine having been one of our major complaints with hybrids, we were pleased to see it negated.

Leave the DSG transmission in the standard “D” drive mode, and it’s peppy without being wasteful. Come off the throttle for any amount of time and the system disconnects the gas engine from the transmission. This disconnection allows for decreased powertrain drag and — as the precisely translated German video that VW showed us bragged — “the Jetta Hybrid coasts!” It coasts so well in fact, it feels like the Jetta is unencumbered by wind resistance at all.

For drivers who wish to maximize all 170 horsepower, simply pop the shifter into Sport and allow the engine and transmission to make full use of the turbocharger. Be forewarned, if you’re expecting a big power gain from Sport mode, you’ll be disappointed. For a hybrid, though, Sport is quite a chuckle.

It’s safe to say the Jetta Hybrid is a winner. The subtle good looks of the standard Jetta haven’t been sullied by aerodynamic re-sculpting. The interior, too, remains quite nice and has been given some choice tech toys underneath the soft-touch dash. The fuel economy and performance are both outstanding. And starting at $24,995 and ranging up to $31,180, the price point is pretty good.

The problem lies, however, with that price point. Yes, compared to other hybrids on the market, it’s competitive. But just like the VW diesel offerings, the premium for those alternative drivetrains is substantial. We figure the price difference between a comparably equipped gasoline Jetta and a Diesel Jetta is around $2,300. With gas and diesel prices as they currently stand, customers will be looking at a staggering 80,000-mile break-even point. Meaning, you’d have to drive your diesel-powered Jetta for 80,000 miles before you’d save enough money to make up for the increased sticker price. Sure, on the road you’re getting better fuel economy, but are you really ready to wait the six or so years before those savings pay for themselves and you can begin actually saving?

The Hybrid is much the same story: a higher premium at the dealer for savings at the pump. When confronted about this, a German VW rep addressed it brilliantly. He said, “Buyers are purchasing diesels and hybrids for how they feel when they get to drive past the pump and when they see the high fuel economy figures on their vehicle computer.” And he’s right.

So if you’re interested in having one of the best looking, best handling, and quickest hybrid on the market, while also being able to pass up the pump once in a while, go for the Jetta Hybrid. If you simply want to save on gas, get a Ford Fiesta.

Product Review

While other crossovers dabble in dirt, Toyota's truck-like RAV4 doubles down

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 gets a clean-sheet redesign, ditching the previous generation’s car-like styling for truck-like toughness. Toyota’s compact crossover also gets more tech and new powertrains.

2019 Crosstrek Hybrid has something no Subaru has ever had

The 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid is the Japanese automaker's first production plug-in hybrid vehicle. It will go on sale before the end of the year. Subaru relied on plug-in hybrid tech from Toyota to make the Crosstrek Hybrid a reality.

Born to run (forever): The most reliable cars you can buy right now

We all dread the thought of our car turning into a money pit, but choosing a dependable vehicle from the start can help us rack up countless care-free miles. Here, we've rounded up some of the most reliable cars available.

Our favorite fuel-efficient cars are as frugal as they are fun

You don't need to opt for a hybrid or an all-electric ride in order to achieve good fuel economy. These vehicles pack both performance and style, whether you're in the market for a luxury sedan or a game-changing pickup truck.

Honda will squeeze another model into its SUV lineup at the Los Angeles show

Honda will introduce a new SUV with a familiar nameplate at the 2018 Los Angeles auto show. It envisioned the 2019 Passport as a five-seater alternative to the eight-seater Pilot. The two models will share a platform and many tech features.

Uber rolls out rewards program that lets its most loyal riders lock in prices

Uber launched a new loyalty program today called Uber Rewards. It offers frequent riders credits to Uber Eats, car upgrades, and the ability to lock in prices on their most traveled routes.

Fisker failed. But now the EV pioneer is ready for an epic redo

Henrik Fisker has already had a career most executives can only dream about. He designed the BMZ Z8, a couple of Aston Martins, and his own Fisker Karma. But he’s got a plan to disrupt the auto industry, forged by lessons learned over the…

The world’s first 3D-printed titanium wheels are so intricate they look fake

HRE Performance Wheels and GE Additive have teamed up to create the world's first 3D-printed titanium wheels. They are not only impressively durable, but extremely lightweight as well.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I. selfie drones, ‘invisible’ wireless chargers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Smarter cities need smarter addresses. And you just need 3 words

To make really smart transportation choices, more precise location data will have to be integrated with citywide transportation data. Here’s how one company is mapping the world by using just three words.

Lamborghini transforms the Urus SUV into a dual-purpose race car

Breaking stereotypes and tradition, Lamborghini has turned the Urus SUV into a race car that's equally at home on a paved track and on a dirt trail. The ST-X concept gets bigger air intakes, a full roll cage, and center-locking alloy…

Jaguar’s V2X technology will keep you from getting stuck at red lights

Jaguar wants to make sure you never have to rush through a yellow light again. The carmaker is building tools that will tell you what speed you'll need to drive to avoid getting stuck at a red light.

Drool over Lamborghini’s latest dream machine: The one-off SC18

The Lamborghini SC18 was built by the automaker's Squadra Corse racing department at the request of a customer. Based on the Lamborghini Aventador, it features upgraded aerodynamic aids and reduced weight.

Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn ousted, arrested after whistleblower cries foul

Nissan will oust chairman Carlos Ghosn after an internal investigation revealed he underreported his salary to Japan's financial authorities for years. Greg Kelly, one of Nissan's representative directors, will leave for the same reason.