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VW Jetta Hybrid's a Blow-out Success

Njuguna Kabugi | 7/10/2013, 3 p.m.
Volkswagen has made a bold declaration. Executives at the Germany-based carmaker have announced that they plan to steer VW into ...
The Jetta Hybrid offers the only turbocharged engine and dual-clutch transmission in the compact hybrid class. (Courtesy of Volkswagen of America, Inc.)

Volkswagen has made a bold declaration. Executives at the Germany-based carmaker have announced that they plan to steer VW into the world’s No. 1 carmaker position by 2018. While many in the industry doubt that Volkswagen, currently ranked as the No. 3 highest vehicle volume seller in the world has enough acumen to leave Toyota, General Motors, and the rest of the industry’s big dogs in the dust in just five years, there are indications it is retooling in the right places.

VW’s world domination goals could be realized if drivers in the U.S. and elsewhere take favorably to recent changes its made to its best seller in the North American market – the Jetta. Redesigned just two years ago, the vehicle is in its sixth generation, and is expected to account for close to half of VW’s total U.S. sales this year.

It is bigger than the last generation, is more affordable and has one of the most spacious rear seats in the class. It also offers buyers a choice of everyday gasoline power, hot-rod gasoline power, diesel power or gas-electric hybrid power. Nobody else offers that array.

The Jetta Hybrid retains the styling present in the rest of the model line. While the most obvious differences are the blue-highlighted VW emblem, keen observers will also notice the unique wheels only available for the hybrid. Less visible are a number of features designed to help maximize aerodynamic efficiency and minimize road resistance. These include a Hybrid-specific air intake which provides a flush seal and controls the flow of cooling air passing through the engine compartment.

We drove the new Jetta Hybrid for a week and I am pleased to say it proved itself to be a fairly fun-to-drive, yet frugal car. With fuel economy in the mid-40s, the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid stands among the top fuel sippers. The vehicle is the only turbo hybrid in the compact class and features the only dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The Jetta Hybrid is much more fun to drive compared to competitors in the hybrid small passenger car market. Below 30 mph, drivers should expect the middling acceleration other cars in this class dish out at low speeds. But when you push past 40, the Jetta comes alive and you're at go-to-jail velocity much quicker than you expect.

Thanks to the eager and useful 170 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque that the four cylinder turbo engine provides, the Jetta provides eager and rapid pickup, sparing drivers the annoyance of the CVTs (continuously variable automatic transmissions) used in most hybrids.

Braking, however, is a bit disappointing: it is just not as well calibrated as in the competing Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Insight or Toyota Prius models. Whenever I released the brakes at a stop, sometimes the car would surge forward at other times it would shudder.

Pricing for the special order base Jetta Hybrid begins at $24,995. Our test vehicle was the high-end version, a Jetta SEL Premium hybrid, which starts at $31,975.

While some car buyers will hesitate to pay this much for a car without a premium reputation, the Jetta is well-furnished with rarities in this class that include leather seats, Bi-Xenon headlamps with LED DRLs and the Active Front-Lighting System (AFS), fog lights with cornering lights, 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, a rearview camera, and the Fender Premium Audio System.