When it comes to super efficient hybrids, we're not fond of the typical egg-shaped styling and disconnected driving dynamics. There's no question that cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight get great fuel economy, but we don't love the look. Hybrids like the Ford Fusion and Honda CR-Z are exceptions, but many hybrids have unusual driving dynamics and we just don't like that. Later this year, Volkswagen dispels those stereotypes with the 2013 VW Jetta Hybrid.
Maybe hybrid drivers want to look a little different from the rest of us, and that's why the Prius and the Insight look the way they do. In our opinion, this is one area where the Jetta really excels. Other than an updated grille and a few chrome badges, the Jetta Hybrid looks like any other Jetta sedan on the road - and we mean that as compliment. The only exterior options available on the hybrid model are LED running lights and bi-xenon headlights as well as larger, trim-specific 17-inch wheels.
Inside, it's obvious that the hybrid Jetta is intended to be the top-shelf version of the sedan. A touch-screen radio is standard, and if you opt for navigation, the back-up camera comes as part of the package. The leatherette seats are also offered in two-tone, and the dash is made of the same soft, higher-grade material that comes in the Jetta GLI. However, we're not loving VW's power meter, a replacement for the standard tachometer in a gasoline or TDI car. It's hard to tell whether you're operating in EV, battery and engine, engine-only or engine and turbo modes, and the needle moves all over the place as you driving. It seems kind of gimicky and doesn't communicate any real information to the driver.
As for the trunk, you're looking at slightly less storage capacity than you would in a normal car, but VW has done a pretty tidy job of minimizing the space needed for the battery. If you're thinking in terms of suitcases, you can still toss at least two large bags back there. Plus, the Jetta Hybrid still has folding-seat functionality, so you can fit just about anything in the Jetta Hybrid that you'd normally carry in another sedan.
If you actually like driving and want great fuel economy, this is the car for you. VW set out to make this car more fun than its competition, and they've succeeded. The Jetta Hybrid is without question the most fun hybrid sedan on the market today.
The Jetta is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, which is paired with a 27-horsepower electric motor. The result is a total of 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, making this little car feel more like a sport sedan than a fuel sipper. It's quick, and the brisk acceleration and exciting boost that comes with the turbo reminds us of the old 1.8-liter turbo that's in the older Jetta GLI. It even comes with VW's 7-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission, which is quick-shifting and offers more input than other hybrids' CVTs.
Even better is that we saw an average of around 45 mpg while we mixed our driving between hill climbs and flat highways. That tells us that while the Jetta Hybrid may not see quite the same numbers as the Toyota Prius, it's a heck of a lot more entertaining, and it does achieve similar numbers to our beloved Jetta TDI.
The steering is firm, weighted and direct, and that's complemented by the fact that the Hybrid and the modern GLI models share the same rear independent multilink suspension. The little Jetta handles on twisty roads, too. Ultimately, we walked away from this drive legitimately delighted by this car. From a driver's perspective, the only real shortcoming was found is in the brakes. For a slower, less nimble car, the stopping power would probably be adequate, but in a car that urges the driver to play a little behind the wheel, the feel is not right. The car just doesn't stop as quickly as we expected.
If you're looking for a compact hybrid, there are several options on the road today. Depending on what's most important to you, some may be a better fit for your lifestyle than the Jetta, while others may be worse.
When it comes to price and ultimate fuel savings, it's hard to beat the Toyota Prius c. Starting at just under $19,000, the Prius c claims an average of 50 mpg, but we experienced closer to 55 mpg. That said, the Prius C is a true economy car, and it feels like it. The interior fit and finish don't stand up to the Jetta's, and there's less rear legroom and power, too.
The standard Toyota Prius is priced, sized and equipped similarly to the Jetta Hybrid, and there's a lot more technology available on the Toyota if you're willing to spend a little more. The Prius offers a few more premium gadgets and better fuel economy than the Jetta, but the VW is still considerably more fun to drive.
You might also want to check out the 2013 Ford C-Max, which is another new model for next year. It's closer in shape to traditional hybrid hatchbacks, but it's also relatively fun to drive and at least as fuel efficient as the Jetta, too. The C-Max is comparable in price to the Jetta Hybrid and is also completely loaded for just under $32,000.
Base price for the Jetta Hybrid is $24,995. Choose a loaded model the price jumps to about $32,000. There are cars with more space, better technology and better fuel efficiency. What you won't find is another hybrid sedan that's as much fun to drive as the 2013 VW Jetta Hybrid.