If you're skeptical about hybrid vehicles, or simply not a fan of them so far, the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid may change your mind. This unassuming sedan targets two negative stereotypes about hybrids and bids them a decisive auf Wiedersehen.
The first stereotype is that driving a hybrid is a strange experience. We've certainly tested our share of hybrids that drive like transportation pods and look like spaceships, but the Jetta Hybrid is notable for how downright normal it is. Aside from having two different motors -- gasoline and electric -- that work together to maximize fuel economy, the Jetta Hybrid drives like any other Jetta. And it looks like a Jetta, too, from its sensible sedan exterior to its simple, cleanly styled interior.
The second stereotype is that hybrids are slow. You'll realize the Jetta Hybrid is different as soon as you hit the accelerator. The electric motor provides immediate punch off the line, and the turbocharged 1.4-liter gas motor kicks in seamlessly, teaming up with the quick-shifting DSG automanual transmission to pull you forward with real urgency. In fact, the Jetta Hybrid feels similar to the fastest Jetta on the market, the turbocharged nonhybrid VW GLI -- except it gets an incredible 45 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving.
What's New for 2014?
Changes for the Jetta Hybrid are limited to the availability of VW Car-Net telematics and a new high-resolution color display in the instrument cluster.
What We Like
Exceptional fuel economy; sprightly acceleration; "normal car" character; roomy back seat; attractive price
What We Don't
Touchy brakes; low-speed quirks from the DSG transmission
The Jetta Hybrid is powered by both a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline motor and an electric motor that gets its energy from a rear-mounted battery pack. Being a dual-mode hybrid, the Jetta Hybrid can shut the gas motor off when it's not needed.
When you step on it, both motors work in tandem to produce 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. An unusual touch is the 7-speed DSG dual-clutch automanual transmission, which the Hybrid shares with sporty models such as the GTI hatchback.
Given the Jetta Hybrid's respectable power, fuel economy is astounding: 42 mpg city/48 mpg hwy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid sedan is offered in base, SE, SEL and SEL Premium trim levels.
The base model ($26,015) comes with 15-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, automatic climate control, a 6-speaker sound system, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel and a Hybrid-exclusive power gauge that replaces the tachometer and shows how efficiently you're driving.
The SE ($28,080) adds LED taillights, keyless entry with push-button start, iPod connectivity and a central touchscreen interface with a graphical Hybrid status display and an SD-card reader.
The SEL ($30,665) tacks on 16-in alloy wheels, a sunroof, a navigation system with a rearview camera and heated front seats with 6-way power adjustments for the driver.
The SEL Premium ($32,265) boasts 17-in alloy wheels, adaptive bi-xenon headlights with LED accents, fog lights and a premium Fender audio system.
The Car-Net telematics suite (see "Safety," below) is newly available on the Jetta Hybrid for the 2014 model year.
When you're at the dealership, make sure the Jetta Hybrid's trunk is to your liking. Although the regular Jetta has an impressive 15-plus cu ft of trunk space, the Jetta Hybrid has a battery pack back there, so it can only manage 11.3 cu ft. (That battery pack creates an awkward hump in the cargo floor.) There's still more than enough room for groceries and such, but golfers will find scant room for their bags, and larger suitcases can be a tight squeeze.
The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front side, and full-length side curtain). The available Car-Net telematics suite adds crash notification, roadside assistance, stolen-vehicle location assistance, remote vehicle access, and boundary and speed alerts, most of which are accessible to you via a smartphone app.
In government crash testing, the Jetta sedan received four stars out five overall, including four stars for frontal impacts and five stars for side impacts.
Behind the Wheel
The Jetta Hybrid is a surprisingly quick car, powering confidently away from stoplights and zipping around slow-moving traffic with ease. The gas motor is refined and responsive, while the electric motor adds a big dollop of torque that shoves you back in your seat. The DSG transmission can be finicky when you're parking -- you can feel it feathering the clutch like a teenager learning to drive, with less-than-precise results -- but it delivers amazingly quick shifts at speed.
While the Jetta Hybrid driving experience is dominated by its energetic powerplant, there's a lot to be said for the car's ride and handling, too. Blessed with largely the same upgraded suspension components as the GLI performance sedan, the Jetta Hybrid holds its own in corners, limited more by its mpg-minded tires than anything else. As for the ride, it's great, striking a subtle balance between control and comfort, and generally keeping road and wind noise at bay.
Our only criticism is the brakes, which use regenerative technology to recharge the battery pack via energy from the wheels. All hybrids employ some version of this technology, and most have odd-feeling brakes as a result. Alas, the Jetta Hybrid is no exception: The pedal feel is inconsistent, and the act of braking generally requires more thought than you're probably used to. It's not a huge deal, but keep it in mind on your test drive.
Other Cars to Consider
Ford Fusion Hybrid -- The sleek Fusion Hybrid gets slightly better EPA-rated fuel economy. Like the VW, it has a surprisingly playful character. We prefer the Jetta's power delivery, though.
Honda CR-Z -- The CR-Z has that spaceship vibe we talked about, for better or worse, but it's an intimate 2-seat coupe that's fun to drive, so we recommend giving it a look if you don't need a back seat.
Toyota Camry Hybrid -- The Camry Hybrid's fuel economy, while still mighty impressive, is no longer class-leading. However, Toyota's fuel-sipping family sedan does provide surprisingly robust power, albeit with less refinement than the Volkswagen.
Given the reasonable pricing, there's not a bad Jetta Hybrid in the bunch. We'd steer you toward the base model, because it's a lot of car for $25,000, and higher trim levels fortunately won't break the bank.