Rumor has it that America's appetite for hybrids is sated and that just 3 percent of consumers are willing to pay a premium for a car such as the 2014 Honda Civic Hybrid or 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. In fact, a recent study of registration data conducted by IHS Automotive shows that hybrid market share in 2014 has fallen compared to 2013, despite this being a time when consumers can choose from the broadest menu of hybrid vehicles in history. If you're one of those car buyers who remains willing to pay a premium for a hybrid, we'll help you to decide between a 2014 Civic Hybrid and a 2014 Jetta Hybrid. First, though, let's check out the changes for this model year.
2014 Honda Civic Hybrid
The Civic has been on a steady program of improvement since its last redesign in 2012, and the 2014 model year continues this trend. A new expanded-view driver's-side mirror makes it easier to see in the car's left-side blind spot, while a standard LaneWatch monitoring system uses a camera to show what's adjacent to the car in the right lane. Additionally, the 2014 Civic Hybrid gets a smart entry system with push-button starting, as well as a new Display Audio system with a 7-inch touchscreen that allows users to tap, swipe, pinch and spread content on the screen, just like a tablet computer.
2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
Introduced for the 2013 model year, the Jetta Hybrid gets just a few changes for 2014. Volkswagen's new Car-Net smartphone connectivity and services technology is standard this year, the Media Device Interface cable moves from the glove box to the center console, and the gauge cluster gets a new information display screen.
While Volkswagen has made strides in terms of improving its reputation for reliability, it's hard to beat a Honda in this regard. Consumer Reports and J.D. Power agree that you're unlikely to have problems with a 2014 Honda Civic Hybrid.
That could also prove true with the Jetta Hybrid, though according to both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power, the Jetta lineup has demonstrated average performance in terms of quality, reliability and dependability. Given the big disparity between the Civic and the Jetta in this area, it's easy to declare the Honda as the more durable automobile.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, each of these hybrid-powered compact sedans is expected to return 45 miles per gallon in combined driving. If that's the case, do we call it a tie? Let's take a closer look and decide.
The Civic is the lighter car -- weighing 439 pounds less than the Jetta -- but it is also the weaker car, making a combined 110 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque compared to the Jetta's combined 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. As a result, and despite the Volkswagen's added weight, the Jetta is the quicker car while getting the same fuel economy.
Plus, the Jetta's hybrid powertrain is more sophisticated than the Civic's. The Volkswagen can operate at speeds up to 44 miles per hour for a distance of 1.2 miles on electricity alone, and when the driver lifts off the accelerator at speeds under 84 mph, the gasoline engine decouples from the transmission, putting the car into a coasting mode. Similarly, the engine and transmission are temporarily separated when the driver applies the Jetta Hybrid brakes in order for the regenerative braking system to capture maximum energy that can, in turn, be used to recharge the lithium-ion battery pack.
That sounds pretty sophisticated, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the VeeDub requires premium unleaded fuel, which means that every time the Jetta Hybrid stops at a gas station, its owner is spending more than the Civic Hybrid's owner to top off the tank. And at the end of the day, that's what matters to many hybrid owners. As such, Honda gets the nod when it comes to fuel economy.
The 2014 Honda Civic Hybrid is a crash-test rock star. It earns a 5-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) because it comes with a standard forward-collision warning system and gets top marks in all crash-test assessments.
The Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid also earns a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA. In IIHS testing, though, the Jetta earns a Marginal score in the small-overlap frontal-impact crash test, making it ineligible for a Top Safety Pick award. Furthermore, the Jetta is unavailable with a forward-collision warning system or the lane-departure warning and LaneWatch systems that all come standard on the Honda. A reversing camera is standard for the Civic and optional for the Jetta.
The Jetta earns bonus points for its Family Guardian technology, though, which includes programmable boundary and speed alerts that are useful when young drivers are behind the wheel. But that's not enough for the Volkswagen to earn the win when it comes to safety.
The Volkswagen's Family Guardian features are a part of the standard Car-Net connectivity and telematics system, which also includes last parked location and automatic crash-notification services. The Civic's HondaLink Assist matches the Jetta's automatic crash-notification feature, each helping to speed rescue to the scene following a collision.
Beyond this, the Honda Civic Hybrid's list of technologies is impressive. In addition to the systems mentioned in the above section, the Civic is equipped with standard LED running lights, text-messaging capability, Bluetooth music streaming, Pandora Internet Radio, dual USB ports, and a 7-in Display Audio touchscreen system with tap, pinch, spread and swipe responsiveness. Options include a voice-recognition navigation system, HD Radio and an upgraded multi-angle reversing camera. Most of this stuff isn't offered for the Jetta.
What the Volkswagen does have is a set of bi-xenon headlights with an adaptive front-lighting system, which helps the driver to see around corners after the sun has set. But this isn't enough to deliver a win, so the 2014 Honda Civic Hybrid takes another round in this contest.
In addition to requiring premium fuel, the Jetta Hybrid is more expensive than the Civic Hybrid, and Kelley Blue Book says that Jettas are generally more expensive to operate during the first five years of ownership, in part because they depreciate more. While Volkswagen does provide no-charge maintenance for the first two years of ownership, that doesn't go very far to improve the Jetta's value equation. Therefore, the value victory goes to the Honda Civic Hybrid.
When compared in the areas of reliability, fuel economy, safety, technology and value, the 2014 Honda Civic Hybrid is the better choice over the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Subjectively, we prefer the Volkswagen's looks, and the idea of getting 45 mpg combined with acceleration that hybrids in this class can't deliver is certainly enticing. For the majority of car buyers seeking maximum efficiency and utility at an affordable price, however, the Honda is the better of these two cars.