FIRST DRIVE: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

Volkswagen refers to the 2013 Jetta Hybrid as a “no compromise” hybrid

Published: November 26, 2012, 10:00 PM
Updated: May 6, 2018, 11:29 AM

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid - Front

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid - Interior

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid - Rear

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Volkswagen is a little tardy getting to the hybrid party but it makes up for its late arrival with a superior product. VW refers to the 2013 Jetta Hybrid as a “no compromise” hybrid, a claim I fully endorse after several hundred kilometres of high altitude driving.

While other automakers tend to use a de-tuned version of an existing engine in their hybrids, VW uses a potent new turbocharged and direct-injected engine. 

Instead of the awful CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) used by most others, the Jetta Hybrid comes with a version of its delightful DSG (Dual Shaft Gearbox), fitted with seven gears. 

Instead of the common nickel-metal-hydride battery, the Jetta has a smaller, lighter and more power-dense lithium-ion pack. 

The result is a rock-solid compact car that drives and feels like any other Jetta, except it has a fuel-sipping hybrid powertrain. 

You can drive around at low speeds on electric power alone in situations like parking lots and heavy traffic. The rest of the time the spunky little engine provides a goodly amount of punch, aided and abetted by the electric motor as required.

When you come to a full stop, the engine shuts down and stays in the zero emission/consumption stage until you remove your foot from the brake pedal. It restarts immediately. 

The ride, handling and steering feel much like a “normal” Jetta. There is a brief moment under braking when you sense the regenerative system kicking in to reclaim the kinetic energy produced and convert it to electricity to recharge the batteries. 

As the marketing line claims, there are no compromises. 

Like a normal Jetta

Visually you can identify the hybrid Jetta by unique wheels, a blue ring around the VW badge, unique lower front fascia and a tiny lip spoiler on the trunk lid. You can’t see the aerodynamic tweaks beneath the car to reduce fuel-sucking drag.

The interior holds few clues that this Jetta is any different than the others. The sole exception is the instrument panel, where a second analog gauge to the left of the speedometer displays information relative to the hybrid system. 

On higher trim levels equipped with navigation, the same screen allows you to monitor power flow and recharging activity in real time. 

One slick feature is the ability on some models to use the audio system display screen to show how much time you spend in zero emission or pure electric mode. This can be used as a training tool for efficient driving. 

Pushing the “E-mode” button in front of the steering wheel maximizes the use of electricity – up to 60 km/h for two kilometres. Like all hybrids though, staying in all-electric mode takes a very gentle accelerator foot and a flat road. 

New engine

The engine, known internally as EA211, is a 1.4-litre TFSi (Turbocharged Fuel Stratified Injection) four-cylinder that will become the base engine in a variety of upcoming VW and Audi vehicles. 

Boasting both direct injection and variable valve timing, it is extremely light, at only 100 kilos, and belts out an impressive 150-horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. 

The DSG transmission is another lightweight wonder, in addition to snapping off shifts in four one-hundredths of a second. 

The electric components consist of a 27-horsepower electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission resulting in a parallel hybrid system that allows the Jetta to operate on the engine alone, electric motor alone or both. 

Power comes from  a 1.1 kWh, 220-volt, 60-cell lithium-ion battery located over the rear axle. It is light, at 36-kg, and compact, allowing room for folding rear seat backs, which would not be possible with the more common and larger nickel-metal-hydride batteries used elsewhere.

Electric motors develop maximum torque at startup and this one brings a significant 114 lb-ft of torque to the party from the moment you touch the go pedal. 

Because the engine and motor develop maximum power at different stages you can’t simply add their outputs together. The combined power of this pair is 170-horsepower and 184 lb. ft. of torque, enough to push this Jetta from 0-to-100 km/h in 8.6 seconds. 

The Jetta Hybrid gets the independent rear suspension used in the GLI model instead of the twist beam axle used in other trim levels, allowing the hybrid to tackle the turns and rough surfaces with aplomb. 

Three hybrid trims
Like all Jettas that come to Canada, the hybrid is built in VW’s Pueblo, Mexico plant in several trim levels: Trendline ($27,875), Comfortline ($30,175) and Highline ($34,025). 

All have an automatic transmission, cruise control, unique alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, power windows, locks and mirrors, the hybrid specific instrument cluster and a multilink rear suspension. 

The Comfortline adds an audio upgrade, bigger wheels, power seats, an energy display in the audio face, keyless access with start/stop button and LED taillights. 

The Highline also has 18-in wheels, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, leather seats, sunroof, touch-screen navigation system, rear view camera and a 400-watt Fender audio system. 

The hybrids carries a price premium of about $4,000 over the others when similarly equipped.

Why hybrid

Why does VW bother with a hybrid, when it already has the Jetta TDI, one of the most fuel-efficient cars on the market? It says hybrid intenders just don't consider a diesel and although hybrids have captured only 1% of the new car market, it expects sales to double in the next 10 years and doesn't want current or potential customers to look elsewhere. 

Why does VW not use its diesel engine with the hybrid? Because diesel engines are much more expensive to produce, but more importantly, see above. Americans have not yet embraced diesels like Canadians and Europeans, so developing a diesel hybrid for the North American market is out of the question, for now. 

If you are on the fence on the hybrid-diesel issue, the latter may make more sense financially. The two have similar fuel-consumption and performance numbers. That $4,000 will buy a lot of fuel, even if diesel is more expensive.

You will have the choice when the 2013 Jetta Hybrid arrives at your local VW store in the opening weeks of the new year.