For 2013, Volkswagen introduced the very first Jetta Hybrid.
It comes in the same four trim levels as the standard Jetta, but the gasoline-electric drive system adds $5,000 to the prices, which range from $24,995 for the basic model to $31,180 for the SEL Premium, which I tested.
According to EPA ratings, the Jetta Hybrid should achieve 42 mpg in the city and 48 on the highway. On my tester, the dash computer showed my consumption was 37.3 mpg, based on using just under a tank of gasoline.
The Jetta Hybrid's two closest competitors are the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Acura ILX Hybrid, which is a fancy version of the Civic. The Civic's EPA ratings are 44 city/44 highway, while those of the ILX are 39/38. The Jetta diesel has ratings of 30/42, so it's another option for those considering the hybrid.
Each Jetta Hybrid trim level builds on the previous, starting with interior and exterior hybrid-specific features, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, and a six-speaker audio system are included on the base model.
The SE model has LED taillights, keyless access with push-button start, a touch-screen audio system with color energy-flow display, media-device interface with iPod cable and satellite radio.
The Jetta SEL adds 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, heated seats with six-way power adjustment on the driver's side, power tilt/slide sunroof and a touch-screen navigation system.
My SEL Premium tester lists for $31,180, and includes bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, fog lights and cornering lights, rearview camera, 17-inch alloy wheels and a Fender premium audio system.
Even the entry-level hybrid has high-quality materials and nice amenities such as the dual-zone climate control, which can be operated without the engine running. I like that, especially if I am going to wait in the car while hubby visits his favorite electronics store. Max AC achieves the desired temperature quickly, and the cooled air from the cabin is fed to the battery pack to cool it down.
The Fender audio system is an exclusive to Volkswagen. The 400-watt system features a 10-channel amplifier that feeds two tweeters on the front body pillars -- with the Fender logo -- and two in the rear doors. There is a 50-watt woofer in each door and a 100-watt subwoofer under the rear shelf. As always, we enjoyed some of our favorite music via the iPod interface and satellite radio.
I was pleased that the audio system was easy to operate, with actual buttons and knobs as well as the controls available on the touch screen. The touch screen is also used by the navigation system and the rearview camera, and to give a detailed visualization of powertrain operations such as where the power is coming from or going - battery, electric motor and gasoline engine.
The Jetta's navigation system was simple to operate, with easy-to-follow directions. The display is not very detailed, but it has enough information to do the job.
It doesn't provide weather or traffic reports, or fuel prices. But it has basic information such as gas stations or restaurants on the point-of-interest list. I programmed an address and then deviated from the route to check the responsiveness of the program, and the system performed the course correction almost instantly.
Turn-by-turn directions were displayed on the instrument cluster in front of the driver, and audible directions were given at intervals starting at one mile and continuing up to a few hundred feet from the actual turn. I only had a problem when one turn almost immediately followed another across three lanes of traffic -- the audible directions came too late. The system quickly got me back on track, though.
The multi-function display also shows outside temperature, driver settings, gear selection, and trip information (miles driven, miles till empty, average mpg), and has a second audio display. The screen also indicates the level of battery charge and available amount of electric driving.
There is not a simple icon indicating when the vehicle is operating solely on electric power - only the touch-screen animation or the instrument cluster bar graph.
In electric mode, the Jetta hybrid starts as an electric vehicle and continues that up to 37 mph under light acceleration. Although the gasoline engine is stopped and disconnected from the drivetrain in electric mode, the climate control, audio system and other electrical systems continue to operate. All-electric driving is good for more than a mile under the right conditions, VW says.
I felt some hesitation as I accelerated, possibly due to switching of the electric motor to the gasoline engine. When the engine engaged, there was a noticeable jerk and clunk. I did find that Volkswagen designed the hybrid to uncouple the engine when acceleration is not applied -- the Germans call it "sailing" -- to help save fuel.
In my driving, I'm used to a vehicle slowing down as soon as I remove my foot from the accelerator, and stopping quickly as I gently apply the brake. With the Jetta, though, I had to apply more pressure to stop, and deceleration was jerky.
The combination of the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder direct-injection gasoline engine and the 20 kilowatt electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack produces 170 horsepower.
A seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic gearbox also included sport and manual modes. Although the comfort-tuned suspension soaked up bumps easily, it caused the vehicle to lean in turns, probably making the sport mode a bad idea. Without a tachometer, the manual mode would be practically useless.
Electronic driving aids and safety systems include antilock brakes and Volkswagen's intelligent-crash-response system to unlock the doors, turn on the hazard lights and shut down the fuel-delivery system.
Overall, my experience with the Jetta Hybrid was pleasant, although for more than $30,000, I would expect more high-end electronics, along with conveniences such as cup/bottle holders, phone cubbies and other storage areas, and power outlets.