2013 Volkswagen Jetta HybridPosted on November 1st, 2012
Sixth-generation compact sedan gains new green option
By Nina Russin
Volkswagen has a reputation for creating cars which are not only affordable but fun to drive. Combining these attributes with exceptional fuel efficiency has been a winning formula for the current Jetta TDI. Two years later, Volkswagen adds a second green option to the compact sedan’s lineup. An all-new hybrid mates a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine to an electric motor, producing fuel economy in the 45 mile-per-gallon range.
While competitive products utilize continuously variable automatic transmissions, the Jetta Hybrid offers driving enthusiasts a more appealing seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Drivers who don’t like the lack of response which some CVT units suffer from will appreciate the dual clutch box’s crisp shifts, similar to a manual transmission.
Buyers can choose between four grades, with wheel and tire packages ranging from 15 to 17 inches. A unique front air dam, cold air intake and rear spoiler gives the hybrid 0.28 coefficient of drag, as compared to 0.30 on other Jetta models.
It’s all about the torque
A 1.4-liter block is a very small engine by anybody’s standards. While engineers realized that a naturally-aspirated block would sorely lack power, the high compression, turbocharged unit produces a respectable 184 foot-pounds of torque, beginning at engine speeds as low as 1600 rpm. By adding an electric motor which develops peak torque at extremely low engine speeds, engineers gave the Jetta hybrid 8.6-second zero-to-sixty acceleration.
The disadvantage of the engine design is that it requires premium fuel. On the flip side, there is very little parasitic power loss at altitude. To prove this, Volkswagen invited a group of journalists to test drive the new sedan in New Mexico’s high country.
Spunky performance at 7000 feet
As someone old enough to remember carbureted cars, I can vouch for how badly altitude can affect engine performance. My first new car was a 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit, which performed wonderfully at sea level, but was sluggish in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho.
The town of Ketchum, Idaho, where I resided when I owned the Rabbit, stands at about 6000 feet. New Mexico’s capital city, Santa Fe, is about the same as Ketchum. The nearby ski resort of Taos is considerably higher.
To experience a 1.4-cylinder sedan surging up the mountain road between the two towns was quite an eye opener. While the Jetta Hybrid can’t match the low-end torque of large V-8 engines, it is fully capable of keeping up with, or passing the vast majority of vehicles it shares the road with.
For those interested in maximum fuel economy, the electric motor can operate without the gasoline engine at speeds up to 44 miles-per-hour in E-mode. During hard acceleration, the electric motor boosts the gasoline engine’s torque to add more power off the line. An energy meter in the gauge cluster shows the driver the state of the lithium-ion battery’s recharge as well as current fuel economy.
In addition to conserving fuel off-the-line, the hybrid has the ability to coast at steady speeds up to 84 miles-per-hour with the engine off. When the driver lifts his foot off the gas pedal, the engine automatically decouples from the driveline to reduce parasitic power loss. The engine automatically shuts off at idle to boost economy further. Average fuel economy during my test drive was about 43 miles-per-gallon.
The dual-clutch automatic transmission utilizes friction rather than fluid couplings. Not only does this enhance performance, it also makes the unit significantly more efficient than automatic transmissions with traditional torque converters.
An electric power steering system saves weight under the hood and reduces internal pumping losses. While no electric power steering system can completely mimic the sensory response of hydro-mechanical units, the one in the Jetta hybrid offers good response at all speeds. A 36.4 turning circle makes U-turns a non-issue.
The four-wheel independent suspension consists of struts up front and multi-links in the back, with stabilizer bars on both axles. Four-wheel disc brakes stop the sedan in a firm, linear fashion.
One of the biggest problems with most hybrid sedans is a lack of trunk space. Designers locate the battery pack between the back seat and trunk to maximize passenger space in the second row.
Although the Jetta Hybrid’s lithium-ion battery pack is located in the same position, it is the only such model with a rear pass-through to extend the cargo floor. The battery pack makes a pretty large bump which interrupts the loading space, but the pass-through enables owners to load items such as skis and snowboards in back: something which would be impossible in competitive hybrid sedans.
The driver’s seat is a little short on lower lumbar support, but I was comfortable for the two-hour test drive. Designers did a good job of putting climate and infotainment controls within easy reach of both front seating positions. Standard dual climate controls keep both front passengers comfortable in temperature extremes.
The second row has a decent amount of head and legroom. A 12-volt power point at the back of the center console enables rear passengers to recharge portable electronic devices. Bottle holders in the doors and a large cupholder in the center console are all capable of holding 20-ounce water bottles.
The Jetta Hybrid comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control. An intelligent crash response system unlocks the doors, turns on the hazard lights and shuts off fuel in the event of a serious collision.
The all-new Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid rolls into dealerships this December.
Like: A compact hybrid sedan which driving enthusiasts can get behind, thanks to its spunky turbocharged engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Dislike: Although the rear pass-through adds cargo versatility, the Jetta Hybrid doesn’t have as much usable cargo space as liftbacks such as the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight.
Model: Jetta Hybrid
Base price: $24,995
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 170 Hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 184 lbs.-ft. @ 1000 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 8.6 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: TBA. The manufacturer estimates 45 mpg average fuel economy.
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