Between Asian, American and European auto makers, it is an understatement that the Europeans have been, to put it mildly, reluctant about hybrid technology. What’s not to like about hybrids? Stellar fuel economy is a good thing, right? Sure it is, but keep this in mind: Europeans have been living with mega-high gas prices for decades, and embraced the diesel engine as the fuel-sipping motor of choice. Providing bucket loads of torque, smooth performance and clean emissions that appeal to their domestic market, you can see why European car companies are not throwing all their chips into the hybrid car idea.
And that philosophy works fine…in Europe. In North America, the perception of the diesel engine seems permanently stuck in 1982. Memories of your quirky neighbor’s Mercedes-Benz 240D or Peugeot 505 belching black smoke or your uncle’s Oldsmobile diesel self destructing every 2,000 miles have seemingly left permanent scars on the psyche of the North American car buyer. I will plead with anyone that will hear me that today’s diesels are the model of refinement. No smoke. No self-destruction. Another factor may be that we are simply creatures of habit. Truth be told, not every gas station sells diesel fuel, and with that fact it is justifiable that some buyers would be turned off.
Volkswagen already offers the Jetta with a diesel, and has a loyal following, but they want more. Hence, the Jetta Hybrid. The view from VW seems to be that the car buyer seeking great gas mileage defaults to a hybrid vehicle. Or, to be blunt, the average fuel conscious car buyer is thinking about a Toyota Prius. Not a Jetta TDI. Make no mistake, VW has a solid fan base of its diesels, but taking the long view, VW sees this is as a cult following, while hybrid technology has been more widely accepted on our shores.
To look at the Jetta Hybrid, well, it looks like any Jetta you see on the road every day. It would take a true VW fanatic to tell the difference between this and any run of the mill Jetta. Apart from some hybrid badges, a slightly different front grill, different wheels and a modest rear spoiler, you would never know the difference. And that design language works for many people who like the idea of hybrid technology, but don’t feel the need to shout to the world that they care more about the environment than you. As with all current Jetta’s, it is a fine looking car, even if it has lost some of its German accent in an effort to appeal to more Americans.
While the exterior styling got a tad generic to appeal to more buyers, Volkswagen slashed the price of the Jetta, and no where was that more apparent than the interior. The Jetta Hybrid softens the blow slightly with a padded dash and better armrests, but this is still a far cry from quality of materials seen in Jettas of the past. The keyless ignition button, placed just ahead of the shifter seems like an afterthought and not at all intuitive. The black slab of hard plastic that on the center console with two holes for drinks was more likely designed by an accountant, not an actual interior designer. The contrasting black/light grey leatherette seating surfaces are the main departure from other Jettas. You get the feeling VW management sent a memo saying the interior has to be different somehow, but don’t let it cost us any money. It’s obvious, and VW, you’re not fooling anyone.
The positives of the Jetta’s cabin remain. Seats offer decent comfort, visibility is excellent, and plenty of room is available in the back seat, but again it is disappointing that VW went cheap and deleted the rear seat vents seen on the last generation Jetta. Jettas have always been known for generous trunk space, and among hybrids, the Jetta is at the top of the class. Still, the batteries have to go somewhere, and the Jetta Hybrid loses about four cubic feet of trunk space. That’s not a lot, but it gave me pause as to how I would pack a full-size suitcase.
Hybrids have a well-deserved reputation for being an absolute bore to drive. Thankfully, the Jetta Hybrid is not. Powered by a 1.4L turbocharged four cylinder, along with the electric motor make a combined 170hp, paired to a seven-speed DSG automated manual transmission. In essence, it is the drivetrain that is a hybrid designed for people who hate hybrids. No wheezy, weak-kneed engine coupled to a miserable CVT wailing at 5,000 rpm just to get up a hill here, thank you. VW claims a 0-60mph time of 8.6 seconds, making the Jetta Hybrid one of the quickest on the market for its class. The Jetta Hybrid also has a rear independent suspension, something VW gave up with on lesser Jettas in the interest of cost cutting, but here it returns to better support the extra weight of the batteries. With decent pep, controlled road manners and quiet highway ride, the Jetta Hybrid is an accomplished performer. EPA fuel estimates are 42/48 MPG city/highway, which are impressive figures, but according to the trip computer, I wasn’t even close to attaining those lofty figures.
The Jetta Hybrid follows the rest of the Jetta family’s trim options with S (factory order only), SE, SEL, and SEL Premium. Our test car was the top of the line SEL Premium. Standard features included SiriusXM satellite radio, dual zone auto climate control, LED tail lights, sunroof, navigation, heated seats, power driver’s seat, Fender premium audio, bi-xenon headlights, rear view camera and 17″ alloy wheels. With a first aid kit as our test car’s sole option, the tally comes in at $32,010USD, including delivery. And that is where the Jetta Hybrid completely loses me. Yes, I understand that hybrid technology comes at a higher price. But this comes in a car that was built to a price. You can buy a 2013 Jetta for less than $17,000. And sitting in this $32,000 Jetta Hybrid, I am constantly reminded of that fact.
With a built-in following of the Jetta TDI, VW is modest about sales expectations at around 5,000 Hybrid sales predicted. Critics and VW purists howled with the new down-market Jetta, but the proof is in the numbers. VW is selling more Jettas. It’s that simple. And, selling more cars is the point. The reality is you can buy a Jetta TDI for a couple grand less, get similar fuel economy, keep the trunk space lost from the battery pack, and not worry about the longevity of said batteries. Again, VW knows that they are doing-hybrids are more widely accepted here than diesels, even if the actual dollars spent for car and fuel point wildly in favor of the diesel. To quote Natalie Merchant, “Give them what they want.” Even if it makes no sense, that is precisely what VW is doing with the Jetta Hybrid.