Last Chance to Grab One of Our Favorites
Unceremoniously, the press material for the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta said, “Jetta Hybrid no longer available.”
Sure, the Jetta Hybrid has only found 560 homes through September 2016, but it’s difficult for me to understand that VW would kill it because the move is contradictory to the German automaker’s push towards an electrified future.
It’s also disappointing because I became a fan of the Jetta Hybrid, which is fun to drive and offers a fairly impressive EPA rating of 44-mpg combined, along with 42-mpg city and 48-mpg city.
The upside is, if the following words urge you to take a test drive and you decide to buy one, expect a pretty big discount from the starting price of $32,645.
A Hybrid System the Volkswagen Way
Adding a turbocharger to a small displacement four-cylinder engine is becoming a popular pairing for car companies wanting to boost both power and fuel mileage. How about combining that with gasoline-electric hybrid technology?
That’s what Volkswagen did with the Jetta Hybrid. While you won’t see turbo in the name, the 2016 Jetta Hybrid scoots down the road with a combination of internal combustion, forced air induction and an electric motor with its juice provided by a battery.
The only turbocharged hybrid in the compact-size segment, the Jetta Hybrid is also the only model in the class to feature a dual-clutch (DSG) automatic transmission.
The 1.4-liter aluminum block four uses a 10:5:1 compression ratio, direct injection and a single intercooled turbocharger to spit out 150 horsepower. It’s torquey for a tiny engine, with 184 pounds-feet available at just 1600 rpm.
When extra power is needed, the water-cooled electric motor/generator tucked between the engine and transmission adds 27 horsepower and a constant 114 pounds-feet of torque to the mix
Combined, the hybrid system output is 170 horsepower, good for a 0 to 60 mph sprint in the low seven seconds.
Add an independent rear suspension borrowed from the sporty Jetta GLI, and you have a hybrid car that can be appreciated by car enthusiasts who may have trepidations that going green means driving boredom.
Driving the Jetta Hybrid
I think the Jetta Hybrid is the best handling hybrid south of $40K, It has two personalities. It can be a fuel-efficient car that does fairly well against other hybrids, or it can be on the threshold of a sports sedan, confidently carving corners on your favorite backcountry roads.
Choose the latter and the four-cylinder engine shows its moxie with brisk acceleration, and when everything is up and running, the compact-size hybrid is quite enjoyable for both those in the front and passengers in the rear.
Freeway driving and normal passing is mostly handled by the gas engine alone, and only on occasion does the driver need to ask the electric motor for additional power.
Ride and handling are nicely balanced — the ride just a little on the firm side while the poised, competent handling will satisfy most enthusiasts. Cornering is acceptably controlled with well-tuned steering and the rear suspension adds to the compliance.
Cornering control is enhanced by manual shifting the seven-speed DSG, a welcome escape from the drone box CVTs of the typical hybrid. Move the shift lever to the right and you’ll find numbered gears.
Shifts are not tantalizing quick—there is a few milliseconds lag time—but are otherwise flawless. Downshift heading into a bend and the selected gear will hold to redline.
Pushed hard, the Jetta will lose some cornering and braking grip, but that can be blamed on the low rolling resistance tires.
Of course, the gas engine will gulp fuel when the urge to test the limits of the car takes over. During a fun-filled 111 miles on two-lane back county roads with the turbo spooled up much of time, the little four mustered up 34.1-mpg, a most respectable number.
But the other half of the Jetta Hybrid’s resume is about fuel economy. In town it isn’t difficult to stay in electric power after getting up to speed via the gas engine. Coming to a stop, the start-stop operation works as it should with the gas engine going through its hybrid-normal cycles of shutting off and restarting without calling attention to itself.
Cabin noise is at a minimum, even at highway speeds, with less road noise and wind whistle than expected for the class.
After clocking 87 miles on city streets, and 193 miles of mostly interstate driving, the mpg readout indicated 45.3 mpg, meaning the EPA is about right with its estimate of 44 mpg.
Jetta Hybrid, Outside And In
While the Jetta is not stirring or striking, it is clean with sharp lines that provide an overall appearance of understated sophistication. It’s a look that outdistances its intended compact car competitors.
The 2016 Jetta Hybrid gives little indication of its eco-friendly credentials. Up front, the main visual hint is a solid grille that’s accented by a blue-inlaid VW badge to match one on the rear. Unique are the air intake, air dam and side skirts. Silver and blue “Hybrid” badges flank the sides.
The exterior’s contemporary look is carried inside the car with a dash design that has simple clean lines. The cabin has rich looking, soft-to-the-touch materials that border on what you find in an Audi.
Instrument cluster gauges are framed in chrome and have a “tunnel” design. The hybrid Jetta is given its own color instrument cluster with a power meter that forgoes the tach and shows readings for eco, charge, and boost.
Kudos goes to designers for keeping manually operated audio controls. They not only have the solid feeling expected in a German automobile, they were great for controlling the music on my iPod.
Hybrid batteries have to go somewhere and the Jetta’s 1.1-kilowatt hour lithium-ion battery pack is positioned in the typical hybrid spot, above the rear axle. This reduces trunk space to 11.3 cubic-ft. versus 15.5 in a standard Jetta. Unlike other hybrids you do get fold-down rear seatbacks for long item storage.
The 2016 Jetta Hybrid is offered in one model, SEL Premium, that is loaded with standard features, including Bi-Xenon headlights, rain sensing wipers, heated front seats, leatherette—VW’s name for leather-like vinyl—seating, navigation system, backup camera and a sunroof.
New for the model year is the next-generation infotainment technology with a 6.3-inch touchscreen display and Car-Net App-Connect technology featuring Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Mirror Link technology.
Also new is automatic post-collision braking that aims to bring the Jetta Hybrid to a stop as quickly as possible after an initial impact in order to avoid secondary impacts. Other safety features are blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert and park distance control.
Jetta Hybrid in the Marketplace
Since Honda discontinued their Civic Hybrid last year, the Ford C-Max Hybrid comes the closest to the Jetta. It too seats five in relative comfort and has a fun-to-drive side. But its EPA fuel economy rating of 42 city/ 37 highway/40 combined falls short of the Jetta. And, while the $32,645 starting price appears close, to get many features that are standard on the Jetta, you have to open your wallet for an extra $3,000 in options.
If you are leaning towards a luxury hybrid, the Lexus CT 200h is almost fun to drive, but like the Ford, fuel economy numbers of 43-mpg city/40-highway/42-combined don’t match the Jetta’s. A starting price of $32,190 sounds reasonable and competitive, but again, to match features will cost you—around $5,000.
As delivered, the Jetta Hybrid promises driving fun, yet efficient when you want it to be. In my opinion, that’s a peerless balance of attributes, and worth a close look.
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