Driving Fun, Yet Fuel-Efficient When You Want It
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 2015 Volkswagen 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 to feature a dual-clutch automatic transmission (DSG) in the class. 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.
For a hybrid this size, Jetta’s EPA fuel economy rating of 42-mpg city/48-mpg highway and 45-mpg combined is just OK. And yes, unlike most hybrids, city mpg is lower than the highway.
I don’t understand why car companies continue to offer hybrids as only fully loaded models. Volkswagen follows this thinking and the 2015 Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium is the sole choice. The price of $31,120, plus $820 destination charges, is a hefty price tag for a car without a premium reputation. However, it does have an impressive arms-length list of included convenience and safety features.
The Jetta Hybrid Drive
Driving the Jetta Hybrid is a hoot. I think it’s the best handling hybrid south of 50K, but 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, carving corners on your favorite backcountry roads.
Choose the latter and the four-cylinder engine shows its moxie. The 1.4-liter aluminum block four features 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.
As noted above, acceleration is brisk and, when everything is up and running, the Jetta Hybrid is quite enjoyable. Freeway driving and normal passing is mostly handled by the gas engine alone, so 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 millisecond 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 that can be blamed on the low rolling resistance tires.
Of course, the gas engine will gulp the fuel when the urge to test the limits of the car takes over. During a fun-filled 137 miles on two-lane back county roads with the turbo spooled up much of
time, the little four mustered up 32.3-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 102 miles on city streets and 241 miles of mostly Interstate driving, the mpg readout indicated 45.7 mpg, meaning the EPA is about right with its estimate of 45 mpg.
The Jetta Hybrid Car, Outside And In
When Volkswagen redesigned the Jetta in 2011, the car grew in size, straining the definition of compact and pushing the envelope nearly into the midsize arena. By adding nearly three inches to the cabin space that must be negotiated by hips, thighs, knees and toes, VW turned the backseat into adult-ready territory.
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. When the hybrid version arrived in 2013, it had subtle changes to improve aerodynamics.
For 2015, the Jetta lineup, including the hybrid, received a mild refresh that includes a slightly redesigned front end and an updated rear design, including a new trunk lid, taillights, emblems, and bumper.
The 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, and VW wisely updated the cabin with rich looking, soft-to-the-touch materials that border on what you find in an Audi (VW’s upscale
division). The dash design is clean and contemporary. Instrument cluster gauges are now framed in chrome and have a new “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 go 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. However, someone receives my demerit for the small, difficult to read five-inch display screen.
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.
As noted earlier, the Jetta Hybrid is loaded with standard features that include 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 driver assistance safety systems for 2015 include Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert and Park Distance Control.
Speaking of safety, the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid earned an overall score of five stars (out of five possible) in government crash tests (out of five possible). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Jetta its best possible rating of “Good.”
The Jetta Hybrid in The Marketplace
Up until a few months ago, Honda’s Civic Hybrid was the most comparable car. But Honda discontinued the compact hybrid and that leaves the Ford C-Max Hybrid that 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 city/40 highway/42 combined don’t match the Jetta. A starting price of $32,190 sounds reasonable and competitive, but, again, to match features will cost you – around $5,000.
I’m not including the Toyota Prius because it definitely is not fun to drive. But if fuel economy is more important than driving dynamics, the mileage rating of 51 city/48 highway/50 combined cannot be beat.
Final Word — It’s About VW Diesel Software
The startling news about Volkswagen falsifying diesel vehicle emission measurements for many years on more than 10 million vehicles has cast a dark cloud over the German automaker, which until now had enjoyed a brand name that stood for reliability and trustworthiness. The latest news out of Wolfsburg is that there are also “irregularities” with many Volkswagen gasoline and diesel vehicles’ CO2 ratings. That may sounds arcane, but CO2 translates into fuel economy, so there may be more bad news on VW cars. Many consumers will dismiss Volkswagen and never consider buying any of their vehicles.
Here at Clean Fleet Report we’re waiting until some more third party investigation gets to the bottom of VW’s engine software and testing issues.
In the meantime, 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.
Related Stories You Might Enjoy:
2016 Toyota Prius Unveiled
Road Test: 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid
Diesel vs. Hybrid: Which One Is Best For You?
Road Test: 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid
Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle, which does not address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology, during which we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements. Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class or are among the top mpg vehicles on the market. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at firstname.lastname@example.org.