ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: I put nearly 400 miles on this 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE over a weekend, averaging about 38 mpg, and I wasn't taking it easy on the ol' girl, either. Now that I think about it, "ol' girl" probably isn't the right term anymore, given Jetta's brawnier appearance.
Both the Hybrid and standard model look more aggressive than the previous generation does, and this HEV in particular is one of the few hybrids that look better than its standard counterpart. The Honda Accord Hybrid also pulls off this trick. The alloy wheels and pyramid-like (wider at the bottom) design cut a sporty profile under the nighttime gas station lights, and, surprisingly, its hips don't lie.
Of course, this car wouldn't be considered sporty against anything with real go-fast credentials, but as far as hybrids go, this was one of the more fun examples to drive.
The Jetta Hybrid has a dual-clutch transmission, but I would be hard-pressed to point out where the shift points were. VW says it uses a dry clutch, instead of wet clutch like other VWs, but it feels like a CVT to me. When you floor it, the revs and boost both rise and the engine winds up loudly. But I felt no stepping of gears as the speed crept up.
I'm not a fan of these leatherette seats. There isn't any give in the bottom area, and there isn't too much support on the sides, either. Not that it matters, the tires are built for efficiency, not for carving corners. Though, it didn't stop me from trying.
I ferried around four adults without any complaint, and the rear seat passengers were both more than 6 feet tall, so there's a good amount of room back there. I looked in the trunk, which didn't seem to be too much smaller than the standard model, even with some of the battery hardware taking up space.
I also enjoyed the big gas tank. With nearly 400 miles on the trip computer, I still had about a quarter-tank of fuel to go.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: My first thought was “Jetta hybrid? Why wouldn't I just get a Jetta diesel?” After driving this hybrid, though, I think it's a viable alternative for those looking for good mpgs.
Honda and Toyota engineers, take note: This is among the best-driving hybrids out there. You could learn a thing or three about drivability and powertrain smoothness from VW. Its system blows away any Prius or Civic/Accord hybrid I've ever been in.
All of that means this car is a rarity in that it's a hybrid that can actually be somewhat fun to drive, but I couch that in saying I'm comparing it to other hybrids. In other words it's no GLI, but it is miles ahead of, say, a Toyota Prius.
For one thing, the electric motor addition makes it borderline quick. Spritely off the line and good passing power on the freeway, and I like this 1.4 liter turbo -- it's smooth. The low rolling resistant tires don't offer GLI grip levels, but then one wouldn't expect them to. The regenerative brakes, usually a hybrid disaster in terms of consistency and grabbiness, work well here (or at least better) compared to Toyota and Honda.
The rest of the car is typical Jetta: Comfortable seats, good driving position and decent backseat room.
Overall, this is not bad. Not bad at all. Personally, I'd still get a diesel -- it's less expensive. But I wouldn't talk someone out of a Jetta Hybrid if they had their heart set on one.
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: As a Jetta diesel owner, I'm not going to mince words: The TDI is a better driver. The trunk of the diesel isn't compromised like it is on the hybrid (thanks to the batteries) and the diesel's non-regen brakes don't surprise you with nonlinearity. To top it off, despite the numbers Volkswagen and the EPA claim for the Jetta Hybrid, a quick look at the notes above show that our staffers haven't gotten near the rated mileage here in chilly Detroit. Based on the trip computer, my drive, which involved stop-and-go freeway driving and some surface streets, I was getting about 34 mpg. I can get that in the diesel without resorting to hypermiling techniques.
Against itself, I don't get the Jetta Hybrid, but Wes is right in that it's a far more agreeable proposition than a Prius for roughly the same price, comparably equipped. The DSG gearbox works really well with the hybrid powertrain, laying waste to the conventional wisdom that a hybrid needs to be joined to a CVT for optimum performance. Ride and handling also constitutes the best of Volkswagen, offering a blend of comfort and confident road holding that domestic and Asian manufacturers have still not managed to consistently duplicate.
The Jetta Hybrid SE also does a good job of hiding the fact it has very little standard equipment. To get the basics -- heated seats, a rear-view camera, that sort of thing, one has to step up to the Hybrid SEL. You wouldn't know it on first glance, though -- Volkswagen interiors tend to look and feel premium; it's only after you start to look for the buttons and switches you're used to on other cars that you realize what's missing.
I dunno -- I don't get it, to be honest. I guess VW needed a hybrid to compete in the U.S. market, but its original fuel-economy solution -- TDI -- is still the superior driving experience.
ASSOCIATE WEST COAST EDITOR BLAKE Z. RONG: A curious breed, this Jetta Hybrid. How about a hybrid car equipped with a turbocharger? How about a hybrid with seven actual, distinct, and explicitly implied gears? How about a hybrid that doesn't require the gentlest of fragrance-scented breezes to accelerate in electric-only mode?
Volkswagen bills the Jetta Hybrid as the hybrid for performance-minded drivers -- because when performance-minded drivers think performance, they think foremost of the Volkswagen Jetta. I kid, I kid. But it does come with a turbocharger, and Volkswagen is hedging its bets on positive vibes of GTIs and Turbo Beetles. In the Jetta Hybrid's case, press the throttle all the way and the needle swings past the Charge section, past the Eco section, all the way into Boost.
Yes. Boost. We like boost. We simple-minded speed demons can still have fun with this hybrid and return 31.5 mpg, as I did. An impressive feat. If I had driven like a Volkswagen product manager had been riding in the backseat with an expression of professionalism and mild terror, I'd have hit the full 48 rated mpg.
Electric-only mode is accessed by a nondescript button hidden behind the shifter; the team that programmed and engineered the system understands that, unlike Ford's electrification program, basic acceleration isn't a process that should take all day. One can actually depress the pedal beyond a feather's width and still propel forth in electric-only mode, a novel concept that seems to elude the people who developed the fragile throttle response of the Ford Fusion and C-Max Hybrids.
I was inclined to write off the Jetta Hybrid as a cynical ploy to undo all of Volkswagen's goodwill towards its TDI program; a car that merely pays lip service to the hybrid trend, a true compliance car if there ever was one. It may still be all of these things. But it manages to retain a level of entertainment from the regular Jetta -- a car itself criticized for a certain level of milksopism, which suddenly seems unfounded: it handles well, boasts a decent level of steering feel, and has well-controlled body motions. The boost helps, too.
The brakes, however, are awful -- like crunching on a cardboard box. And the left gauge is confusing, cluttered as it is with numbers, hash marks, three different colors, and stripes of varying size and width. Is the electric motor on? Is it charging? How much is it charging when I step on the brakes? With the center screen dialed to average fuel consumption, and the center console screen tuned to Sirius Backspin, channel 46, it's a mystery to us all.
2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE
Base Price: $28,080
As-Tested Price: $28,080
Drivetrain: 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 hybrid; FWD, seven-speed dual-clutch sequential manual
Output: 150 hp @ 5,000 rpm (170 hp net system output), 184 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,312 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 42/48/45 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 34.4 mpg
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