Road Test: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

Volkswagen's 2013 Jetta Hybrid is different and pretty

Volkswagen's 2013 Jetta Hybrid is different and pretty darn good. (Credit: Volkswagen)

Someday soon, a couple of trendy downtown lofties -- probably wearing clothes made from milk jugs -- will name their firstborn hipster "Hybrid."

It's got to happen.

Hybrids achieved critical mass in the past few years, showering us with the cool sparks of new green hype. Both Porsche and Ferrari recently introduced six-figure ultra-exotics that employ 700-plus horsepower hybrid powertrains.


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And now Volkswagen, the king of Euro diesels, has also decided to go mildly electric -- just as Bob Dylan did nearly 50 years ago.

Like Dylan, VW's 2013 Jetta Hybrid is different and pretty darn good.

In fact, I think the Jetta illustrates just how much hybrids have evolved since Toyota introduced the sleepy, politically correct Prius more than a decade ago.

Most conventional hybrids use little four-cylinder engines -- often detuned for even better mileage -- and supplement them with an electric motor. They are typically about as exciting to drive as a horse-drawn Amish cart.

Volkswagen, which puts some priority on performance and driving dynamics, relies on a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-banger for its gas engine in the new Jetta, supplemented by a 27-horsepower electric motor.

The result is 170 combined horsepower -- nearly 40 more than the Prius -- and fuel economy of 42 mpg in the city and 48 on the highway. That's not quite as green as the Prius' 51/48, but Volkswagen gets extra points for not using a continuously variable transmission in its hybrid.

Rather than make drivers suffer with a dull, droning CVT -- as most mainstream automakers do -- VW bolted its electric motor between the engine and a real seven-speed automatic.

On the car I had recently, a flat, smooth hood and highly aerodynamic headlamps shared real estate with a thin black grille. Slab sides and big doors defined the car's dowdy body, while standard wraparound taillamps looked like those on a dozen other midsize sedans. But as UPS knows, some fairly exciting stuff arrives in plain envelopes.

This is a hybrid that feels as if it really could go 100 mph, accelerating smoothly and with a fair amount of lust. The car seizes corners with minimal lean and holds a reasonably good line through them, limited mostly by its hard, hybrid tires.

The Hybrid was nearly twice as expensive as a base, entry-level Jetta, and the interior isn't dazzling. But the car didn't need to be Audi-exceptional inside. VW built a hybrid that reflects its values and personality -- and not some tepid cover of a conventional Toyota hybrid.

2013 VOLKSWAGEN JETTA HYBRID

Base price: $24,995

Price as tested: $30,155

Engine: 1.4-liter direct-injected, turbocharged four and electric motor

Power: 170 horsepower, 184 pound-feet of torque

EPA fuel economy: 42 miles per gallon city, 48 mpg highway

0 to 60 mph: 7.9 seconds

Weight: 3,362 pounds

Length: 182.8 inches

Width: 70 inches

Height: 57.2 inches

Cargo capacity: 11.3 cubic feet

Bottom line: A performance hybrid.

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