Road Test: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

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Volkswagen's 2013 Jetta Hybrid is different and pretty

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

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.


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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