I'm driving down the freeway in the 2014 Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium when the theory of relativity hits me like lightning. In this instance it has nothing to do with Einstein's concepts that forever changed the way we view space and time, but rather something simpler: how this compact sedan's gas-electric powertrain compares with others.
Before reading this, you may not have even known that Volkswagen makes a hybrid version of the Jetta. Blame it on the success of this compact sedan's other worthy iterations and this particular model's freshness. Regarding the latter, the hybrid Jetta was just introduced in 2013. As for the former, it faces stiff competition even within its own lineup, namely from the new, peppy and efficient 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder that replaced the Jetta's old 5-cylinder, and the venerable diesel-powered Jetta TDI.
Big Boost in City MPG
The Jetta Hybrid is just the second such gas-electric vehicle from Volkswagen (first was the Touareg). It uses a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and a battery-fed electric motor. All told, the system makes 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. These numbers, not incidentally, are the same as those made by the new 1.8-liter turbocharged gasoline engine. Where the numbers differ -- and by a healthy margin -- is in fuel economy.
The 2014 Jetta Hybrid is EPA-rated at 42 mpg city/48 mpg highway/45 mpg combined. Those figures outshine even the impressive stats by the diesel Jetta TDI, which come in at 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway/34 mpg combined. The 1.8-liter, meanwhile, yields a not-shabby 25/36/30 for an automatic model.
In everyday driving, I found the hybrid's EPA numbers realistic. While I never carried 48 mpg on the highway, the on-board computer showed 46-plus. But like most hybrids, the Jetta's stellar fuel economy comes at a cost. And here's where relativity really rears its head.
Comfortable and Agile
Relative to a Prius, the Jetta Hybrid is fun to drive. Its suspension blends comfort and agility, and its little turbocharged engine helps the Jetta feel zippy, if not fast. (VW pegs the Jetta Hybrid's 0-60 mph time at 8.6 seconds.) There's even a "sport" mode for the Jetta Hybrid's standard 7-speed automatic transmission that quickens shifts and holds revs longer.
But relative to a Jetta TDI or Jetta with the 1.8-liter turbo-4, the hybrid's power delivery is less refined. This is an inherent hurdle that hybrids are working hard to overcome. When power delivery shifts from the electric motor to gasoline engine, the transition can be slightly jarring, and the Jetta Hybrid is no exception. I was reminded of this almost every time I pulled away from a stop. And when it was time to stop again, the Jetta Hybrid's regenerative brakes would feel "grabby." By contrast, the worst fate you might suffer in the diesel or gasoline engines is some turbo lag.
Cost a Consideration
Then there's the cost consideration. The Jetta Hybrid, at least initially, comes at a premium. The base price on a 2014 Jetta Hybrid is $28,465. A diesel model with automatic transmission, on the other hand, starts some $5,000 less at $23,215. Less expensive still is a 2014 Jetta SE, with an automatic version coming in at $20,815. The Hybrid, however, does enjoy more standard features such as premium touch-screen audio system, and when it comes to the 5-Year Cost to Own, the hybrid's numbers become closer to that of the diesel (though they are still higher than the 1.8-liter model).
The Jetta Hybrid successfully combines fuel economy that well exceeds 40 mpg with more than a modicum of sportiness, all wrapped in a svelte 5-passenger Euro sedan package whose trunk still has good cargo space despite it housing the battery pack. Those are boasts few other hybrids can claim -- and no other at this price point. Relative to its stellar and lower-priced diesel and high-mileage gasoline siblings, however, the hybrid is a harder sell, at least initially. If, however, you're a hybrid lover who is willing to pay more up front, regularly commute many miles and plan to keep your car several years, the numbers can certainly pencil out.
More 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid...
More Quick Takes...
Popular at KBB.com