When developing a hybrid model, automakers have a handful of options. They can try to copy Toyota's tried-and-true formula of focusing on increased efficiency while sacrificing some degree of performance, a path that worked for the Toyota Prius but not so much for the Honda Insight. Option two is to develop a hybrid that uses its gas-electric hardware to outperform its conventional stablemates. Think of the late Honda Accord Hybrid and you'll understand what a performance-oriented gas-electric can offer. Path number three, the one least traveled, marries performance with frugality, a rare combination that only a handful of vehicles like the Infiniti M35h and the upcoming Volkswagen Jetta hybrid aim to offer.
Jetta technical project manager Michael Hinz told Autocar that hybrid systems can be designed to either boost power or to improve efficiency. He added that a turbocharged gas engine is the preferred starting point for a performance hybrid, whereas a diesel-electric system makes for a frugal model.
The Jetta hybrid, already confirmed for Europe in 2012, will pack one of the firm's low-displacement TSI engines, most likely the 1.4-liter inline-four. This engine already puts out some decent numbers – 148 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. Combine that with an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack and we're looking at the potential for 175 hp and 280 lb-ft. That covers the performance side, but the 1.4-liter TSI engine is an efficient runner on its own and the addition of some hybrid hardware is likely to make it quite the gas miser. Estimates of 45 miles per gallon don't seem far-fetched and if VW can pull it off, then the Jetta hybrid could join the rare breed of gas-electrics that don't sacrifice performance while being fairly frugal.