We've already spent time behind the wheel of the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, but when VW invited us to the high hills of Santa Fe to drive it again, we quickly accepted. After all, this is supposed to be a hybrid without compromise, and that means it should be a car that's fun to drive.
On our first drive – in the wintertime, in Germany – we got to experience the mild-mannered fun that VW promises. This time, at elevations between 5,000 and 8,000+ feet above sea level, we were impressed once again with the Jetta – and that's what this is, a Jetta, first and foremost – that's a little bit heavier than the standard (by 221 pounds) but performs so well you don't notice the hybrid bits, most of the time. If you've got energy in the li-ion battery pack when you fire up the car, it will start off in electric mode, and you don't notice the switch to gas power unless you're looking for it.
We got 40.4 miles per gallon on a 31-mile trip. That's not quite the 45 mpg that the EPA says the car will get, but that kind of miles in thin air seems pretty good to us. Other journalists with us in New Mexico were recording anywhere between 38 and 47 mpg. Not Toyota Prius numbers, but VW's okay with that.
Here are a few other thoughts and bits of information:
- With the Jetta Hybrid – VW's second hybrid, after the Touareg, which debuted in the fall of 2010 – the German automaker seems to be acknowledging that it needs to compete seriously in the gas-electric space in the US. A slide shown in Santa Fe pointed out that hybrids make up three percent of the US market, while diesels make up just 0.85 percent. VW is also using JD Power numbers that predict a six-percent market share for hybrids in the US in 2020. VW also said, "Jetta Hybrid will allow VW to attract new customers who don't consider TDI as a legitimate rival to hybrids."
- That said, VW expects the hybrid to make up around five percent of all Jettas sold in the US.
- VW says that the median age of hybrid buyers is 61 years old. The median age? That kind of surprised us.
- Speaking of the Touareg, the hybrid powertrain in the Jetta doesn't share bits with the Touareg hybrid. This is a new system developed for this car.
- The 1.1-kWh battery offers up to 1.2 miles of all-electric operation. Normally, you can go up to 37 miles per hour in EV mode, but if you hit the E-Mode button, this increases to 44 if there is enough power in the pack and the battery temperature is in the right range. In practice, we didn't ever feel like we got that much benefit from E-Mode, but we assume that there will be a few late-night homecomings where this will be beneficial.
- The small print in the promotional materials say that the base Jetta Hybrid will be available by special order only. First impression, that sound like a bait and switch, so VW can advertise the car at a low price, but when you go to the dealer, that low price is nowhere to be found. We were told that there will be base models in each of VW's sales regions in the US, so anyone who wants the cheapest Jetta Hybrid will be able to test drive one or get it delivered with a day's notice.
- The Jetta Hybrid requires premium unleaded fuel. Bummer.