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2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

The VW Jetta Hybrid is the most fun-to-drive way to save fuel

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

            • SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyers Guide


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2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

If the fuel economy potential of a hybrid is appealing but you also actually like driving and have so far seen hybrids as boring transportation appliances for people who hate cars, Volkswagen has something that might be of interest. The Jetta Hybrid has all of the fun-to-drive character of a Jetta, plus potential fuel economy over 40 mpg.

Volkswagen already has a high-mileage Jetta in the TDI turbodiesel. Why a gasoline-electric hybrid? Why not? There is a market, governments and consumers are demanding ever-better efficiency and mileage, and not everyone, especially here in the US, favors diesels. Which are not the slow, smoky, smelly things they once were, but it's hard to get that message to Americans. The Jetta Hybrid runs on gasoline -- premium preferred, regular acceptable with a bit less performance -- with fuel economy comparable to or slightly better than the TDI and quicker acceleration.

Trust VW to do things a bit differently, though. While major hybrid manufacturers have used a CVT to blend internal-combustion and electric power, Volkswagen uses its dual-clutch automated sequential-shift DSG gearbox, in seven-speed form. The engine is a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with direct fuel injection, 150 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque at your service. Plus an extra 27 hp and 114 lb-ft from the electric motor, with a lithium-ion batter pack to store electricity. It can run under electric power alone up to around 40 mph, and seamlessly switches between gasoline, electric, or a combination depending on driving conditions. Manual shifting is possible, and, what's this?!? -- there is a "Sport" mode. Hey, this is a turbo hybrid!

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2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

Other automakers who have a hybrid in one of their sedan lines usually position it as a premium model, and VW is no different. The Jetta Hybrid is offered in any trim level you want, as long as that's SEL Premium. So nearly every accoutrement expected in a luxury car except for leather seating and wood trim and the more high-end "assistance" systems are standard fare. Options? My test car had the $550 Fender audio system. A perusal of the VW consumer "build your car" website didn't show that. Yes press-fleet cars can be fitted with items that are "not available in stores" as the saying goes. Nothing extra is really needed.

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2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

How does it drive? Not too differently than any other current Jetta. The Hybrid feels heavier, and is, but is surprisingly quick in acceleration, especially at low to medium speeds where that is most useful and necessary. Brakes take a bit of getting used to as regenerative braking is integrated into the system and pedal response is not linear. It stops very well, but a bit differently than other cars. Ride comfort and handling are pure VW, sporty but supple, quiet and comfortable. Mileage? That is the reason for a hybrid… EPA estimates are 42 mpg city, 48 highway, 45 overall. What did I get? Less, same as with all other hybrids I've driven. The EPA test cycle doesn't reflect my reality well. But low 30s to low 40s around town and 40 to 45-plus on the highway are nothing to complain about and in line with or better than figures returned by other hybrid sedans. But the Jetta Hybrid is a more engaging car to actually drive than any other hybrid I've driven. No surprise, it's a Volkswagen.

APPEARANCE: Differences between the Hybrid and other Jetta models are small but noticeable. Most apparent is the front grille, or lack thereof. For improved aerodynamics (and so better efficiency), most of the main part of the grille is blanked out by a chrome-trimmed glossy black piece featuring the VW logo in its center. Look carefully at that badge -- it's trimmed in blue, indicating hybrid. The front lower fascia airdam and small ducktail spoiler at the trailing edge of the trunk are unique to the Hybrid, as are the lower side sill extensions. The coefficient of aerodynamic drag is lowered from 0.30 to 0.28 -- not much but every small bit added up helps. There are small "Hybrid" badges on the front fenders and trunk. The exhaust is hidden.

COMFORT: Differences between the Hybrid and a regular Jetta SEL Premium inside? There's a "hybrid" badge on the trim piece over the (locking and air-conditioned) glove box and the tachometer is replaced by a "Power Meter" which tells the state of the system -- off, charging, or power use. Other than that, has the same Teutonic simplicity of design, attention to detail, and high-quality materials as any other SEL Premium Jetta. Front seat comfort is at the top of the class, with power-adjustment for the driver's seat and heat for both. The V-Tex leatherette looks and feels more like leather than some competitors' leather. The steering wheel adjusts manually for both tilt and reach and features a leather rim and controls for cruise, audio, phone, and information systems. A tilt-and-slide moonroof is standard, as is a navigation system and audio and Bluetooth connectivity and Sirius/XM satellite radio. As in all current Jettas, rear-seat space and comfort are better than the class norms. Surprisingly, the rear seatback folds 60/40 but the high hump at the forward part of the trunk that covers the hybrid battery pack does eat into trunk space. Also because of the batteries and associated hardware, there is no spare tire.

SAFETY: The Jetta's unibody structure is designed and built for optimum safety, with controlled deformation in a collision. Frontal, front-seat side, and full-length side curtain airbags add further passive protection. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes plus electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), hydraulic brake assist (HBA), and electronic stability control (ESC) add further protection. The Hybrid adds regenerative braking. If a crash does happen, the Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS) unlocks the doors, shuts off the fuel pump, and activated the hazard lights.

RIDE AND HANDLING: This is the sportiest affordable hybrid sedan going. That said, it's no GLI, nor should it be. It's heavier than other Jettas, but not overwhelmingly so. The strut/multilink suspension is tuned in the European manner, moderately firmly but supple enough for comfort even on poor surfaces yet firm enough for good control in spirited driving or emergency maneuvers. Road and wind noise are low. The brakes work very well, but there is a learning curve. Because of integration of the hybrid system's regenerative braking, brake force does not increase in a linear manner when pressing on the pedal. Light application seems to activate regenerative braking, with the mechanical brakes coming on later in the pedal stroke and fairly quickly.

PERFORMANCE: In a hybrid context. "performance" means fuel economy as much as acceleration or top speed. I didn't get anywhere near the EPA-advertised 42/48/45 mpg -- and can say the same for all other hybrids I've driven. The EPA test cycle does not reflect my reality of hills, traffic, and necessary acceleration to highway speeds. That said, the 30 to 40 mpg in city and secondary road driving and 40 to 45 highway are not bad at all, and comparable to other hybrid sedans. Ditto the long-term 37. YMMV, as they say, and highway travel here is not a steady 50 mph on a chassis dynomometer. And yes, the Hybrid returned slightly better mileage than the last Jetta TDI I tested, although the TDI may well beat it on highway mileage on long trips. For the technically-minded, the Jetta Hybrid is fascinating. The internal combustion part is handled by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine. In the VW manner, it was developed specifically for turbocharging, with the exhaust manifold cast with the head and the intercooler cast into the intake manifold. Direct fuel injection allows a very high 10.5:1 compression ratio for further gains in efficiency and power. Other manufacturers are discovering this now; VW has been at it for over a decade. The result is 150 hp at 5000 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 1600 rpm. The liquid-cooled electric motor is clutched to the drivetrain and adds up to 114 lb-ft immediately, and 27 hp. System maxima are 170 hp and 184 lb-ft -- torque is limited, likely out of respect for the seven-speed DSG transmission. It's as smooth as any other hybrid system, and between the turbo and electric motor there is quite a kick when maximum acceleration is needed. Don't get too addicted to that if you want to save fuel!

CONCLUSIONS: Volkswagen's approach to gasoline-electric hybrid technology is different. What else would you expect? Not only does it work, it works well and makes the Jetta Hybrid the most fun-to-drive way to save fuel.




SPECIFICATIONS

2015/16 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Base Price $ 31,120

Price As Tested $ 32,490

Engine Type turbocharged and intercooled direct- injected DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder, cast iron block and aluminum head

Engine Size 1.4 liters / 85 cu. in.

Horsepower 150 @ 5000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 184 @ 1600 rpm

Electric Motor Horsepower 27 @ n/a

Electric Motor Torque 114 @ n/a

Combined System Horsepower 170 @ 5000

Combined System Torque 184 @ 1000

Transmission dual-clutch automated sequential

Wheelbase / Length 104.4 in. / 183.3 in.

Curb Weight est 3350 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 19.7

Fuel Capacity 11.4 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline for best performance 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline acceptable

Tires 205/50R17 93H Continental Conti ProContact

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, ESC standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink

Drivetrain transverse front engine and motor, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 42 / 48 / 37

0 to 60 mph est 8 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Fender sound system $ 550

Destination Charge $ 820