For all the advantages of diesel cars — fuel economy, robust torque, bomb-proof durability — many U.S. buyers just aren't that into them.
Volkswagen knows as much. So despite offering a wide range of fuel-efficient diesels, the company is now moving into hybrid territory.
It took its first hybrid step with the Touareg SUV, which costs an eye-popping $63,000. Now VW is offering a Jetta Hybrid sedan. It's also not cheap: the loaded model we tested came to $31,975.
VW actually prefers you call it the Jetta Turbo Hybrid. The automaker is keen to position this car as something most hybrids aren't: fun and powerful. Since VW hopes the Jetta Hybrid will steal sales from the Toyota Prius, Ford C-Max hybrid, and Honda Civic Hybrid, it needs a way to set the Jetta new hybrid apart from the crowd.
That's where the turbo comes in. The gas engine is a 1.4-liter direct-injected, turbocharged inline four cylinder. It makes 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.
This engine is paired with a 27-horsepower electric motor that's powered by a 220 volt, 1.1 kWh battery. The battery itself is a lithium-ion unit and sits between the rear wheels, eating up about 4.2 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk.
At any given time, the total power from the Jetta Hybrid's drivetrain is 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The power gets to the front wheels through a slick seven-speed dual-clutch automated transmission.
Volkswagen estimates this Jetta will get 42 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway. In 350 miles of testing in mixed conditions, we averaged 36.3 mpg.
Though the Jetta Hybrid's 170 horsepower splits the difference between the 134-horsepower Toyota Prius and the 188-horsepower Ford C-Max, the VW actually beats both in zero-to-60 mph acceleration. Motor Trend magazine found the Jetta needed 7.9 seconds, compared to 8.2 seconds for the Ford and 10.1 for the Toyota.
Yet the Jetta somehow still felt underpowered. No one expects this car to crush Mustangs at stoplights. But every on ramp, stop sign, or passing situation served as reminder that fuel economy came at the expense of useful power.
These are the same situations where the diesel Jetta shines, with its gobs of on-demand torque.
Another reason to go with the Jetta TDI: the annoyingly touchy regenerative brakes on the hybrid version. It took more than a few miles to learn to adapt to their hyper-sensitive ways. Compounding the issue was uneven modulation of the brakes as you pushed harder on the pedal. Other hybrids we've tested had much smoother systems.
Other mechanical elements of the Jetta Hybrid were excellent. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission ripped off one seamless and well-timed shift after another. The gearbox was good enough to make you wonder whether VW snuck into the headquarters of Porsche, its corporate cousin, stole one of its sublime PDK units.
Also exemplary was the Jetta Hybrid's handling. The car's independent rear suspension setup is borrowed from the equally capable Jetta GLI. The design gives the car plenty of useful grip on the road, which was aided by less body roll than one would expect in this segment.
A base Jetta Hybrid starts at $25,790. That gets you dual-zone climate control, 15-inch alloy wheels, and Bluetooth streaming audio.
Step several grades up to our SEL Premium test car, and the feature list is as long as the price is wide. For your $31,975, you get a backup camera, 17-inch alloy wheels, a Fender stereo system, LED taillights and daytime running lights, moonroof, touchscreen navigation system, and keyless entry and start.
That's a lot of amenities. Still, the Jetta Hybrid doesn't feel like a $32,000 car — especially when you consider a base Jetta costs just $17,000, and the diesel Jetta costs $4,000 less than the hybrid.
Sure, not everyone wants a diesel. But they should. The Jetta Hybrid only reinforces this point.
Times' take: A hybrid that makes the case for diesels
highs: Sharp handling, slick transmission
lows: Feels slower than advertised, can get expensive
Vehicle type: 4-door sedan
Base price: $25,790
Price as tested: Hybrid SEL Premium: $31,975
Powertrain: 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine; 20 kW electric motor
Transmission: seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission
Torque: 184 pound-feet
0-60 mph: 7.9 seconds, according to Motor Trend