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2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid Review by Martha Hindes - 2013 Green Car Buyer's Guide

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

Green Car Buyer's Guide - RTM's Top 10 Picks for 2013

Chevy Malibu Eco

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Chevy Spark

Kia Rio SX

Sometimes simplicity can be deceiving. You get into that nice new auto and notice the attractive trim with cream colored leather seating, neat but uncluttered instrument panel, easy to read gauges. Then you begin to notice something's a bit different. Could it be because you are driving a 2013 Volkswagen Jetta hybrid car?

As gasoline-electric hybrids get more popular among car buyers, some scream their differences. You see it in a rather odd exterior shape that doesn't look like a traditional sedan. You see it when you start the vehicle and a ballet of multi-colored icons plays across the navigation screen. You hear it when you are bathed in electronic sounds, or you hear nothing. Shouldn't cars have a motor sound when you first turn on the key?

That's where VW's hybrid makes a difference. Short of a chrome “hybrid” badging on the front, it doesn't hit you in the face with the fact it's a hybrid. It lets you discover that slowly, leisurely, without any jarring displays or electronic music jingles. It lets you realize you are driving a car, not prepping for the initial human mission to Mars. (OK, so we exaggerate a bit.). A search for a tachometer finds an understated “Power Meter” charge/eco gauge in its place, but equipped with a turbo-boost dial within it.

We got our first impact of the Jetta hybrid when we got inside. The immediate feeling? Oh, this is nice -- handsome and trim, the way you would expect a Jetta to look, with vanilla set against black and highlighted with (albeit plastic) chrome-colored accents.  We tapped the brake and touched the start button. Surprise, there was an audible, but muted engine sound just the way any other auto would kick to life. There's no wondering if it's ready to drive. A small black and white panel between driver's gauges displays energy movement -- whether the small generating engine is engaged or if the vehicle is running on electricity alone as it did while we maneuvered along a side street. While the underlying technology is all hybrid -- a combination of electric motor and small gasoline engine -- we had the feeling VW was willing for us to make the transition to future tech without peeling back our driving comfort zone.

And there's something else about the front drive Jetta that's a given, the performance one would expect from this iconic Teutonic vehicle.

That equation didn't get lost in the test drive as we pulled out into traffic, and then abandoned the crowd in our rear view mirror as it responded crisply to our commands, including tight cornering. Like other gasoline-electric powered vehicles, the get up and go when touching the accelerator is instantaneous. There's no delay factor, just immediate energy to move away from a dead stop. It doesn't matter that the engine has gone silent while waiting at a stop light. The curious can monitor energy going into the battery via a display on the navigation system's small screen.

It's the vehicle's electric motor that initially surges us forward, while the engine adds a performance boost. Along with regenerative braking, the engine's double duty is to help regenerate energy into the lithion ion battery when it does engage. We found it appealing to hear an engine sound when first starting up. Old habits die hard.

But that's just for starters. The engine part of the combo is a 1.4-liter, turbo-charged four, just to make sure this compact sedan doesn't lose its oomph. And the transmission is a seven-speed automatic with sport mode and manual function so the driving fun doesn't get lost. The benefits of all this technology is mileage gains, with ratings of 42 MPG city/48 highway or 45 MPG combined. The combination of electric motor and engine power generates a 170-horsepower rating.

For anyone wanting to add heavy duty shopping to their driving fun, this might not be the vehicle for them. The battery pack that feeds the electric motor takes up a good chunk of trunk room behind the rear seat. But seating for five is comfortable, with a 6-way power seat adjustment for the driver and cozy, heated front seats for frigid days. Our SEL Premium model also sported a sunroof, rear-view camera, Fender Premium audio and full complement of safety systems.

As might be expected, there are a few quirks, like the horn that won't toot unless the ignition is on and, oh yes, the requirement for Premium fuel. But those seem minor tradeoffs for liberation from frequent gasoline stops,

And we know Jetta drivers, envisioning a trip along Germany's infamous Autobahn can get carried away with performance. But a first aid kit? That was included as a $35.00 option in our test car, the only cost added feature in the $32,010 price, including destination charges. We'll keep our eye safely on the road, not our smart phone, to make sure we don't ever have to use it.

For more information on Volkswagen vehicles, click here.