published Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Test Drive: For young professionals, Jetta Hybrid hits sweet spot

Side badges mark the new 2013 Jetta Hybrid as a green machine.
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
Side badges mark the new 2013 Jetta Hybrid as a green machine. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE

* Exterior color: Deep Black Pearl

* Interior color: Cornsilk Beige

* Engine: 1.4 liter four-cylinder and electric motor

* Horsepower: 170 combined

* Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 48 mpg highway, 42 mpg city

* Dealer: Village VW of Chattanooga

* Price (as tested): $27,820

And now, introducing the official pace car of the Millennial Generation: The 2013 VW Jetta Hybrid. If ever a car embodied the values of an entire age cohort, the new Jetta Hybrid is it.

Fun, hip, economical and environmentally friendly, the new Jetta Hybrid makes you wonder why VW waited so long to get the hybrid party started.

There's a very low-volume Touareg SUV hybrid, but that barely counts. Could a Chattanooga-made Passat hybrid be next in line?

Actually, there's a sound reason for VW's delay in embracing gas-electric Jettas. The same adjectives -- fun, hip, economical, etc. -- apply to the torque-happy Jetta TDI. But many American buyers still can't bring themselves to climb aboard the diesel train. (The base Jetta gets VW's workhorse five-cylinder gas engine.)

The new Jetta Hybrid fuses a 1.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine with a small electric motor to yield 170 combined horsepower, and -- importantly -- 40-plus miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving.

Last week, we snagged one of the two Jetta Hybrids on the lot at Village VW of Chattanooga, courtesy of sales manager Ron Kwaitkowski.

VW has estimated that hybrids may account for about 5 percent of Jetta sales this year, according to reports in the automotive press -- not a lot, but enough for VW to get a foothold in the hybrid segment.

STYLING AND COMFORT

If you drive a new car every week like I do, it's easy to get design fatigue. Sometimes it takes going to the VW store to clear your head.

Like all VW products, the Jetta Hybrid proves the axiom: Less is more. Aside from some discreet exterior Hybrid badges and a label on the glovebox, the Jetta Hybrid looks just like a standard model. Which is not bad. Conservative sheet metal in Black Pearl pairs well with 10-spoke alloys. A thin chrome accent runs from the A-pillar to the C-pillar and the trunk lid has a small spoiler.

Inside, our test car featured a two-tone color scheme, Cornsilk Beige leatherette seats, and black and white dash. The cabin has a classy richness often absent in today's more popular, but monotonous, all-black cabins. The Jetta's dash is gratifyingly simple, with nice round gauges and a simple AC and stereo layout. What a gift it was to be able to operate the radio on the first try.

Our test car was an SE model and featured such standard equipment as 15-inch alloys, leatherette seats, touchscreen radio, keyless entry and LED tail-lights.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The bane of many hybrid sedans is the mind-numbing driving dynamics that accompany CVT transmissions and whisper-quiet drive-trains. The Jetta Hybrid, on the other hand, comes with VW's slick, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. You can actually feel and hear the gear shifts, so all the fun is not sucked out of the drive home.

While not quite as explosive off the mark as the Jetta TDI, the Jetta Hybrid is plenty punchy. VW estimates the car's 0-60 mph time at roughly 8.6 seconds. The company also says the Jetta Hybrid can accelerate up to 37 mph under electric power only.

The small four-cylinder engine is mated to a 20kW electric motor powered by a battery pack over the rear axle that somewhat reduces storage space in the car's trunk.

On a test drive on area highways last week, the Jetta Hybrid proved to be a spunky companion with the precise steering and solid feel synonymous with a German engineered sedan.

BOTTOM LINE

The base Jetta Hybrid starts at $25,000, about $2,000 more than the Jetta TDI. Our test car carried a sticker price of $27,820.

There are cheaper hybrids to be had, but few, if any, have the cache and build-quality of the Jetta Hybrid. If you're young, upwardly mobile, and want to be the first on the block with an impressive new toy, this could absolutely be your new ride.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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