First Look: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

It's no secret that Volkswagen is big into diesels. But given the ever-growing set of hybrid offerings from its competition, VW is expanding its green footprint by bringing cars like the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, currently on display at the 2012 Detroit auto show, to the market.

Volkswagen hopes the new Jetta will be the hybrid of choice for those looking seeking something sporty, like the Honda CR-Z, but also environmentally friendly, like the Prius.

Key to the Jetta Hybrid's sport appeal is its new (to the U.S.) 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4 engine, electric motor, and all-new seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The turbo four-banger produces 150 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, and the electric motor is good for 27 hp. Peak combined power output is 170 hp. Volkswagen says the combination will make the car the fastest compact hybrid in-class, with a 0-60-mph time estimated to be less than 9.0 seconds. For comparison's sake, in our testing the CR-Z was good for an 8.4-second 0-60 run. Sportiness? Check.

The Jetta Hybrid should have the eco-angle nailed down as well, as it incorporates a few of the Touareg Hybrid's tricks into the smaller, lighter Jetta package. Like the Touareg Hybrid, the Jetta Hybrid is capable of "coasting" by decoupling the engine from the drivetrain when the driver releases the accelerator at speeds up to 84 mph, reducing drivetrain drag and improving fuel economy. Further improving fuel economy is E-Mode, which allows the car to work as an electric vehicle at speeds up to 44 mph. Without engaging E-Mode, the Jetta Hybrid is capable of hitting 37 mph on its electric motor, provided its batteries are sufficiently charged.

It uses a compact 220-volt 1.1-kW-h lithium-ion battery system mounted behind the rear seats. The battery pack, which weighs less than 80 pounds, contains 60 individual cells that are cooled by a fan mounted directly on the pack. Weight-- one of the many enemies of fuel economy --was kept in check elsewhere, too. The engine weighs only 216 pounds, and the transmission weighs just 163 pounds. The result is a car that Volkswagens says tips the scales in at fewer than 3310 pounds -- a little less than the Toyota Prius V (3365) and a little more than the plain-Jane Prius (3171. For comparison's sake, the Jetta TDI weighs in at 3197 pounds.

Volkswagen expects the 2013 Jetta Hybrid to achieve an EPA combined fuel economy rating of 45 mpg. That slots it just below the Prius, at 50 mpg combined; a hair above the Insight and Prius V, at 42 mpg combined; and way above the CR-Z, at 37 mpg combined in its most fuel-efficient form. Economy? Check.

Inside, Volkswagen includes a couple tricks to help the driver boost fuel economy. The tach on the left side of the instrument cluster has been replaced with a Power meter that indicates what mode the car is in and how efficiently it is being driven. The Power meter displays "Ready" when the car is on but the engine is off; "Charge" when the batteries are being charged by either the regenerative brakes or the engine; "Eco" when driving in the hybrid's eco-friendly mode; "Boost" when the engine and motor are working together in Sport mode; and "Off" when the car is being propelled solely by the four-pot.

Information like energy flow and battery charge level can be displayed on the Jetta Hybrid's multifunction display in between the Power meter and speedometer.

Outside, the Jetta Hybrid will be differentiated by aerodynamic changes that give it a drag coefficient 10 percent lower than the stock Jetta. The exterior changes include a new grille, front air dam, rear diffuser, and integrated spoiler. The grille is unique because it's the first time the VW logo has a blue background instead of the usual black. Other exterior changes include unique 15-inch alloy wheels, and Hybrid badges on the grille, front quarter-panels, and trunk.

The 2013 Jetta Hybrid will come standard with Bluetooth, LED taillights, and SiriusXM satellite radio. Volkswagen says available options will include HID headlights with LED Daytime Running lights, a power driver's seat, heated front seats, navigation, a premium Fender audio system, and a rearview camera. Volkswagen plans on offering three trim levels at the release.

Will the 2013 VW Jetta Hybrid pack enough of a sporty punch to go head-to-head with the Honda CR-Z, yet efficient enough to take on the Prius triplets? We won't know for sure until it launches at the end of 2012, but on paper, the hybrid battle has (finally) gotten interesting.

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