Jetta shoppers seeking improved fuel economy suddenly have two very strong choices: hybrid or diesel. Most enthusiasts will probably default to the TDI diesel model, but the Hybrid is worth a serious look.
Suburban driving certainly favors the hybrid, which posts the same 42 mpg EPA city rating as the TDI does on the highway. The hybrid also manages to earn a better EPA rating on the highway, but the diesel feels more at home cruising at speed. The potential deal-breaker for enthusiast drivers is the hybrid's sensation of squeezing a wet sponge whenever the brakes are applied. There's also an inconsistent behavior when you release the brake at a stop, as sometimes the car will surge forward as the electric motor provides power and other times it will remain at a stop. Clearly the transition between the electric regen brakes and the mechanical brakes is not as it should be.
Although the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid is tons more fun than a Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Insight or Toyota Prius, it's just not as well calibrated as the cheaper and almost as efficient VW Jetta TDI. There's also a proven track record for reliability with a Volkswagen diesel. Since VW is one of the first brands that come to mind when someone says "electrical problems," I'd be hesitant to bring home a VW hybrid if I planned to keep it after the warranty ended.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
As a mass-market automaker, Volkswagen had little choice but to offer a small hybrid sedan to compete with the Toyota Prius, even though the automaker's strength lies in diesel powertrains.
And so we have the Jetta Hybrid, which has the most nominal changes in appearance to connote its difference from conventional Jetta models. There are a few blue-tinged hybrid badges scattered around its exterior. Inside, we have a familiar Jetta cabin but with a few minor tweaks. A start button is incongruously located ahead of the shift lever (it's not even centered), so it looks like an afterthought, while the ignition interface on steering column is sealed off. Where the tachometer normally would be, we have a circular gauge with a battery charge/eco mode/boost readout. (I mention all this mainly because people who buy hybrids tend to like a little visual pizzazz that announces their purchase, and the Jetta is perhaps a little too subdued in this regard.)
That said, the Jetta Hybrid is a smooth operator, with plenty of power and all sorts of torque on tap. Some torque steer if you really gun it. At low speeds, the steering is ponderous and non-linear in feel and the brake pedal is touchy, as Phil Floraday describes. At speed, both of these issues recede.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor