The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta sedan range, now in its third year, has expanded from the traditional gasoline and diesel versions to include a new hybrid model as well. This makes Volkswagen's four-door compact sedan one of very few vehicles--and the sole volume car--to offer all three powerplants for buyers to choose from.
The Jetta sedan was redesigned for 2011 to be larger and less expensive, though the SportWagen soldiers on essentially unchanged with a body that's been around since 2009. The Jetta SportWagen thus retains a few features that will appeal to buyers--a higher-grade interior and an independent rear suspension--that may or may not offset a rear seat that's smaller than the one in the four-door sedan.
Volkswagen offers a surprising variety of powertrains in the various Jetta models: five engines and three transmissions, or four if you count the hybrid separately. The base engine for the sedan is a 115-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder, offered with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. It equips the Jetta sedan with an attractively low base price to get them into the dealerships in the first place. Its 0-to-60-mph time of about 11 seconds is slower than a Honda Insight hybrid, however, so few buyers will actually choose it.
Most Jetta sedans are sold with a somewhat lumpy-sounding 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter five-cylinder, which pairs well with the automatic transmission. Then there's the hot-rod GLI model, which has a 200-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four. It's not as powerful as the engines in some other performance compacts, but the GLI comes with 17-inch wheels and that fully independent rear suspension, making it more of a driver's car than many.
For fuel economy, your choices are the TDI diesel or the new Jetta Hybrid sedan. (There's no hybrid SportWagen model, since more than half of all Jetta wagons are ordered with the TDI.) The 140-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel puts out 236 lb-ft of torque, and is EPA-rated at 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, with a 0-60 mph time of 8.7 seconds. Diesel Jetta buyers can opt for a somewhat notchy six-speed manual transmission, or a version of VW's fast and smooth-shifting six-speed dual-clutch automated transmission. All told, the Jetta can deliver up to 600 miles of range on a single tank of diesel, a trait so remarkable it's part of the car's marketing campaign.
Then there's the Jetta Hybrid, new for 2013, which hadn't been EPA-rated when this was written--but which VW expects to get around 45 mpg combined. The company says the new Jetta version will appeal to hybrid buyers who won’t consider its TDI diesels—no matter how fuel-efficient they may be. It pairs a 150-hp turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder, not offered in any VW sold here until now, with a single 20-kilowatt (27-hp) electric motor and a 7-speed direct-shift gearbox automated manual transmission. Output of the combined gasoline-electric powertrain is 170 hp, though Premium gasoline is recommended.
Both the sedan and the SpotWagen share an instantly identifiable German driving feel, with a well-damped ride and good steering, whether it's the hydraulic system on the gasoline and TDI Jettas or the fully electric system on the Jetta Hybrid. The sedan's torsion-beam rear axle on sedans doesn't hurt handling much, and Jettas of all models can be hustled around with plenty of authority.
The large back seat of the Jetta sedans is almost as big as that found in some mid-size sedans, and the trunk is large too. The Jetta Hybrid has a battery box at the front of the trunk, but it only sticks up part way, meaning the rear seat back still folds to provide some pass-through for large items.
While the sedan interior suffers from some cost-cutting, it's not intolerable. A few soft-touch plastics on touchable surfaces lighten up the expanses of hard plastics everywhere, some of which have lackluster finishes that don't meet the standards set by the newest American and Korean compact cars. The diesel and hybrid versions sit at the top of the model range, but leather seats aren't available on any Jetta, and the navigation system is limited to a few models. The GPS isn't as intuitive as some other systems, and it's an expensive option.
Buyers seeking fuel economy will find that while it has a base price of about $23,000, a fully-equipped Jetta TDI can cost almost $30,000.As for the hybrid Jetta, prices start at $24,995 for the base model, and top out at $31,180 for the SEL Premium model with navigation. All hybrid models come with 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with multifunction sitches, Bluetooth device pairing, and automatic climate control.
Those price ranges are $2,000 to $7,500 higher than high-mileage entries in the Jetta's compact sedan class. But with its six-footer interior space and superior ride and handling, the new Jetta Hybrid and the well-established (and beloved) Jetta TDI diesel are well worth a place on any green-car shopping list.
For more details, see the full review of the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta range on our sister site, TheCarConnection.