That's about to change, with the introduction of the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid at the Detroit Auto Show.
The Jetta Hybrid gives VW a new fuel-economy champ in the Jetta lineup, with even better figures on gasoline than the well-known Jetta TDI clean-diesel model delivers using diesel fuel.
Volkswagen says its new hybrid will be "the most fuel-efficient Jetta in the lineup" and deliver an estimated combined gas mileage rating of 45 mpg.
In other words, it handily beats the clean-diesel Jetta TDI--rated at 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, for a combined 34-mpg rating--which was formerly the gas-mileage champ in the Jetta range.
Smallest engine yet
The power comes from the smallest engine VW has ever used in a Jetta, a 150-horsepower 1.4-liter turbocharged four.
It's mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch direct-shift gearbox--the first one used in any hybrid, VW points out--with a 20-kilowatt (27-hp) electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission.
VW says that at 163 pounds, the DSG is lighter than a conventional automatic transmission. So is the engine, for that matter, which weighs in at just 216 pounds. Together, the engine and transmission go a long way toward making up for the added weight of the electric motor, battery pack, and power electronics added to the Jetta.
Total weight increase was only 221 pounds, according to VW, meaning the entire car weighs only about 3,300 pounds. The air-cooled 1.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is located behind the rear seat.
Regenerative braking is aided by a clutch that decouples the engine from the drivetrain when the drive lifts off the gas, meaning that energy formerly wasted in engine drag can be recaptured to recharge the battery if the driver brakes.
Otherwise, the car can "coast" without engine drag at speeds as high as 84 mph, with fuel to the engine shut off--further increasing efficiency.
Fastest compact hybrid?
Volkswagen says the Jetta Hybrid can be driven up to 1.2 miles in electric-only mode, at speeds up to 37 mph (or 44 mph if the "Eco" mode is engaged).
Volkswagen is pitching the 2013 Jetta Hybrid as the fastest compact hybrid on the market, with a 0-to-60-mph time of less than 9.0 seconds. Problem is, the number of compact hybrids is small.
There's the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, with a combined gas mileage rating of 44 mpg, and ... well ... the upcoming 2013 Toyota Prius C. That's about it right now. So VW is claiming the Jetta Hybrid will be the best in a class of three.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
Standard styling with flourishes
The Jetta Hybrid is instantly recognizable as the latest Jetta sedan, launched in 2011. Outside, the few minor changes to the front end include optional bi-xenon front lights bordered with white LED running lights.
The grille opening below the bumper is outlined as well, reflecting the new and more aerodynamic front air dam. And the VW badge has a blue background for the first time (to Germans, blue is green).
In the back, the red taillights are low-energy LED units, below an integrated rear spoiler and above an underbody air diffuser hanging below the rear bumper. Overall, VW says, the drag coefficient of the Jetta Hybrid is 10 percent lower than the standard model's, which uses less fuel to slip through the air above 40 mph.
Special 15-inch alloy wheels carry low-rolling-resistance tires, and there are Hybrid badges on the grille, front fenders, and trunk lid.
Inside, the usual hybrid energy-flow diagrams are available on the central screen, and a power meter that replaces the tachometer shows whether the powertrain is operating at full power or more economically, recharging, or running with no electric contribution.
Diesel and hybrid
The Jetta TDI clean diesel is already the model's fuel economy leader, so why include a gasoline hybrid alternative? In part because diesels are still foreign to some buyers, whereas hybrids have a universal image of fuel economy (and a bit of a green halo, for better or worse).
The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid will be, VW says, "competitively priced with other compact hybrids." Our only data point right now is the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, which carries a base price of $24,050 plus a $770 delivery fee.
The hybrid Jetta will arrive at Volkswagen dealers at the end of 2012.
Volkswagen provided airfare, lodging, and meals to enable High Gear Media to bring you this report from the Detroit Auto Show.