Volkswagen has sold small numbers of its Touareg Hybrid crossover utility vehicle for two years now, but it's never had a mass-market hybrid entry.
That will be the role of the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, a new entry this year that complements VW's long-established line of fuel-efficient TDI diesel Jetta and Golf models.
The new hybrid uses a small, 150-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, with a single 20-kilowatt (27-hp) electric motor between the engine and a modified version of VW's excellent seven-speed direct-shift automatic gearbox.
The total combined output of the gasoline-electric powertrain is 170 hp.
For a first effort, Volkswagen has done a remarkably good job at making the Jetta Hybrid fun to drive, smooth, and fuel-efficient.
It's rated at a combined 45 mpg (42 mpg city, 48 mpg highway) and our 2013 Jetta Hybrid first road test indicates that it should get relatively close to that number in real-world use.
As the first European maker to offer a hybrid compact sedan, VW might have stumbled with lumpy control software, or opted for high-end performance like other German makers.
Instead, it's produced the most fuel-efficient model in the Jetta lineup, and added a car that will appeal to hybrid buyers who simply won’t consider its TDI diesels.
The Jetta Hybrid is an important car because VW knows that in the U.S., many buyers prefer hybrids to diesels.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
Each type of car has its merits: Diesels are highly efficient at highway speeds, often doing better than their EPA ratings, while hybrids are efficient in the city as well, where they can run short distances on electric power alone.
But some U.S. buyers just won't consider diesels, no matter how hard Volkswagen tries to sell them.
So the company is developing a full line of hybrid powertrains as well, which will be used not only in VW vehicles but also in Audis and Porsches as well.
Importantly, the Jetta Hybrid retains the essential nature of the gasoline Jetta.
It's designed in a sensible, no-nonsense, German way, the handling and roadholding are relatively sporty, and it's a virtual BMW compared to something like the fuel-efficiency champion Toyota Prius.
Yet its combined gas mileage rating is just 10 percent lower than the Prius's, a neat trick to pull off.
2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Oct 2012
We suspect that once green-car buyers find out that VW offers the Jetta Hybrid, the model will do well.
While it's the most expensive car in the Jetta lineup, it's still base-priced at just under $25,000, meaning it's affordable as well as fun to drive.
And plenty of Volkswagen buyers who wouldn't be caught dead in a Prius may just give the Jetta Hybrid a spin--and decide that gas mileage fully 50 percent better than a comparable gasoline Jetta is worth a few thousand extra dollars.
And VW has done it without compromising the qualities that make the Jetta desirable in the first place.
For that, we give the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid the Honorable Mention trophy in our Best Car To Buy competition for 2013.
Watch for the announcement of the car that has won the Green Car Reports 2013 Best Car To Buy, coming on Monday.