Volkswagen introduces hybrid vehicle

25 Sep 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Volkswagen introduces hybrid vehicle

Two shades of green: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid versus 2013 Jetta TDI

Rear model badge view of the Volkswagen Jetta TDI at the Chicago Auto Show on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012 in Chicago, IL. (Ross Dettman / AP Images for Volkswagen)

Aug. 20, 2013, 10:21 a.m.

By Kirk Bell, Special to the Chicago Tribune

No automaker has had more success with diesels in American than Volkswagen. In fact, a full 20 percent of the Jettas VW sells are TDI turbodiesels. Despite that success, Volkswagen is offering a second green Jetta for 2013, the new Jetta Hybrid.

With an effective diesel in the lineup, the question must be asked: Why offer a hybrid as well?

Let’s take a look at the Jetta Hybrid with an eye toward how it compares to the Jetta TDI to find out.

Engine and performance

The Jetta Hybrid’s powertrain is more complex than most, combining several diverse components. It utilizes the first-ever turbocharged engine in a hybrid and it sends its power through an oddball transmission (for a hybrid), a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual that works like an automatic. An electric motor is located between the two, and it is mated to a disengagement clutch that allows the electric motor, the engine, or both to power the car.

The engine produces 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, the motor makes 27 horsepower and up to 114 pound-feet of torque (at low speed), and VW says total output is 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.

On the road, all those diverse components work together almost flawlessly. Small displacement engines like the 1.4-liter in the Jetta Hybrid often lack off-the-line punch. That’s where the electric motor’s immediate torque comes in handy. The engine and motor work together to provide spritely response from a stop.

Zero to 60 mph arrives in 8.6 seconds, which is about a second quicker than the Jetta TDI, and the power is delivered differently. The TDI offers plenty of thrust from a stop, but it plateaus quickly, sapping some of the punch needed for highway passing.

Once underway, the Hybrid engine’s revs climb and the turbocharger spools up to provide responsive midrange power. The dual-clutch transmission works well, too. It downshifts smoothly and alertly to aid highway passing power when needed, and it gives the powertain a conventional, progressive feel. That’s in contrast to the continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVT) used in many hybrids.

CVT transmissions send the rpms high and keep them there (with all the related engine noise) when the throttle is pinned.

VW provides two driving modes that let drivers change the Hybrid’s power delivery. An E mode powers the car on electricity alone for up to 1.2 miles at speeds as high as 44 mph, provided the driver is using a light throttle foot. This mode just drains the lithium-ion battery, though, so it’s really nothing more than a gimmick.

An S mode also holds gears longer to make the power more willing, but it hurts fuel economy, which is in direct contrast to the Jetta Hybrid’s mission.

With EPA ratings of 42 mpg city/48 highway/45 combined, the Jetta Hybrid is the fourth most fuel-efficient nonelectric car offered today. That compares to 30/42/34 for the Jetta TDI and 51/48/50 for the most efficient hybrid on the market, the Toyota Prius.

Suspension and handling

But there are more reasons to consider the Jetta Hybrid than just its powertrain, some of which are shared with the TDI. Positioned as a premium car in the Jetta lineup, the Hybrid drives better than base models. Like the TDI, it has the multilink independent rear suspension from the sporty Jetta GLI instead of the torsion bar geometry of run-of-the-mill Jettas.

This aids ride quality because the effects of bumps are isolated to just the side of the car instead of transferring that shock from one side to the other. Overall ride quality is quite smooth.

The rear suspension also improves handling by doing a better job of keeping the tires in contact with the pavement. Overall handling is well controlled and fairly agile, but soft shocks and springs make both models less agile than the Jetta GLI, and low-rolling resistance tires provide less grip than the GLI’s stickier rubber through sharp curves. The Hybrid’s steering has some nice heft, and it is predictable and reasonably quick.

Our only real dynamic complaint involves braking. The Jetta Hybrid uses regenerative braking, and like many other hybrids, it can feel overly grabby upon initial brake application.

Interior and Trim

The Jetta Hybrid’s premium elements extend to its interior. While base versions of the Jetta suffer from an overabundance of cheap-feeling plastic interior panels, both the Jetta Hybrid and the TDI have a soft-touch dashboard and armrests. The door tops are still hard plastic, though, and that becomes uncomfortable for drivers who rest their elbows up there.

While the Jetta Hybrid is offered in four models–base, SE, SEL and SEL Premium–the base model is available by special order only. That means most buyers will get the SE’s standard touch-sensitive center screen that runs the radio, phone, and navigation functions. This screen features attractive graphics, but it can be slow to react to driver inputs and it lacks the access to apps like many of today’s newer infotainment systems.

The Jetta Hybrid has some unique electronic elements in the interior. Both the touchscreen and a small display in the instrument panel can be set to show a diagram of the power flow to and from the engine, motor and battery. Instead of a tachometer, VW also provides a Power Meter.

It has a needle that sweeps through a green zone to indicate regenerative braking, and a blue zone that represents efficient driving. Go beyond the blue zone and you are burning more fuel. Many drivers will like monitoring these graphics to see how the hybrid system is working and help them drive more efficiently.

Interior space is a strength in all Jettas, with comfortable vinyl seats, plenty of front row seat space, and a back seat that is welcoming for a compact car. The Hybrid’s trunk is larger than most hybrid competitors, but smaller than that of the TDI or other base models. While those Jettas have 15.5 cubic feet of storage space, the Hybrid has 11.2 cubic feet of space and a large hump to cover the lithium-ion battery.

That means large boxes won’t fit and total volume is less than the average for a compact car.

Pricing for the Jetta Hybrid starts at $24,995, but as mentioned above, that’s for the special order base model. The $26,990 SE model is the base car that most buyers will be able to find. That compares to $22,990 for the Jetta TDI and $24,200 for the Prius liftback.

So, was the Jetta Hybrid really needed? The short answer is yes. While more expensive than the TDI, the Jetta Hybrid is also more fuel efficient, especially in the city.

If your daily routine involves a lot of city driving, the Jetta Hybrid is a wiser choice than the TDI. If you do more highway driving, the TDI may be the way to go. That seems to be a good argument for Volkswagen’s two-pronged green Jetta strategy.

Now if VW brass would approve a Jetta battery electric car, they would cover all the green car bases.

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