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2013 Jetta Hybrid SEL: Fun and thrifty

by: VOLKSWAGEN AG - The 2013 Volkswagen Hybrid is easily one of the sportiest hybrids on the market.What do you call a hybrid with a turbocharged engine, excellent brakes, and an automated manual transmission with both a Sport and a manual shift mode?

In one word, fun. But officially it's the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, a marvel of engineering that is both a joy to drive and still delivers an EPA average 45 miles per gallon.

Oh, and did I mention it also has an all-electric mode for driving almost a mile at speeds up to 37 without using any gas at all — the perfect solution for stop-and-go downtown traffic?

Like all hybrids, the Jetta costs more than equivalent gas-powered cars. But the advantages over most other hybrids immediately obvious. It is nearly as fast as the gas-powered Jetta, thanks to the turbocharger attached to its 1.4-liter inline four cylinder engines. That's the case both at low speeds and at high speeds, like when you need to merge into freeway traffic or pass slow tractor trailers.

Much of the credit goes to the quick shifting automated manual transmission. It shifts even quicker when set in the Sport mode, and also offers drivers the option of manual shifting — a rare combination even in non-hybrid cars.

Equally remarkable is the feel on the road. The Jetta Hybrid is a true German road car — quiet, light and nimble, with very precise steering. And the regenerative brakes that recharge the batteries have a very firm pedal feel. That's unlike most hybrids, whose brake pedals sometimes pulsate when depressed.

In fact, expect for the reduced trunk space caused by the battery pack, it is very easy to forget the Jetta Hybrid is a hybrid at all. Honestly, it just drives like a well made compact with a small but powerful engine. Readouts of 35, 45 and even 50 average miles per gallon on the dash frequently came as a pleasant surprise.

The biggest drawback for some potential buyers might be styling. The Jetta and midsize Passat are pretty conservative looking, both inside and out. They are not unattractive, but they don't jump out either, especially given such competitors as the sharp looking compact Toyota Camry Hybrid and midsize Ford Fusion Hybrid.

But there's no denying the quality of the Jetta's construction. The fit and finish is excellent, both inside and out. Interior materials were also top notch in our well-equipped SEL test car, with optional leather from buck seats that top some luxury models.

Our biggest disappointment was the lack of a rearview camera in every version except the top-of-the-line Premium, which cost approximately $2,000 more than the SEL version. That problem will disappear in coming years as rearview cameras become required safety equipment in all new cars.

Remarkably, in addition to competing against other hybrid compact, the Jetta Hybrid competes against another Jetta — the turbocharged diesel version. It costs less than the hybrid and gets excellent mileage. Excellent, but not as good. The diesel is EPA rated at 30 city/42 highway/34 average while the hybrid is rated at 42/48/45.

I guess Volkswagen figures more is merrier. It's hard to be more fun than the Jetta Hybrid and still be green, however.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2013 Jetta Hybrid SEL.

• Manufacturer: Volkswagen.

• Class: Compact.

• Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four door sedan.

• Engine: Turbocharged 1.4-liter inline 4 and electric motor (combined 170 hp, 184 ft-lbs).

• Transmission: Seven-speed automated with Sport and manual shift modes.

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 42/48/45.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $27,000 ($30,155 as tested).