“Have you driven the new Jetta Hybrid?” popped up in my Faceache message box. It came from Captain Leslie, an E-3 Sentry driver, consummate professional, a current Jetta TDI pilot (with a manual), and friend from a tour in the Middle East and Oklahoma City. Unable to resist her profile smile, I went in search of the elusive electrically motivated VW in a sea of 2.5L sorority mobiles. As she has saved my ass in the past, I shall attempt to repay the favor. Leslie, skip the Hybrid, get another TDI… but make sure its a Golf…wagon…in brown…with a manual.
Sajeev pointed out my fondness for VAG products and warned me to be vigilant in my impartiality (cough, Panther Love for all) to render a verdict in true TTAC fashion. Having owned numerous Audis, a SEAT Toledo V5, Golfs, and a MKV Jetta TDI, I might have difficulty. But no, thank you VW for screwing up the Jetta enough to make this issue a nonstarter!
The latest Jetta does not live up to the previous generation. Before me was a stretched mk4 Jetta, only missing some of the details (Vellum Venom here). The MK VI Jetta looks attractive enough; readily identifiable as a Volkswagen, with neat creases, and all that Euro technocracity. But it’s a bit boring compared to the beauties made in Korea. The MK IV forged a bold path and the MK V at least caused controversy, however VW played it too safe with the MK VI. At least it’s not ugly.
The Jetta’s most interesting external aspect are the taillights: sporting a complex lighting pattern for a slightly upscale look. And…thats it.
Step inside: virtually identical, the Jetta TDI and Hybrid showcase the latest in Germanic interior design: perfectly aligned plastic, a cutting edge notion in 1979 when Audi switched to black plastic in the Audi 4000 over the faux wood in the Fox. It’s straight forward, easy to use and looks like it’ll last forever, but exhibits no flair or panache. I’m thinking VW hired a hipster and they rehashed the mk5 interior…but ironically.
The comfortable seats still impress. The leatherette is attractive and will prove durable. Space is good, with the biggest complaint coming from the Hybrid, where the battery pack robs crucial trunk room, and makes the rear seat pass through about 30% smaller than the regular TDI.
Now about that infamous plastic dash. I know why VW equipped the low and mid-range Jettas with an injection molded dashboard so hard that Viagra should file a patent lawsuit: Americans do not touch the dash, or care about squidgy bits like the Europeans, or so I have been told. They care about price and value for money.
This fact explains why most Americans buy Corollas. VW once stood in a “just above average” slot, slightly aspirational and cool but avoiding BMW douchiness. Catering to a cheaper price point made VW just another player in this saturated market.
“But look at the engineering precision and how well it’s put together!” say the engineers (or more likely the marketers). Yes, the engineers dotted their “i’s” with this design, but failed to realize they spelled penis instead of pencil.
I learned in Germany that you don’t buy a Golf for looks, as the Focus and anything French blow it away. You buy one for the dependability and the drive, true VW trademarks in the homeland. The Jetta, a be-trunked extension of the Golf philosophy, should follow this mantra of safe looking, yet wholly hooligan mannerisms. Flogging the TDI and Hybrid like I stole them, I found that not all is lost in Wolfsburg.
The TDI with a manual induces grins from the open road to city traffic. With the 2.0L, direct injected, common-rail diesel, VW engineered the finest motivator in the American line-up. Wind it up to the low redline and feel a surge of torque launching you through traffic. The numbers on paper suggest a middling 0-60 time but the thrust provided in real-time proves most addictive. I found myself punching the throttle just to induce grins.
Pitching the car into a corner netted more surprises. The front end moved around a corner like a GTI. Generous applications of the throttle failed to induce excessive understeer, or surprising amounts of torque steer. The Jetta TDI hunkered down and blew through the apex with a bit of turbo whistle. Wow.
I think the average looks and interior were a ruse so the police think you can’t possibly speed in an efficient bar of soap.
I also found lift-off oversteer very possible with more speed and ham-fisted steering inputs. Careening around University Ave intersection onto the Marsha Sharp Freeway, I could lift off the throttle, step out the back-end and nail the go pedal in true Nürburgring fashion while netting an honest 40mpg. The cheap trailing beam rear suspension was not a handling detriment save for the fiercest bumps, which allowed just a bit of skipping. The steering was alive and communicative, provided you ignore the slightly artificial electric feel at lower speeds.
So what of the Hybrid? The “green” Jetta handles exactly the same, yet the leather wrapped steering wheel was a tad nicer. The same wonderful corner entry and roll transition urge you on to illegal speeds. The main difference? Power delivery: the TDI surges while the Hybrid just….goes.
Instead of a tachometer denoting engine revs, a dial ranging from 1-to-10 presents a percentage of available power currently being utilized. A tantalizing “boost” zone glares at you past the 10 mark. My goal was to live in “boost” as much as possible. Not the point of a hybrid, but I am still an enthusiast. I kick Priuses like the Taliban kick puppies!
The Hybrid proves an engaging drive, with a lackluster engine note and not quite sharp throttle responses. The TDI emerges as the clear driver’s victor, especially when real world fuel economy figures are factored in. The Hybrid says 48mpg highway to the TDI’s 42, but the TDI managed 40mpg in mixed driving, with the Hybrid only scored 38mpg. The Hybrid is not a green and happy GLI, it’s an expensive alternative to the TDI for the hippy crowd. Just behold those blue Hybrid badges tattoo’d at every corner!
The TDI comes across as cheaper, more reliable, comes in a manual, and will hold its value (look at those used mkV TDI prices!). The Hybrid, well…it’ll be an interesting Murilee junkyard find in 20 years.
Now Captain Leslie knows the truth: I suggest she keeps her current manual shift Jetta TDI (with 185,000 trouble free miles!) and save the money for her upcoming wedding. Leslie, if you have some scratch left over, get a Jetta Sportwagen TDI, which is just a Golf TDI with a big trunk. The current Jetta TDI and Hybrid are good, but after being a command pilot over Afghanistan, you won’t have the wool pulled over your eyes: the new Jetta is not superior to yours.