2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid review: Jetta Hybrid beats even diesel fuel economy

That turn behavior convinced me the transmission's sport mode was out of place in the Jetta Hybrid. Its hybrid drivetrain let me quickly hit freeway speeds while barreling down the on-ramps, but the light steering and tendency to lean suggested this car was really meant as a suburban runabout. Volkswagen makes the Jetta GLI if you want to exercise your inner race car driver.

Similarly, the manual shift mode is of little use, mostly due to the lack of a tachometer. On a long descent, manually downshifting would slow the car, but this is a hybrid. Using the brakes for anything short of a full stop engages regeneration, slowing the car without wearing out the brake pads. I also found that cruise control actively slowed the car on descents, also relying on regeneration.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
Sport and manual shift modes are not really useful in the Jetta Hybrid. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Most impressive was the fact that, even traveling at freeway speeds, my tank average in the Jetta Hybrid came in at 42.3 mpg. Due to the car's 11.9-gallon gas tank, range is only about 500 miles.

Nav without traffic
The car's navigation system handled the basics of getting around Los Angeles. But in this environment, merely knowing which turns to make is not quite enough; it also helps to know the locations of traffic jams. The Jetta Hybrid's flash-memory-based navigation system does not have traffic, nor does the system show weather or fuel prices.

I liked the system's responsive nature. The map, in either 2D or perspective mode, refreshed instantaneously as I drove. The destination screens reacted quickly to my inputs as well. The points-of-interest interface was limited, only letting me view lists of businesses by category, with no search ability. Having the turn-by-turn directions displayed on the instrument cluster was convenient, but this system gives its turn warnings at only a mile away, which can be problematic in Los Angeles when making that maneuver can involve getting across six lanes of traffic.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
The flash-memory-based navigation system lacks traffic information, a key feature in congested areas. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

CNET's high-trim car also came with the Fender audio system, which I have been very impressed by in previous Volkswagen models, finding it one of the best values in factory sound. Its 400-watt amp is plenty powerful for the nine speakers in the system, and the Fender logos on the tweeters add a stylish touch.

Most of my listening was done through Bluetooth audio streaming from an iPhone 5. I was again impressed by the fidelity of this system, as it reproduced instruments with great clarity. I could clearly hear Mark Lanegan bend his guitar strings on the album "Hawk" and the light percussion underlying Fleetwood Mac's "Over My Head." Bass notes were crisp, but could have had a little more dynamic range, and the overall sound could have had more presence, but those are elements of much more expensive systems.

During Bluetooth streaming, the system showed track information on both the main LCD and instrument cluster display, but the skip-track buttons had no effect. A port in the glove box had a cable for older-generation iPhones and iPods. Volkswagen has not announced a new cable to handle Apple's Lightning connector. An SD card slot makes it possible to leave a music library in the car, and Volkswagen offers an adapter cable for its proprietary port with access for a USB drive.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
Volkswagen puts its iPod connector way over in the glove box, and does not offer a Lightning cable for newer Apple devices. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Tuning in to either terrestrial or satellite radio stations is a little odd, as I had to use the middle dial. Volkswagen turned the far right dial into a back button. On menu screens, that middle dial selects items, although the LCD is also a touch screen. The far left dial handles volume and power, as you would expect.

Voice command let me make calls through my paired phone by saying the name of a contact. On the phone screen, I could also access my phone's contact list, and active phone calls were shown on the instrument cluster display.

Limited competition
Surprisingly, compact sedan hybrids are few and far between. The 2013 Jetta Hybrid only has to contend with the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Acura ILX Hybrid . I like Volkswagen's hybrid system better than Honda's, as the former can actually propel the car under electric power and runs more smoothly. Volkswagen's EPA highway number of 48 mpg is impressive, although I found that sustained freeway speeds of 65 to 70 mph led to a significant reduction.

At the over-30-grand price of the fully loaded Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium, I would have expected a more robust set of cabin electronics. The audio system is a high point, and the hands-free phone system lacks nothing in functionality. But the navigation system is very basic, and in high-traffic areas I would be prone to relying on a smartphone navigation app. Volkwagen throws in a backup camera for this top-trim Jetta Hybrid, useful for parking.

Unlike other automakers that offer hybrid models in only a few trim levels or just a single trim, Volkswagen makes the Jetta Hybrid available in all the same trim levels as the standard Jetta . However, it commands a hefty premium for the hybrid drivetrain of over $5,000, significantly raising the price of the car, albeit with significant improvements, such as the enhanced rear suspension.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
Trim SEL Premium
Power train turbocharged direct-injection 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, 20-kilowatt electric motor, seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission
EPA fuel economy estimated 45 mpg average
Observed fuel economy 42.3 mpg
Navigation optional flash-memory-based system
Bluetooth phone support standard
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming, iPod integration, USB drive, SD card, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Fender 400-watt nine-speaker system
Driver aids rearview camera
Base price $24,995
Price as tested $31,180

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  • Body style Sedan
  • Available Engine Hybrid
About The Author

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET. Prior to the Car Tech beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine. He's also the author of "Vaporware," a novel that's available as a Nook e-book.