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VW makes electrification seem natural
VolkswagenJetta2 page2
The Jetta Hybrid is sporty to drive and just happens to get an easy 45-plus mpg.

Volkswagen’s hybridization of its most popular model is a technological mile-marker for its intuitive activation.

If you didn’t now you were driving an electrified car, the Jetta Hybrid may seem just like its mainstream, gasoline-powered model mates.

Except for the large gauge display, the driver may just assume this is how a car should operate. The digital screen highlight transitions from electric mode to blended electric with engine power and on to full turbocharged force.

Starting out in EV mode seems logical. Then the engagement of the 1.4-liter four-cylinder comes on without notice. Get on the gas for merging or passing and the request is delivered without hesitation or sensation of drivetrain engagement. The seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission rolls smoothly through gear changes.

And then there’s the main purchase motivation: fuel economy.

On my first drive, I headed for lunch about 30 miles away and gradually uphill. The majority of the route was on Interstate. I set the cruise at 67 mph and only twice did I have to accelerate hard to change lanes. The round-trip of 56.6 miles returned 45.8 average mpg. The EPA says to expect 42 mpg city and 48 highway or 45 mpg combined. With a little throttle modulation, I knew I could do better.

Blending the little 1.4-liter’s 150 horsepower with the electric motor yields a peak of 170 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. And the peak torque of 184 foot-pounds is grippingly low at 1,000 rpm. Put ‘em together and the Jetta Hybrid will do 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds, VW says. There’s also a Sport mode that puts an edge on performance without the edginess that sometimes comes with sharpened power.

The Jetta Hybrid can be driven as an EV up to 37 mph for about a mile. That range, however, depends on battery charge, driving style and hilliness.

The 220-volt, lithium-ion battery is recharged in the usual hybrid ways: the engine, regenerative braking and coasting.

A mile on EV power may not seem like much, but it is more significant when creeping quietly in traffic or cruising for blocks in the city.

It is the transmission that gives improved highway mileage. Most hybrids (and EVs) use a continuously variable automatic to transfer power, which, typically, yields higher fuel economy in the city.

Sold in three trim levels, starting prices range from $27,785 to $31,975, including the $795 freight charge from Puebla, Mexico.

The hybrid models are well dressed with standard features including keyless access with push-button start, 15-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with all-season tires, power windows and (heated) mirrors, six-way manually adjustable front seats with power recline, media interface with iPod cable, Bluetooth phone-music connection with six-speaker CD-aux-audio and a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel.

The SEL test car, $30,120, adds a navigation system, 16-inch wheels, heated front seats and a power driver’s seat.

The Jetta Hybrid gets some notable drivability enhancements, including the four-wheel independent suspension from the sport-tuned Jetta GLI. The Hybrid corners flat like a rear-drive sport sedan. It is sporty without trying. It lacks the sophisticated differential of the GLI model (which is basically the four-door version of the hot GTI hatchback) — but who would have thought a hybrid could be such a contender.

Sightlines are good over the hood and over the shoulder. Driver controls are easily accessed and viewed. Entry and exit is without restriction. The door grab handles are ideally placed for leverage. But a rearview camera is available only on the top-end model and there are no automatic headlights, which isn’t a deal-breaker for those who’ve never experienced them.

Headroom at 38.2 inches with the moonroof may be restrictive for some. Back seat legroom at 38.1 inches is regal, for a compact sedan. But the Hybrid’s reduced trunk space of 11.3 cubic feet may limit luggage space for family travel.

The Jetta Hybrid isn’t trying to be sporty, it just is. That’s an unusual trait for a mainstream hybrid that will be modern and enjoyable for at least the life of its hybrid warranty — eight years or 100,000 miles.