by Larry Lark, Herald Special Sections Writer
When you think of Volkswagen, most people think of the Bug – Beetle, to be exact.
That thinking does not do justice to the Jetta, Volkswagen’s best-selling model in the United States for quite some time. My tester was the 2016 Hybrid SEL Premium model, but there are three other trim levels — S, SE and SEL — with a total of 10 equipment levels to choose from.
After a recent stint in several full-size pickup trucks, the Jetta felt a little claustrophobic at first. But after a couple of days I acclimated and enjoyed the amazing gas mileage the Hybrid SEL produced – almost 44 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving.
My wife, who is obviously biased (being a Passat owner for 15 years) loved everything about the Jetta and thought it would make the perfect new car for our daughter (who currently drives a 1999 VW Beetle). Are you detecting a theme, here?
My Jetta was powered by a 1.4-liter TSI four-cylinder gas/electric engine mated to a seven-speed automatic DSG transmission. The engine features a 10.5:1 compression ratio, direct injection, and turbocharging to produce 150 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and maximum torque of 184 lb.-ft. at just 1,600 rpm.
A hybrid also needs electric power. For that, Volkswagen engineers employed an innovative hybrid module — a single, integrated unit which incorporates both the electric motor and the clutch that connects it to the engine. This water-cooled motor can add 27 horsepower (20kW) to the mix, as well as a constant 114 lb.-ft. of torque. Combined, the system generates 170 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 184 lb.-ft. of torque at an impressively low 1,000 rpm, giving the car incredibly smooth acceleration.
The bottom line is you benefit from cost-saving fuel economy and don’t feel deprived when it comes to the power department. I was able to make my jackrabbit starts, power onto the freeway and pass cars on the freeway just like normal.
And here’s a cool trick to make your friends and neighbors green with envy: Select the “E-Mode” button to the right of the shift lever and electric mode is maintained up to 44 mph and allows for more aggressive gas-pedal inputs without triggering the gas engine. This mode requires adequate battery charge and temperature. If the battery is depleted, the system will reactivate once it has regenerated enough power.
The well-equipped Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium features automatic bi-Xenon headlights with LED and adaptive front lighting system, rain-sensing wipers with heated windshield-washer nozzles, rear spoiler, power-heated side mirrors with integrated turn signal, Bluetooth, keyless entry and push-button start.
But that’s just the beginning. Other goodies include a sunroof, heated front seats, navigation system, automatic dual-zone climate control, satellite radio, compact disc player, USB port, fog lights, six-speaker sound system, cooled glove compartment and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
Safety features include a blind-spot monitoring system with rear-traffic alert, cruise control, park-distance control with rear-view camera, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes and an intelligent crash-response system.
The Jetta Hybrid competes with the Ford C-Max Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius, among others.
2016 VW JETTA HYBRID SEL PREMIUM
BASE PRICE: $21,120
AS TESTED: $31,940
Base price includes destination charge. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturer. Prices may vary at local dealerships.