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Gas Jetta hybrid trumps diesel model

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 9:08 p.m.

Volkswagen's newest Jetta has the highest mileage rating ever — a combined 45 miles per gallon in city and highway travel.

But, it doesn't use diesel fuel, as previous high-mileage Jettas have.

The 2013 Jetta Hybrid's four-cylinder engine sips gasoline and is mated to an electric motor.

The compact Jetta Hybrid sedan is Volkswagen's second gas-electric hybrid in the United States. The first was the Touareg Hybrid sport utility vehicle, which debuted in the 2011 model year.

High mileage isn't the Jetta Hybrid's only surprise: This is a spunky hybrid whose acceleration and low-end “oomph” are strong enough to push passengers' backs into the seats.

The reason: The engine is both direct-injected and turbocharged to deliver 150 horsepower and up to 184 foot-pounds of torque. This torque, by the way, comes on at a low engine speed of 1,000 rpm. Meantime, the onboard electric motor delivers more power to push the total horsepower to 170.

Pricing for the 2013 gasoline-electric Jetta Hybrid is about $8,000 more than a base Jetta. But it's just $1,900 more than the starting price of a Jetta with diesel engine, and it's only $755 more than the base retail price of a Toyota Prius.

But the Jetta Hybrid, which is rated at 42 mpg in city driving and 48 mpg on the highway, tops the Jetta TDI's government fuel mileage ratings of 3 0/42 mpg with either a manual or automatic transmission.

Gasoline-electric hybrid competitors include the top-selling hybrid, the Toyota Prius, which starts at $24,995 for a base, 2013 Prius Two with 98-horsepower four-cylinder engine and nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The Prius is a mid-size hatchback and has mileage ratings of 5 148 mpg in city/highway travel. The Prius is tuned to deliver higher mileage in slower-speed driving.

The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid starts at $27,995 with 188-horsepower four cylinder and lithium-ion battery pack. The Fusion Hybrid is a mid-size sedan with mileage ratings of 47 mpg for both city and highway travel.

The Jetta Hybrid test car was so peppy when starting up from stoplights and in sudden accelerations in city traffic, the driver had to double-check that it was a hybrid. Other gas-electric hybrids don't accelerate this forcefully and they tend to provide a more sedate driving experience.

When pressed, the powertrains of other hybrids can seem to be straining and buzzing loudly to deliver more acceleration. This is particularly true of some hybrids that have continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) that don't have pre-set shift points.

But this new Jetta's 1.4-liter four cylinder has generous and flexible power at the ready.

Even better, in the test Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium, the blending of power from this engine and the 20-kilowatt, onboard electric motor was seamless.

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