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Driven: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid remains the driver's choice in green cars

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Today we took the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta up the windy road to the summit of Mt. Lemmon which rises 9,157 tall over Tucson, Arizona to see if it remains a Volkswagen or if it gave up its driving excitement in the transformation to become “green car”.

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When Volkswagen entered the hybrid market it surprised many who had previously seen the brand as the clean diesel car company. Now with other hybrids and an electric vehicle on the way, Volkswagen is fast reaching into all levels of the green car market.

It may presents a choice for some buyers who might be on the fence between either a hybrid or a TDI, who have to decide which is best for them. There’s another notion afoot however that suggests there are two separate faction in the market, neither who will ever cross shop these two cars.

As to the Jetta Hybrid, in typical understated form for VW it has only subtle notations on the car to tell the world you’re saving it. Hybrid emblems can be found on the grille, fenders and rear deck, highlighted with a blue shadow.

It also features unique grille and fascia treatments along with its own 15” alloy wheels, all of which offer up better aerodynamics. If anything the Jetta Hybrid is a wallflower of sorts, not screaming to the world what it is like some.

We tested the base model Jetta Hybrid which is so rare, it doesn’t even show up on the VW consumer website. The car is essentially special order only, with the more upgraded SE trim grade shown as the base model in all consumer marketing materials, which starts at about $2000 more than our base trim here.

In the cabin you’ll notice a lot of missing features compared to the SE trim grade, shown as the starting point online. Notable is the lack of a touch screen audio system with satellite radio, power seats, and a number of other creature comforts.

Still present for a base model is climate control, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, as well as some exceptionally comfortable but manually adjusted seats. The leatherette seating surfaces are perforated for a more premium look and didn’t seem to be sticky in our summer heat.

As expected in a Volkswagen, the switchgear and controls are well places and high quality to the touch. The center console has the adjustable armrest which lets you set it right where you want it for height. Rear seat space is more than generous with plenty of room for tall passengers.

If there is any complaint about the cabin its the austerity of design, a little more plain and simple than I’d like. Material quality is good overall but there are some hard plastics here and there just off the main touch points.

The Jetta’s sublime chassis with fully independent suspension carries over from other 2014 premium models which includes the multi-link independent rear setup. Crisp steering with lots of communication is welcome up here in the hills.

Handling is very similar to the standard Jetta with one exception. The Hybrid is outfitted with high mpg low rolling resistance tires. This means in more spirited driving you will notice a distinctly lower level of grip in corners than the standard Jetta offers.

In our mountain test loop above Tucson, the Jetta’s 1.4 liter turbocharged direct-injected engine and 7-speed direct-shift automatic gearbox immediately showed its strengths. With a 27 horsepower electric motor sandwiched in-between the two, the system is good for a total of 170 horsepower.

The power-train is simply a brilliant piece of engineering, offering up a driving character virtually identical to that of a traditional car. If not for the gasoline engine occasionally starting and stopping you would not know this is a hybrid at all.

This gives the Jetta Hybrid a rating of 42 mpg city and 48 mpg highway with a combined rating of 45 mpg. We obviously didn’t do well on our flog in the mountains, but we did spend some time in the flat land testing mpg.

What makes the Jetta unique in hybrid-land is that it has a very robust electric-mode. This is why its highway mpg is higher than city, a somewhat unique trait for hybrids. The reason why is that it can drive under electric power at greater speeds than most, allowing the gas engine to be off.

In the center of the instrument cluster, a power meter lights up as a blue bar when the car is in EV mode. The engine shuts off and is barely perceptible when starting up again, one of the most refined we have come across.

In fact it can sail at freeway speeds remarkably well. When you coast or come to a downhill slope even at 65 mph or better it can sustain speed for some time under electric power alone. This one characteristic pays off huge for mpg if you can learn to manipulate it using the power meter.

What did this earn us in the mpg game? In our flat land testing our tank best was 43.7 mpg measured at the gas pump. It’s not the advertised 45 mpg combined, but keep in mind our air-conditioner was on 100% of the time as it was 100 degrees plus at all times, thus I see it as a break even.

The question does come to mind of which would be the smarter choice of either the Jetta Hybrid or the TDI Clean Diesel. Given they are both different ends of the spectrum as to driving style most buyers will have a preference out of the gate.

For those on the fence, consider the TDI costs less to get into but has a higher fuel cost. The Hybrid costs more, less fuel cost and has somewhat less handling poise due to its low rolling resistance tires. If the two aforementioned points don’t confront you, one must simply do the math on which is best.

The good news is that if you are looking for every day drivability, the Jetta Hybrid gives up nothing in the way of power-train refinement. If you are looking for more handling character than the TDI clean diesel might be the better choice.

The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid is indeed a top choice if you are looking at hybrids specifically, it drives little different than most traditional gas powered sedans if not more like a premium sport sedan with its turbo engine and dual-clutch transmission.

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