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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

2013 Volkswagen Jetta

The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta lineup expands with the addition of a new hybrid model, and includes trim upgrades for selected models as well. Now in its third year, the compact sedan that's been VW's highest volume model has paid off on its maker's bet that adding back-seat space, selectively reducing amenities, and cutting the base price would boost sales.

The Jetta sedan is now a bigger and less expensive vehicle that still delivers what VW buyers are looking for--the premium German badge. There's also still a SportWagen model that's based on the old Jetta--the smaller, arguably more sophisticated one with better handling and a higher pricetag.

Volkswagen now offers no fewer than five engines across six Jetta models that fall into two basic groups. The volume cars are the base S, the mid-range SE, and the top-of-the-line SEL. Then there are the niche Jetta models: the GLI with its turbo four for performance, the TDI diesel version for torquey, efficient highway cruising, and the 2013 Jetta Hybrid as the car's new fuel efficiency champ, with a predicted EPA combined rating of about 45 mpg. That makes it the sole volume car this year to offer three different types of drivetrains: diesel, gasoline, or gas-electric.

The Jetta sedan's less of a standout in styling than most of the other compacts introduced in the last few years, and to some, that's an advantage. It's a clean look that speaks more to enduring qualities than to right-now impulses--whether that's dull or perfect is up to you. Even enthusiast-oriented GLIs don't veer too far to any extreme, with some mild badging and accents. The cabin's been the touchpoint for controversy: it's cleanly designed and organized, but trimmed out in hard plastic on most versions, in a way that even less expensive vehicles have overcome.

The Jetta's base four-cylinder is an old design with 115 horsepower, and it's not on the radar for performance and falls flat in fuel economy, too. The 170-hp five-cylinder on the mainstream models is a better offering: acceleration is competitive, though gas mileage is still well below par for the class. The turbodiesel's our favorite, though it's a bit slower than the five-cylinder, because of its available dual-clutch transmission and its 42-mpg EPA-rated fuel economy.

All these Jettas share a simplified rear suspension and hydraulic steering that gives them a more traditional ride and handling setup, one with more convincing feel than most of the competition. It's not truly sporty until you dial into the 200-hp GLI turbo--which also gets an independent rear suspension, better brakes and better tires to hone its credentials.

Only the five-cylinder and diesel are offered on the SportWagen, which still has its independent suspension, and its fluid road manners. The Hybrid? We'll be driving it soon, so stay tuned for more.

In packaging, the Jetta squarely beats almost every other compact, save for the new Dart, and even in that comparison its higher roofline nets better rear-seat room. The trunk's vast, and interior storage is fine, though we'd prefer the USB port be located in the center console. Safety scores have been very good, but a rearview camera comes only on expensive models equipped with navigation.

It's not progress on all fronts, but with its new take on value, the Jetta sedan pitches itself squarely into a class of cars where its soft-pedaled style and its emphasis on core engineering actually make it stand out more. And, it appears, buyers have noticed. The Jetta now sells better than it has in many years, and buyers don't seem to have noticed the loss of independent rear suspension or the downgraded interior materials. And if you're looking for a traditional station wagon, it's one of the few brands still offering one in this class.GLI has turbo, tight handlingDiesel or hybrid, your callRoomy rear seatBetter road manners, stillVast trunk room

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