By Zack Klapman.
“Diesel or electric” is going to be an increasingly common buyer question in our near future. Hybrids come from Chevy, Porsche, and everyone in between and soon more diesels will arrive wearing domestic badges (Jeep and Chevy). There are pros and cons for both, so hopefully this comparison of the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL and 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE will aid your quest for saving money the environment.
The Passat: The two common reactions to offering a diesel are 1. Noise, and 2. Fuel cost.
Well, first, it’s quiet, inside and out. Diesels don’t clack like a broken water heater anymore. Join the 21st century. Find video proof on your smart phone. Second: On a national average, diesel costs $.06 cents less than premium, something many cars (our Jetta included) require. Obviously, this fluctuates, but the blanket statement is wrong.
Sometimes, diesel models cost significantly more than their gas counterparts, but the “hybrid” badge evens that score. My Volkswagen Passat tester, fitted with comfy leatherette, Bluetooth and a sunroof, was $27,985; our fully loaded Jetta Hybrid was $32,000. Bit steep for me. You’re better off with the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SE (sans the obsolete NAV and sunroof). It’s only a bit over $26 grand.
The interior of these cars is basically the same. The Jetta is 9” shorter overall, but only loses an inch in head and leg room (F or R). Materials, fit, and finish? Interchangeable in looks and quality. They aren’t as sound feeling as past generations, but the lighter weight means better MPG and lower cost. Both have lots of room, the Passat just a bit more. The win goes to the Volkswagen Passat, only due to seats as comfortable as any I’ve sat in, ever.
The exteriors are equally VW and equally safe in design. Clear relatives, think of them as the Baldwins: good-looking without being striking. VW was going for mass appeal but I’d call it “mass not un-appeal”. If a Hyundai is too flashy, here you go.
The advertised MPG for the Passat is 30 city/40 highway. The Volkswagen Jetta looks better at 42 city, 48 highway, but the italics have purpose. While Ford and Hyundai have both been sued over their (gas) cars failing to achieve advertised mileage, diesels are commonly known for the opposite. On a 347-mile trip, including 30 minutes of gridlock and two mountain climbs, the Passat averaged 43MPG. At times it got over 50. I was going about 70MPH on open highway, A/C on. The torquey 2.0L turbo and 6-speed dual-clutch auto is a great match. It rides comfortably, has decent steering feel, and is nimble enough footing to avoid a fallen tree at 65MPH (yes, that happened).
The Passat Jr. -I mean- Jetta: On the other hand, you will have to be very nice to the Jetta Hybrid to hit its MPG marks. The 170HP/184TQ turbo/electric pulls strong from 0 and doesn’t let up until over 100MPH. The 7-speed DSG (like the Passat’s) is great. But a turbo needs fuel, and MPG dipped to the 30s on the highway. In town, however, the E-Mode saves you by propelling the car in electric mode up to 44MPH, something I did as often as possible.
Ride quality is similar to the Passat, but it follows road cracks too much and the regenerative brakes are grabby. Still, as far as hybrids go, this is my favorite so far. But…like knees, batteries age, wear out, and need replacing, and that can be expensive. A diesel doesn’t do that. In fact, search for used VW oil-burners; they hold their value very well, known for turning several hundred thousand miles without sweating too much.
The deciding factors for you should be: what’s your daily route, and how long will you own it? 90% city and less than 5 years? The hybrid is smaller (easier parking), gets better city MPG, and you can move on before the battery goes. But a lot of my life is spent on the highway, and if I’m buying a car in this market, I’m committing. Longevity, value retention, and established tech push me to the Passat.
(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by Volkswagen.)