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2013 Jetta Hybrid bests Jetta TDI Diesel in cost of ownership comparison

The Volkswagen Jetta now comes with 5 different engines covering all of the liquid fuel options in America. Only one is the most economical.


The Volkswagen Jetta now comes with 5 different engines and Torque News evaluated each of the options to determine which offers the best fuel economy value. In our analysis we used the Volkswagen configurator to create cars as close in trim as possible, and we selected the DSG automatic transmissions for each of our candidates because that is the only way the Hybrid Jetta comes. Our goal is to determine which Jetta would cost the least to drive over 100,000 miles in a ten year period. We will take into account tax incentives, fuel prices, and trade in value to determine which Jetta provides a driver with the lowest cost to cover that span. Given that the Jetta’s we compared are very similar from trim to trim, we feel that this is a fair analogy for all comparisons of vehicles with gasoline, diesel, and gas hybrid engines.

The Jetta Line
Jetta comes 5 ways. There is the legendary diesel engine, which makes just 140 hp, but has good torque and is a favorite among enthusiasts who think green. There is also a new 2.5 liter 170 hp gasoline engine that is generally considered an acceptable engine for the Jetta. Also new this year is a Jetta Hybrid. This Jetta uses premium gasoline and is able to achieve 45 mpg combined. Unlike most hybrids, this one has acceptable acceleration due to its 170 hp coming from the turbocharged engine. Yes it is a turbo-hybrid. There is also a 2.0 liter engine that has only 115 horsepower and cannot be equipped equal to the three we will compare, so it gets thrown out of this comparison. Finally, there is a sporty 2.0 Turbo gas engine that a quick look proves will not be competitive in the fuel economy value compared to the gas engine, so it too is out. That leaves three Jetta vehicles with similar performance and similar features. In order to make this a fair fight we carefully reviewed the VW Jetta line up and came up with the three we could configure most closely. Here is a breakdown of the cars:

Jetta Hybrid SE:
45 mpg combined, 2.22 gallons per 100 miles, $26,990 MSRP
Jetta TDI Diesel:
34 mpg combined, 2.94 gallons per 100 miles, $24,155 MSRP
Jetta 2.5L SE w/ convenience package:
26 mpg combined, 3.85 gallons per 100 miles, $ 21,430 MSRP

Crunching the Jetta Numbers
In order to find out which car has the best value before tax incentives, we will add up the cost of the car and the cost of 100,000 miles of fuel. Then we will subtract the trade in. Since there is no exact trade in value for these cars ten years from now, we will use the trade in value of a 2003 GLS 4-cylinder car for the 2.5L ($ 2,950) and we will use the value of the 2003 Jetta TDI for both the diesel and hybrid Jettas in our comparison ($ 5,083). Higher content and more desirable drivetrains have higher future values. Here is the analysis after we ran the algorithm for each. Note that the Vehicle cost is the MSRP per VW less the trade in:

Jetta Hybrid SE: Vehicle $ 21,907 Fuel $ 8,613 Total 10 Yr cost = $ 30,520
Jetta TDI: Vehicle $19,072 Fuel $ 11,936 Total 10 Yr cost = $ 31,008
Jetta 2.5L SE Conv.: Vehicle $ 18,480 Fuel $ 13,321 Total 10 Yr cost = $ 31,801

The Wrap Up
As we can see, the Jetta Hybrid is the winner when drivetrain and fuel costs are considered. Thankfully, we don’t need to do a detailed analysis of the tax incentives because the hybrid would only win by more of a margin. If you can get a tax break paid for by your neighbor’s taxes in your state for buying this car, you will only do better. The Jetta TDI diesel is a close second, and it too might have some tax breaks, but they won’t exceed the Hybrid’s. Finally, the gasoline Jetta comes in last despite the lowest initial cost and despite paying much less for fuel per gallon.

Gas Tax Impact
Before you start with the comments like “The story would be different if the US wouldn’t penalize diesel with higher taxes,” look closely at the comparison. This comparison was done in Massachusetts. The fuel prices were from a local station that sells a lot of diesel and has wide lanes for work trucks and a separate island for 18 wheelers. This price was great for diesel in Mass. today. The gas tax in our state is about average for the US at 41.9 cents per gallon (cgp) combined federal and state. The combined tax on diesel here is 47.9 cpg. Just for grins and giggles, we compared the hybrid and the diesel using $ 3.99 per gallon for the diesel. The Jetta diesel still loses to the hybrid, but the difference between them is now only $280. Again this is imaginary because the tax on diesel is never going down.

Our man, Aaron Turpen recently compared the 2012 Chevy Volt extended range electric vehicle to the 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI diesel and the Passat came out the cost of ownership winner. Readers went crazy challenging the results. We hope this story stirs the same passions. Our conclusion is that if one is looking to buy the most fuel economical drivetrain in a given model, it will likely be the hybrid model. If diesel is offered, like in the Jetta, the Mazda 6 sedan, and a growing number of other vehicles, it is worth doing the math to see how your choice of vehicle will rank given your state’s particular tax incentives. You may also prefer one engine’s character more than another so a long test drive is a good idea before falling in love with the on-line brochure.


Spicy KS (not verified)    January 28, 2013 - 5:18PM

I don't know where he gets his MPG numbers for VW TDI, I have never gotten less than 38 MPG in the city and 42 MPG in highway (these are the numbers with winter diesel), in summer it is little higher. Go to Fuelly, and see all the real numbers posted on VW TDI's. I do not hypermile, just regular driving, usually little higher than the speed limit.

John Goreham    January 28, 2013 - 6:55PM

In reply to by Spicy KS (not verified)

You make a good point. I did have to use the EPA combined number in order to be fair. Keep in mind that although the EPA blesses those numbers, the number is actually supplied by the manufacturer. So here, I am trusting VW that if it is fudging the numbers down (why would they?) that they do it equally across their product line. Thanks for reading and commenting. Just curious KS, is yours a stick or a Dual Clutch Auto? Maybe the stick shift has higher mileage.

Aaron Turpen    January 29, 2013 - 2:01AM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Umm... both cars will have that. It's a TRANSMISSION maintenance, not a "diesel" maintenance requirement. Your'e thinking of the after-treatment fluid, which is more like $40. The "D" in DSG stands for DIRECT shift gearbox, not "diesel." So far, those trannies have only been used in VW Group diesel vehicles, but that is changing as seen here.

And if you're paying $850, you're getting ripped off. It's a job any good mechanic can do in about 2 hours for $150 worth of parts. If your garage charges $850 for that, you should find a new mechanic.

danwat1234 (not verified)    January 29, 2013 - 6:26PM

In reply to by Aaron Turpen

Haha, it takes $25 in parts to do the 30K auto transmission service on my 6th gen Civic. 3 quarts of DW1 fluid and a washer. Drain plug just uses a 3/8" ratchet end.
The more complex a machine gets,...

I'm not sure how you would do it but it would be interesting to see the calculations again, this time with maintenance cost comparisons taken in to account. Sound like a lot of work though.

Aaron Turpen    March 11, 2013 - 4:38PM

In reply to by danwat1234 (not verified)

Your 6th-gen Civic is going to have problems down the road. You aren't doing any filter changes and screen cleanings when you do this flush? Tsk tsk.. That's where most of the parts come in, since you have to drop the pan and replace gaskets when you do a PROPER flush.

danwat1234 (not verified)    March 11, 2013 - 5:43PM

In reply to by Aaron Turpen

A 6th gen Civic's automatic transmission does not have a serviceable filter unless you are rebuilding the transmission. It has a little screen on top where the solenoids are but they shouldn't get gummed up unless fluid has been getting dirty but I might check those next time.

The transmission does not have a 'pan' just a drain bolt, thank God.

Aaron Turpen    March 12, 2013 - 12:01AM

In reply to by danwat1234 (not verified)

I actually have a 2000 Civic in my driveway we bought back in 2001, but it's a manual rather than the hydraulic auto shift which I believe was new in that generation. You sure yours isn't the HX though, with a CVT? I'm looking at the shop manuals for these years and its showing full trans flushes with filter screens for the automatics. They have a very small pan (only six nuts holding it on) on those little 4-speeds.

danwat1234 (not verified)    March 12, 2013 - 12:17PM

In reply to by Aaron Turpen

Here is the 6th gen civic (1996-2000) bible.
sendspace._com "slash" file "slash" g4q5f2

I have the 4-speed automatic slushbox with lockup. The CVTs back then weren't that reliable so I'm glad I don't have it, and not sporty at all.

If you look on or abouts page 14-118 onwards. I perused the chapter and didn't find any mention of an oil pan but I didn't look that closely. Page 14-118 is the fluid change procedure.
On page 14-187 it shows how to flush the transmission. It just involves unplugging the cooler lines from the radiator.

Maybe the transmission has a cover with a gasket on the end facing away from the engine, I'm not sure.

Aaron Turpen    March 14, 2013 - 12:39AM

In reply to by danwat1234 (not verified)

Ya, CVTs have come a long way in just a few years. It won't be long before all auto-shift small cars will have them.

The shop manual I have (can't link, it's a CD) shows a small pan on the rear of the transmission just behind the drain plug for the trans. Going from the illustration, I'd say it's about 5" square at most. Inside are two screens, but no filter I guess. There are generally two types of flushes that are done on a transmission. A "drain and refill" and a "cleanse." A drain and refill is common at the second, fourth, etc. flushes while a cleanse (with screen cleaning) is common at first, third, etc. Manufacturers will have different recommendations for specific vehicles, but in the main, the intervals will be like that. The first flush is to check on the gearing wear from break-in as well, which means cleaning off whatever's stuck to the bottom of the pan if it has a magnet or cleaning off the magnetized screens (depending on vehicle).

This generation Civic's intervals are pretty long, though, and are specifying a cleanse each time. The difference here may be between an earlier version of recommendations and a later revision. My manuals were printed in 2001 and are the official Honda manuals used in dealerships.

Aaron Turpen    January 28, 2013 - 6:02PM

When you brought up this story and we talked about it, I was actually rooting for the diesel, but I knew it would be close. With the Passat TDI vs Volt, the real killer was the purchase price. The Volt beats the TDI in markets where state incentives might add half again the federal incentive ($7,500). With the Jetta, the price difference is only a couple of thousand, so for the hybrid to make up for that, it wouldn't take a lot of efficiency gains to offset that difference.

Of course, many readers who left comments on my comparison did just like the guy above and attempted to use non-scientific, "real world" numbers to bolster their preconceived notions.

Don Bain    January 29, 2013 - 3:11AM

The only thing I see being overlooked here is no one can accurately predict the price of gas or diesel for 10 years anywhere. It's all based on things remaining the same, which would require us all dying tomorrow. Life is change. So it's viable as a mental exercise, but predicting the future will mess with you each and every time.

Still, it's better than having nothing whatsoever to go on...

rcrogers (not verified)    February 4, 2013 - 2:51PM

I am the proud owner of a 2009 Jetta TDI. Yes, we all have different MPGs based upon driving style, season, etc. Using the EPA #'s makes it a fare comparison.

But what about warranty? Checking VW's website - both cars appear identical as to the 36 months/36,000 basic warranty, 144 months corrosion perforation warranty, 60 months/60,000 power-train warranty. I'm still looking for VW's battery system warranty.

Looking at the Toyota's official MSRP for a Prius battery replacement - it's $3,649 (less $1,350 "core credit") for a net $2,299 (before any taxes).

Even some of the earlier '04 VW Diesels have approached 200k in mileage before having any significant engine costs.

Time will tell.

danwat1234 (not verified)    February 4, 2013 - 8:04PM

In reply to by rcrogers (not verified)

With the Prius you can replace the traction battery yourself to save money and there are guides on Youtube. Sometimes people can get remanufactured Prius batteries for $1000 or less. Who knows how easy it would be to replace the battery in the Jetta Hybrid. The battery should last 10+years with a gradual drop in capacity, which might be transparent as VW might use software to not fully charge and discharge the battery as it is, to extend battery life and if they are smart they would let the battery drain and charge to wider percentages as the battery gets old to wring what's left of the life out of it. Probably would not last as long as 20 years.

Dresser77502 (not verified)    February 6, 2013 - 7:32AM

In my opinion you should add in the scheduled maintenance costs for that 10 yr. period to come up with a true cost of ownership.

Aaron Turpen    February 7, 2013 - 2:57AM

In reply to by Dresser77502 (not verified)

Maintenance points on both vehicles are almost identical. Each has the usual 7-point "make sure it is breaking in" checkup at 10,000 and then a 2-3 point check every 5,000 after that. The costs are not yet listed, since the hybrid is brand new, but most of the checks are the same as the gasoline, so the cost difference between the gas and TDI will be negligible.

Anonymous (not verified)    March 11, 2013 - 12:41AM

I must agree that the true comparison between the VW TDI and something like a Prius must fall and both scheduled maintenance and cost of ownership. As a 6 year owner of a early 2005 TDI I must say it has been the cheapest vehicle to own I have ever had. Aside from scheduled maintenance which includes 50 dollars for an oil change every 10,000 miles which so far and then life of my cur has amounted to appx $900 plus 2 properly done timing belt changes at 650 each amounting to 1300 Plus 250 for a fuel pump my total cost of ownership outside fuel has been less than 2500 dollars.

Compare this to other cars which may require oil changes twice as often, refueling more often, and more frequent engine issues as a result of the general lessened robustness of gasoline engines verses diesels I must say that my Jetta with currently almost 180,000 miles will likely to continue 2 outpace a similar gasoline powered vehicle in costfor some time to come