The skinny: Audi touts its new plug-in hybrid A3 e-tron as a vehicle that will change the world, not change the way you drive. After a quick stint behind the wheel, there’s no reason to disagree.
Exactly the same as any other A3 to drive, the only thing an A3 e-tron needs is a wall to plug into - and even then, that’s optional. With this car, which is a very impressive drive, Audi has taken a step in the right direction towards greener mobility.
Vehicle Style: Premium small hybrid hatch
Price: $62,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 110kW/250Nm 1.4 TFSI + 75kW/330Nm electric motor (150kw/350Nm combined output) | 6spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 1.6 l/100km | tested: 2.8 l/100km
Let’s make a wager: for the sum of your choosing I’ll bet that if I threw you the keys to Audi’s new A3 e-tron, you wouldn’t pick it from your normal garden-variety A3 sportback.
Okay, there’s a few subtle hints - the fine-chrome horizontal slatted grille, the unique rear bumper garnish, 15-spoke alloy wheels, and a sprinkling of ‘e-tron’ badgework - but that’s it.
Open the door to this A3, and the seats, steering wheel, gear shifter and centre display are all the same.
It’s not until you scrutinise the instrument cluster that you’ll see a power meter and two fuel gauges (one battery, one petrol) to tip you off.
Unlike, say, a Prius with its ‘space age’ dash and oddball gearshift, the A3 e-tron is as 'normal' as anything else in the Audi range, and as simple to operate. All you do is get in and drive, for up to 50 kilometres, without using a drop of fuel.
But at a cost. You’ll have to first spend more in the showroom than you would for even the fire-breathing Audi S3 Sportback.
So it's not cheap. The good news is, you won’t feel short changed - not even close - and there’s always the smug sense and satisfaction of doing the planet a favour.
- Leather seat trim, sports front seats, multifunction sports steering wheel in leather with gearshift paddles, proximity key with push-button start, dual-zone climate control with pre-conditioning, auto headlamps and wiper, aluminium ‘e-tron’ branded scuff plates
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch centre display including navigation, 20GB hard drive, MMI touch scroll wheel, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, and eight speakers.
- Luggage capacity: 280 litres (seats up) 1120 litres (seats folded)
Inside you’ll find everything is typically Audi, that means top-grade plastics, plenty of soft feel surfaces, and precise, stylish controls.
More importantly though, despite containing a battery pack under the floor, and a fuel tank above the rear axle, there’s no space sacrificed in either the rear seat or the boot.
Unfortunately there’s no spare wheel either - just a puncture repair kit (the A3 e-tron is not the only car to offer that solution). Everything else is exactly as functional as it is in a regular A3
There’s an ‘EV’ button in the centre-stack that lets you pick the mode of operation (see On The Road for more info) and the tacho has been replaced by a power consumption gauge that lets you know how demanding you’re being of the electric system.
And that’s it. Nothing else inside the cabin has changed. The seating is the same, while the boot shrinks by 100 litres.
Leather trim and front sports seats come standard, and the e-tron picks up the ability for the interior to be pre-conditioned (heated or cooled remotely) if it’s plugged in, or has enough battery charge to allow it.
There’s also the usual Audi array of options: Privacy glass ($700), panoramic roof ($1950), Bang & Olufsen Audio ($1750) or a comfort package that adds powered and heated front seats, auto dimming interior and driver’s mirror, LED interior lighting, kerb-view passenger mirror and more ($1990) so you need not go without.
ON THE ROAD
- 1.4 TFSI engine with 110kW and 250Nm of torque
- Disc-shaped electric motor with 75kW and 330Nm
- System output 150kW, system torque 350Nm
- Six-speed S tronic with integrated drivetrain decoupler, front wheel drive
- Fuel consumption 1.6 l/100km, CO2 emissions 37 g/km
- 0-100 km/h in 7.6 seconds, top speed 222 km/h
- Electric range up to 50 km, combined range up to 940 km
- Liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery with 8.8 kWh capacity
- 17-inch alloy wheels, brakes with electric brake servo
- Electric power steering
Audi set us a fuel economy challenge. A 140 kilometre road loop, with hills, corners, towns, traffic lights and more. Keep reading and you’ll find out where I went wrong.
Before we get to that though, lets look at the technology powering the A3 e-tron.
Beneath the bonnet is a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine that produces 110kW between 5000 and 6000rpm and 250Nm between 1600 and 3500rpm.
Next to that is a six-speed DSG automatic transmission with an integrated electric motor that contributes 75kW and 330Nm, with a combined system output of 150kW and 350Nm - keeping in mind that hybrid outputs aren’t as simple as adding one to the other.
Push the start button and the dash lights up with a green ‘ready’ light and system sets itself to EV mode each time. That gives you the ability to pull away silently without drawing on a drop of petrol.
There’s also a Hybrid Auto mode, that sticks to electric propulsion where it can, but will chip in with petrol-powered assistance here and there. Hybrid Hold will run the petrol engine, saving your electric charge for when you’d like to use it, around town for example.
The fourth and final mode is Hybrid Charge, where the petrol engine will work to top up a depleted battery. In the right conditions it can even do so faster than a wall charger.
Regardless of the mode, there’s also regenerative braking to top up the battery cells, and a coast mode that lets the car freewheel (seemingly for an eternity) when you lift off the throttle.
On the road you’d barely pick it as anything less than mainstream, except for the complete absence of noise and vibration. EV mode feels just as strong as a conventional car, and thanks to the DSG auto in place of a CVT transmission there’s no stretchy feeling if you plant your foot.
As for the 2.8 l/100km fuel consumption - I thought I’d be clever and save the EV range for the latter part of a journey that would have us taking the A3 e-tron through suburban Sydney. Not a bad plan, but I left it about 20 kilometres too late to make the change.
Other drivers managed as low as 2.0l/100km - without resorting to crazy hypermiling. There’s no reason why Audi’s claimed consumption shouldn’t be attainable given the right conditions.
Another on-road highlight of the e-tron is its secure and planted road holding.
With the 125kg battery pack mounted low in the chassis and an improved 55:45 front to rear weight balance, the A3 e-tron really feels like it was built to carve corners.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.41 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Seven airbags, stability and traction control, electronic differential lock, ABS and electronic brake-force distribution.
In an accident where the airbags or seatbelt pretensioners are deployed, the electric drive system is automatically disconnected.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
When it comes to plug-in hybrids, there are not many to pick from. A Holden dealer might be able to find you a Volt, but that model is on its way out. Mitsubishi offers a plug-in version of the Outlander, but that’s a fairly different vehicle to the compact A3.
BMW’s futuristic i3 is a close match, while the Lexus CT200h hatch offers a hybrid luxury hatch, but it feels outdated in this company and has no plug-in option
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Audi’s new A3 e-tron is an innovator: production proof that Audi is capable of high-tech alternate fuel solutions, designed to complement, not compete with its already frugal diesel and petrol line-up.
If you decide an e-tron is for you, Audi will even assist with the installation of a wall charger for your house, right down to a letter you can send to your landlord or body corporate if you need to. A full charge can be achieved in 2.5 hours at 16 amps, or 5.0 hours at 10 amps.
And running costs, although they vary from state to state, could be as low as $1.01 for a charge using off-peak electricity. A process made simpler by simply setting the charger to activate once your off-peak tariff begins.
To top it off, Audi will provide you with 10,000km worth of renewable energy offsets, provided by Origin Energy, to ensure your running is as green as can be.
So you may not end up with a hot hatch, but you do end up with a green one that is no slouch, doesn’t look like an egg, and has freed itself from nearly all of the compromises of eco-motoring.
That in itself is really worth something.