What’s hot: Rapid acceleration, beautiful chassis balance, the future… right here.
What’s not: No room for a spare tyre, 150kg heavier than standard A3.
X-FACTOR: This is no ‘green slug’: the e-tron has the performance of a warm hatch, but the fuel economy of a herbivore.
Vehicle style: Small petrol/electric hybrid hatch
Price: Not available, but Audi is quoting “around $60,000”
Engine/trans: 110kW/250Nm 1.4 TFSI + 75kW/330Nm electric motor | 6spd auto
System output: 150kW and 350Nm
Performance: 0-100km/h in 7.6 seconds, top speed 222 km/h
Electric range: up to 50 km, combined range up to 940km
Fuel consumption claimed: 1.6 l/100 km | CO2 emissions: 37g per km
If you’re about to launch a new electric hybrid onto the Australian market, Hamilton Island is a good place to make a point about ‘electric transport’.
After all, this privately-owned island resort is all-electric.
Its few roads, though mostly steep, hum to the sounds of electric ‘golf buggies - and they’re everywhere. There’s a bare handful of conventional cars, and the occasional small bus, for those things that a buggy can’t do.
That point about electric cars is why we were there.
Coinciding with Audi Race Week on Hamilton, and a flotilla of Australia’s finest racing yachts on the water (including the incredible supermaxi Wild Oats belonging to Hamilton Island owner Bob Oatley), Audi had its new A3 e-tron on display.
We drove it - briefly, but we thrashed it you’ll be pleased to hear - on the apron to Hamilton Island’s airport.
Two things are apparent: the first, the A3 e-tron is a very impressive car, the second, if this is the future of EV-motoring, then the future is good.
And Audi, Europe’s number one premium brand, is right in amongst it.
In 2012, its R18 e-tron Quattro took the chequered flag, the first-ever hybrid to win the hallowed 24-hour, and has won for the past three years on the trot.
Mid-year, Audi showed its RS5 TDI Electric to the world, and has recently teased the market with an Allroad Shooting Brake petrol/electric concept with no less than 300kW nestled under the bonnet and a fuel consumption of just 1.9 l/100km.
According to Audi Australia boss Andrew Doyle, this concept gives “concrete glimpses into the near future (for Audi)”.
So get ready, the shift has begun, and the electric future of motoring has some very exciting cars in store.
So what of the plug-in hybrid A3 e-tron heading our way?
At The Wheel
Anywhere on Hamilton Island is just a stone’s throw from everywhere else. The longest road loop is around four kilometres, so this was never going to be a conventional road test.
There is however an airport, which, as the high priest of barking-mad motoring excess Clarkson has repeatedly demonstrated, is handy for all sorts of things besides landing aeroplanes and helicopters.
“Give it heaps... don't run into the aeroplane,” he said. Ummm… ok.
It’s a plug-in hybrid, the A3 e-tron. The battery sits under the rear seats, and adds around 125kg there, but slung low in the chassis ahead of the rear axles.
With a lightweight and mostly aluminium front-clip (guards and bonnet), it gives the e-tron a nicely balanced 55:45 weight bias.
Using a 10amp power-source, the battery will fully recharge in five hours; this charge-time however is reduced to just two-and-a-half hours with a 15amp plug.
A full charge gives an electric-only range of 50 kilometres; enough, most days, for the daily commute or for getting the kids to and from school, with some shopping along the way.
But there is also an abstemious 1.4 litre TFSI engine there. In normal driving, Audi claims a fuel consumption of 1.6 l/100km giving a combined range of around 900 kilometres.
It also says that that figure is not an extrapolated one: in other words, that it’s achievable with you or me at the wheel. We’ll have to test that when Audi launches the A3 e-tron to the market here.
The point of this electric system, and the way the car drives, is, according to Audi, that “it changes the world, not everyday life”.
And yes, it’s a leap, but after some brief runs on the airport apron at Hamilton Island, we’re reasonably convinced that the A3 e-tron will certainly change buyers’ thinking about hybrid electric cars.
For a start it’s fast. In S1 ‘Sport mode’, it pulls from standstill like a hot-hatch. Audi claims a 7.6 second dash to 100km/h, and it feels every bit as capable as that.
There are selectable EV-hybrid modes: electric-only, ‘hybrid hold’, petrol-electric (retaining charge), and ‘hybrid charge’ (charging the battery while driving).
These are layered with Audi’s suspension and steering mapping modes (dynamic, comfort, normal) and selectable drivetrain modes of D1 (normal) and S1 (sport).
It’s a conventional hybrid drivetrain with the 34kg, liquid-cooled electric motor bolted in sequence to the TFSI’s dual-mass flywheel - the petrol engine is moved 6.0cm to the left - and with an electric clutch to synchronise with the petrol engine.
In full electric mode, the 1.4 litre petrol engine will kick-in when under load or if you decide to overtake a B-double, but will otherwise remain in EV mode.
And even when left here, the A3 e-tron is quick.
When S1 is selected, the system automatically defaults to ‘hybrid hold’. In this mode, a hot-hatch will show it a set of heels, but the potent e-tron won’t be far behind.
More to the point, it corners with amazing balance. That extra 125 kilograms of battery just ahead of the rear axles gives the e-tron better balance than a ‘conventional’ A3 through a slalom.
The nose sits flatter and there is less understeer, even when keeping power ‘in’ on a tight corner.
Importantly, for all the electrics shoehorned into the bonnet and chassis, you would hardly know they were there. The battery sits invisibly under the rear seats aligned with the rear doors; the petrol tank under the boot floor.
Packaging and storage is thus the same as for a ‘conventional’ A3 Sportback hatch.
The compromise in all this is that there is no spare - there is no room - just a bottle of goo and electric pump. (So you won’t be driving to Birdsville.)
While this test was short, just a few laps in the A3 e-tron are enough to demonstrate one important point: this car is absolutely not electric porridge. Keen drivers will find a lot to like in Audi’s A3 e-tron.
More to the point, keen drivers who also think it’s important that we each do our bit for a healthier environment and a better planet, will find a heck of a lot to like.
Audi is about to land something special in this market with its A3 e-tron. This car will change a lot of minds about plug-in hybrid cars, about the way they drive, and the way they can engage at the wheel.
At “around $60k”, it won’t be cheap - that’s around S3 pricing - but buyers of this car will not be comparing it to the S3.
We’ve been convinced for some time that the electric future of motoring is upon us. Audi predicts that 40 percent of cars sold in 2030 will be electric.
With Lexus hybrids accounting for damn near 50 percent of sales here, we think Audi’s expectation is vastly conservative.
And once buyers get behind the wheel of dynamic cars like the A3 e-tron, they’ll start crossing over in droves.
There is amazing momentum gathering behind this whole EV-thing, and fortunately, as Audi’s brilliant A3 e-tron shows, drivers who love driving have not been forgotten.
Key specifications and features
- 1.4 TFSI engine with 110 kW and 250 Nm of torque,
- Disc-shaped electric motor with 75 kW and 330 Nm
- System output 150 kW, system torque 350 Nm
- Six-speed S tronic with integrated drivetrain decoupler,
- Fuel consumption 1.6 litres per 100 km, CO2 emissions 37 grams per km
- 0-100 km/h in 7.6 seconds, top speed 222 km/h
- Electric range up to 50 km, combined range up to 940km
- Intelligent hybrid management with multiple driving modes
- Electrical system
Liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery with 8.8 kWh capacity
Charging via versatile charging system, including charging dock
Audi connect e-tron services for remote control via smartphone
17-inch alloy wheels, brakes with electric brake servo
Electronic stabilisation control (ESC) with two-stage deactivation and torque vectoring
Front axle with aluminium components, electro-mechanical power steering
Kerb weight (without driver) 1,540 kilograms
Bonnet and front guards aluminium