Audi A3 e-tron

Plug-in hybrid finds home with its range

DAMION SMY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

AUDI is already talking up improved battery tech and electrified models with Tesla-beating 500km-plus ranges. That’s serious progress from when this progress from when this car, the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, was rolled out at Geneva in 2012. So is Ingolstadt’s original e-tron still relevant when the EV is clearly on the rise?

Let’s sort out the confusion first: this is not an electric car, but a plug-in hybrid. It has a combustion engine up front – a 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four – and an electric motor sandwiched between it and the six-speed dualclutch transmission, driving the front wheels. Below the rear seat is a 96-cell 8.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

The fuel saving, on paper, is huge. The e-tron’s 1.6L/100km compares to the cylinder-ondemand 1.4 TFSI’s 4.7L/100km.

Even the most economical of A3s, the 1.6 TDI, drinks 3.9L/100km.

‘Turbine’ alloys, a chrome front grille and hidden exhaust tips are all that will tell your neighbours that you paid more than $60,000 for a C-segment hatch, and $24K on top of the price of a 1.4 TFSI A3 Sportback.

Driving it, you’ll barely be able to tell you’re in the most parsimonious A3. With zero fanfare inside the cabin, it’s typical A3 – meaning class-leading fit and finish. Leather, sat-nav and a reversing camera are among the standard fare, while crucially there’s no change to the cabin space, although the boot is 100 litres smaller.

The ‘EV Mode’ button allows you to choose pure electric propulsion for up to 50km and speeds of 130km/h, ‘hold’ to save what’s left in the battery, or Auto which choses the most efficient mode. You’ll also gain range from the regenerative braking, offered in the Charge mode to top up the battery pack.

In EV mode, cabin refinement is brilliant. The only real qualm is increased road noise from the e-tron’s larger tyres. Otherwise, this is a genuine premium hatch, with the change to the petrol engine absolutely seamless, and its cabin remaining library-quiet, with a comfortable, if firm, ride.

The e-tron weighs 298kg more, and mostly hides the extra kegs well, although it is noticeably heavier when cornering hard and braking heavily. It rolls more, too, but body control is well managed.

Charging takes around 2.5 hours with a fast charger, or up to five hours using a standard 10-amp household socket.

In a world of pure EVs like the BMW i3, and with 500km-plus e-trons on the way, it’s hard to see the A3 making a serious impact. Yet, despite the fact that it’s expensive and somewhat overdue, the A3 e-tron is the most convincing plug-in hybrid yet.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Audi A3 Sportback e-tron 1395cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo + electric motor 150kW @ 5000rpm (total) 350Nm @ 1600-3500rpm (combined) 6-speed dual-clutch 1533kg 7.6sec (claimed) 1.6L/100km $62,490 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Price; lack of green fanfare; extra heft; soon to be out-dated Seamless transition between electric and petrol; drives like an A3

The spark starts here

EVERY electrified Audi, whether hybrid or full EV, will wear the e-tron badge, this A3 being the first player on the e-tron game board.

Next will be an R8 e-tron capable of 450km on a single charge, while an SUV concept shown at Frankfurt will enter production in 2018 (likely badged Q6) with a range greater than 500km.

With that sort of rampant progress, the A3 already appears a little out-dated. For EV vehicles, battery tech has been the hindrance in terms range, cost and packaging constraints. Slowly, they’re being overcome.