Tron uprising

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TOBY HAGON

Overcoming the extra weight

The A3 Sportback e-tron weighs 1540kg, which is a significant 260kg heavier than the 1.8 TFSI, the A3 model that itís most closely matched to on performance. The e-tron is claimed to reach 100km/h in 7.6sec while the front-drive 1.8 TFSI takes 7.3. Whereas regular A3 variants are available as Quattros, batteries crammed in the back means thereís no room to package the all-wheel-drive system into the e-tron.

Can Audiís petrolelectric A3 live up to the COTY-winning i3?

MEET ďthe electric car that doesnít look like oneĒ. Audiís words, not mine. But the more I look at my freshly arrived A3 e-tron, the more it looks like any other A3. All the sheetmetal is shared, as is the glasshouse. Itís as plain as Jane has ever been.

Under the skin, though, thereís plenty of electric cleverness going on. Lifeís particularly busy under the bonnet, with a 75kW/330Nm electric motor alongside the familiar 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo with cylinder-on-demand. Under the rear seat is an 8.8kWh battery pack, with a 40-litre fuel tank relegated to the boot floor, which has been physically raised to accommodate it.

Not that youíd know it from a quick glance inside. If it werenít for the chunky fabric bag in the boot to house the equally chunky charging cables, the only way youíd notice the smaller boot (280 litres versus 380) is if your nongreenie neighbours had their A3 boot popped alongside yours.

Keener eyes will notice the unique grille and wheels, as well as other details reserved for the first rechargeable Audi available in Australia.

My first big test is to learn how far this thing can go between charges. Audi claims up to 50km, but it didnít take long to establish that prediction is about as accurate as the seven-day weather forecast. It must include lots of downhill coasting or a generous dose of nanny driving. My best result to date is 42km and the worst 35km, then itís another 4.5 hours to top it up on the charger.

The battery charges at about 1800W through a standard powerpoint, although the charging

Big wheels come at a cost

Those e-tron-specific 15-spoke wheels can be had in 17-inch or 18-inch diameters, the latter adding $1800 to the bill and increasing the claimed consumption from 1.6L/100km to 1.7L/100km. Not that the fuel figure is completely relevant; as Iím learning, youíre generally using either no fuel at all or a lot more than 1.6L/100km.

And thereís no spare tyre under the already raised boot floor. Batteries, remember?

time drops to 2.5 hours if youíre using the home charging unit provided as part of the deal with buying an e-tron. The 16-amp single-phase charger obviously requires a garage or carport, but thatís all you have to supply; unless your house has unsuitable wiring, the dealer covers the full cost of installation and the unit itself.

Thereís about $3K worth of charger there, not to mention the petrol engine, which is a $6K option on a BMW i3. That starts to make the $62,490 base price more appealing.

The e-tron also gets a heap more features that you pay extra for on the 1.8 TFSI, including LED headlights, heated seats, satellite navigation and digital radio. No spare tyre, though Ė thatís a no-go given the stuff crammed beneath the floor. And it doesnít come with electric seats, but theyíre part of the Comfort Package Iíve scored, which also adds an LED interior lighting package and a dipping mirror on the passengerís side to help see when youíre about to scrape those 15-spoke wheels. Ours is also fitted with metallic paint for an extra $1050, taking the tally to $65,530.

Over the next few months Iíll be quite eager to learn whether the Audi e-tron lives up to its electric whizzbangery.

Having spent three months in the COTYwinning BMW i3 last year, Iím keen to try its most direct showroom rival. While the two are very different in execution Ė the BMW is a ground-up carbonfibre design in a skinny suicidedoored body, whereas the Audi looks thoroughly conventional Ė they are almost lineball on price.

Let the games beginÖ

AUDI A3 E-TRON

Date acquired: January 2015 Price as tested: $65,530 This month: 603km @ 11.6kWh/100km (plus 25.2L of fuel) Overall: 603km @ 11.6kWh/100km (plus 25.2L of fuel) Da Pri Th Ov