Audi adds a touch of class to the fast-growing PHEV sector with the launch of the A3 e-tron.
It may not look it, but rarely has a new Audi lived up to the company’s “Vorsprung durch Technik” (Advancement through Technology) slogan as the new A3 Sportback e-tron.
Audi’s first ever Plug-in Hybrid Electric vehicle may be cloaked in a familiar package, but it’s what lies beneath, along with driveability and practicality, that makes this a special car.
Utilising technology from the 2014 Le Mans winning Audi R18 e-tron quattro, the A3 e-tron is a frugal, low emission five-seater with a bit of power on the side.
Audi’s had to make surprisingly few compromises in order to make the A3 e-tron a reality.
The car combines a 1.4 TFSI petrol engine working in tandem with a 75kw electric motor (also under the bonnet), while electrical energy is stored in compact lithium-ion batteries mounted under the rear seats.
The result is impressive – you just choose from one of four driving options:
1) EV mode – silent, zero emission electric motoring for up to 31 miles at speeds up to 81mph, although the combustion if a vigorous kick-down is needed
2) Hybrid Auto mode – probably the default for most, it’s when the electric motor is used wherever possible to reduce fuel consumption
3) Hybrid Hold mode – this preserves the battery charge, maintaining a constant level and storing energy for future electric-only motoring
4) Hybrid Charge mode- does what it says on the tin, using the combustion engine to charge up the battery on the move for future EV driving
Audi claims the A3 e-tron has a combined mpg of 176.6, emitting just 37g/km of CO2 and a theoretical range of 580 miles (using the engine and electric motor). The reality is that the mpg can be much more or much less.
Let’s say your regular commute to work is less than 30 miles, you drive sensibly and you can charge up the batteries before your drive home. In that case, you will only use battery power and no petrol which means your journey only costs the electricity it took to charge up the batteries.
We drove the e-tron on motorways, country roads and in the city and got a hint of the type of economy you might expect as a driver.
Driven hard, the petrol engine and electric motor combined to give the car impressive performance, but economy slumped to nearer 40mpg. For the record, the e-tron can hit 62mph in 7.6-seconds and is capable of 138mph.
We then drove at a more leisurely pace and the onboard computer indicated nearer 60mpg, so we’re in no doubt that 176.6mpg is possible if you can combine pure electric and sensible combustion stints on your journey.
Of course, the real benefit of a PHEV over an EV is that there’s no range anxiety, because if you run out of battery power there’s always the petrol engine to get you to your destination.
On that note, Audi claims it will take four hours to charge the batteries from a domestic power socket and 2hrs 15min from a public charging point or a special home wallbox charger.
Of course, the e-tron is also exempt from the London Congestion Charge and car tax, and qualifies for the £5,000 government plug-in grant, plus there are significant cost savings for company car drivers.
Renewable energy supplier Ecotricity even offers an EV tariff, providing 1,000 miles worth of electricity free to subscribers.
Putting the hybrid technology to one side, the e-tron is almost indistinguishable from an A3 Sport apart from subtle ‘e-tron’ badges on the front wings and tailgate, plus a special radiator grille with chrome slats (flick open the four rings badge to reveal the charging point).
Inside, the car’s eco credentials are a little more obvious with an EV button in the centre console for selecting driving modes, a power meter displaying battery charge state etc where you’d normally find the rev counter, plus more settings/readings available via the multimedia screen.
Elsewhere the interior is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Audi – lots of goodies, classy materials and excellent build quality.
Battery storage is the biggest area of compromise in the e-tron – and even that’s not huge. Apart from the extra weight, boot space is down just 100 litres. Rear legroom is adequate rather than generous, as in the standard A3.
The punchy petrol engine is smooth and refined for a 1.4-litre, while the slick six-speed S tronic gearbox is a joy.
The e-tron is no sports car, but it can be driven in a spirited fashion. However, I suspect buyers will chase economy rather than speed records. That said, it’s good to know that the performance is there when you need it.
Audi has created a new benchmark in the PHEV scene and, driven sensibly, the A3 e-tron should deliver an excellent balance of economy, performance (when needed) and practicality.
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