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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - Sportback e-tron

Our Opinion

We like
Usable real-world EV range, usual A3 quality, design, comfort, performance, handling, ride, and practicality attributes
Room for improvement
Expensive, reduced boot volume, too regular A3-like inside and out

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Audi logo28 Aug 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

ELECTRIFICATION in cars has not happened as quickly or seamlessly as many people would have hoped by now.

Pure examples such as the BMW i3 BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) and Nissan Leaf suffer because of high prices and range anxiety fears, while hybrids from various Toyota/Lexus, Honda, and Nissan/Infiniti models are still essentially internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles at their core.

In between these has been plug-in hybrid EVs led by the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which has had some market traction, and the Holden Volt from Chevrolet of the USA, which – despite it having no ICE connection to the driving wheels – is now sadly discontinued.

Into the latter category steps the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, the first of what its maker hopes is a flurry of hybrid and BEVs, and eventually fuel-cell EV activity from Ingolstadt. The Mk2 Q7 SUV is next from early 2016, with related tech to the small hatchback you see here.

So what is the Audi like then? A long time in the pipeline, the Germans say they waited until the tech was just right, with “no compromise” in everyday useability.

And by that they mean no disruption to normality, in which they’ve splendidly succeeded. Defaulting to pure EV on start-up, the A3 e-tron can drive for about 50km cleanly (unless you live in dirty brown coal-crazy Victoria) and silently, propelled by a 75kW/330Nm electric motor, until a willing 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre four-pot turbo petrol TFSI kicks in, working with the advanced hybrid system to recharge the battery pack, which in turn provides extra punch as well as more electricity to help eke out the mileage. Audi reckons 920km between fill-ups (of a much smaller fuel tank) is possible.

However, while there is a total system output of 150kW and 350Nm, all the hybrid/EV/battery whatnots add well over 300kg to the A3 e-tron’s bottom line, meaning that it probably lacks the eagerness, agility, and lightness of the regular 110kW 1.4 TFSI version.

Probably? Frankly we were given no opportunity to test how hard the A3 e-tron goes, or how much the chassis’ dynamics have changed with all that extra mass, because our 150km drive from Bowral to Sydney was an economy drive, featuring two hot and sweaty journalists hell-bent on matching Audi’s claims.

Coasting where possible, and minimum braking, meant we had to rely on momentum as much as possible, and absolutely minimal acceleration and braking. All we can tell you is that the steering felt light and a little dull, the suspension remained composed if a tad firm, and that we relied extremely heavily on the car’s road-holding.

Result? We managed to achieve 59.7km in EV-only mode before the ICE joined in, and an impressive 2.0L/100km average, but at the cost of no climate control, cruise control, radio, and lights the only luxury we afforded ourselves was a few quick squirts of the air-con to demist the pea-soup windscreen in order not to crash into increasingly heavy Sydney peak-hour traffic leading to an evening flight out.

Otherwise, only opening the doors when stationary at traffic lights saved us from suffocation. Audi cabins are vault like in more than just feel. So the e-tron is capable of approaching its stated economy and actually exceed the EV range if driven with extraordinary care, but the near-$25K premium over the 1.4 TFSI attraction equivalent is a massive pill to swallow. Minor trim changes and an altered instrumentation cluster aside, the differences might not be enough for some.

This is a pricey A3. We understand why the EV bits warrant the extra charge, but the gap is not reflected in terms of luxury, specification, or razzamatazz inside. Just underneath.

What we’re left with, then, is a part-time EV system within a full-time hybrid.

A 2.5 to five hour charge-up is necessary to make the most of those electric miles, and that’s probably the Audi’s biggest charm, but the premium for zero tail-pipe emissions is a hefty one.

That it lacks little of the visual titivation or freshness of – say – a BMW i3 to really make a statement of intent is telling the A3 e-tron looks, feels, and drives like the stepping stone that it is.

However, many buyers will love the fact it looks exactly like a regular A3.

We look forward to more strident leaps forward from the 'Vorsprung Durch Technik' folk. Maybe then more people will take up the EV cause.

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