First Drive: Audi A3 e-tron
Sector: Lower medium Price: £29,950 (after £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant) Fuel: 176.6mpg CO2: 37g/km
Much like the video market of the early 1980s, where VHS and Betamax jostled for public acceptance (and let’s not forget the LaserDisc), car manufacturers over the past decade or so have also been in a race to ensure their hybrid cars become the industry standard rather than a soon-forgotten novelty.
With Audi arriving suitably late to the plug-in hybrid party with the A3 Sportback e-tron (registrations of hybrid and plug-in cars rose 20.5% in 2013, to 32,715 units globally), perhaps now is the time when the consensus of opinion will favour this type of drivetrain above any of the market alternatives.
And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. The e-tron system, or one that is very similar, will be adopted throughout the Volkswagen Group (Porsche already uses it in the Cayenne and Panamera, while Volkswagen will launch the Golf GTE later this year using something virtually identical), thus giving it mass market appeal and, more importantly, bucketfuls of credibility.
The initial cost, even with the £5,000 OLEV grant, works out to £29,950, which makes it just over £5,000 more expensive than the nearest equivalent 2.0-litre TDI Sport 148bhp.
And if you were expecting fantastically futuristic and super aerodynamic design, then you’re in for a bit of disappointment. If it wasn’t for “e-tron” lettering on the tailgate it would appear to be just another A3 Sportback.
And that’s much the same story on the inside too. Apart from the dashboard-mounted EV switch, the button which allows manual override of any of the four computer-controlled driving modes, and the rev counter replaced with a dedicated energy display unit, the cabin too remains unchanged. Even the bank of 96 lithium-ion battery cells, the power source needed to drive its 75kw electric motor, are so well hidden under the floor that their impact on the overall boot space means the load area stays a clear thoroughfare and loses just 100 litres of overall cargo capacity.
However, it is this sense of familiarity which makes the A3 e-tron so utterly, utterly brilliant. This defiance and quest to ensure it remains nothing other than a member of the A3 clan is as intelligent and forward-thinking as its ability to seamlessly engage its 1.4-litre TSI 150bhp petrol engine when driving conditions or battery levels dictate.
The 101bhp electric motor, which is integrated into the six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, is the default power source; meaning there’s nothing but an eerie silence as you start to drive off. And it’s good for about 30 miles and up to 80mph. Thereafter the engine management takes over. Leave it to its own devices and it’ll quietly switch between the two engines, or combine them to give some very admirable performance figures – 0.62mph in
Hooking it up to a domestic electric plug socket will fully recharge the battery in about three hours, and there’s a “charge save” option within the hybrid-mode menu. The internal regenerating system acts like a glorified alternator by exploiting lost brake energy together with power from the 1.4-litre engine. This may all seem like an engineering PhD thesis waiting to be written, but it really isn’t. The bottom line is that this car is no more difficult to drive than a normal automatic.
Audi claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 176.6mpg, with 37g/km of CO2 emissions – or a total range of up to 584 miles on one tank of petrol. I achieved 117.7mpg by switching manually between all of the hybrid modes on a route comprising a mixture of urban, motorway and rural roads, and that’s still an impressive number.
The A3 e-tron is the best C-segment plug-in hybrid currently on the market, with a well-sorted drivetrain, good range, low CO2 and stylish packaging.