Audi has packed some big technology into its smallest model! This is the A1 e-tron, a working concept car first seen at the Geneva Motor Show in March, and it features an innovative electric powertrain connected to a range-extending petrol engine. But does this forward-thinking supermini make sense?
The mechanicals consist of a single 101bhp electric motor attached to the front axle and driving the front wheels. Energy is supplied by a set of lithium-ion battery cells laid flat under the floor and rear seats, while the plug-in point is located behind the four rings of the grille and can be flipped open remotely from inside. Charging takes three hours from a domestic socket.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Audi A1
If power falls to below 20 per cent, or if you floor the throttle, a small 254cc rotary engine, tucked away neatly where the spare tyre would normally be, spins seamlessly into life and acts as a generator to stop the batteries from going flat.
At no time does the rotary engine supply power directly to the wheels. Yet even so, the car covers 0-60mph in 10 seconds and can run for more than 30 miles in EV mode alone. That increases to over 150 miles with the support of the range-extender engine, and all this with emissions of 45g/km.
Weight is a key factor in the A1 e-tron’s construction. A rotary engine was apparently chosen because it doesn’t weigh much and is compact, so the 265-litre boot from the standard A1 isn’t compromised. Plus, its fuel tank needs to hold only 12 litres of fuel.
A carbon composite roof and rear spoiler shave 6kg from the kerbweight, too. Audi’s engineers assured us that the unit kicked in a number of times during our drive, but it was so seamless in its operation that we felt nothing. On the move, the handling was as sure-footed as a standard petrol-powered A1, and straight-line pace was good.
In ‘D’ mode, the single-speed drivetrain shuts the engine off completely, making it a pure zero-emissions vehicle. A second setting – called Audi Energy Assist – allows the rear motor to help out when the charge gets low or extra power is required. If you’re feeling energetic, an asterisk button on the steering wheel’s right-hand spoke activates a Sport mode, which sharpens the throttle response considerably.
It’s predicted that the A1 e-tron will spend over 90 per cent of its life running on battery power alone, given that the average driver’s daily commute is less than 30 miles. But with the rotary engine in the boot, it removes the range anxiety associated with purely electric cars. Most exciting of all, though, is the fact it feels good enough to go on sale tomorrow