Audi is taking a very different route towards reducing the CO2 emissions of its fleet than BMW with the ‘i’ brand – but this plug-in hybrid A3 will cost roughly the same as the i3 range-extender when it arrives in the UK late next year.
Yet where the i3 is designed to look as futuristic as possible the A3 e-tron looks just like any other Sportback. With the exception of a few subtle badges and that new chrome grille, it is impossible to tell from the outside that this particular car emits just 35g/km of C02 and claims to return an official 180mpg combined.
Reaching those eye-catching figures was no easy task and the A3 has undergone an extensive mechanical transformation hidden behind the unchanged body panels. A new six-speed e-S tronic ‘box was developed, which uses three clutches instead of two (the extra one is needed to help switch between the e-motor and the engine).
An Audi engineer told us that this gearbox can take up to 400Nm of torque, but with all that twisting force available from zero revs it would also spin its wheels in third gear in the wet - so the total system output is capped at 350Nm. He also said that for now the brand was not developing a diesel hybrid, and revealed that on the smaller MQB platform like the A3 the e-tron was not compatible with quattro 4WD.
It drives like any other A3 though, with the weight gain from the batteries blunting the boost in performance from the combination of petrol and battery power. Our test route took in the winding hills near Santa Monica and Mullholland drive and the e-tron coped very well with the shifting terrain. In electric mode it coasts effortlessly along as soon as you lift your foot off the throttle. However in hybrid mode, there is much heavier regenerative braking, which takes some adjusting too.
The steering is rather numb and distant, but the seamless integration of the engine is a big plus – the change between the two power sources is really smooth, and an estimated range of over 500 miles, plus five seats and a decent boot make it nearly as practical as the standard car. This lack of compromises will be attractive for those who need more flexibility than a pure EV can offer – but for commuting the 31 mile electric range means you could go several weeks without filling the tank.
Inside the e-tron is a standard issue A3, which means top quality materials and a very attractive, modern design. The e-tron gets bespoke dials and ‘energy flow’ screens to help you manage the battery life and adjust your driving style, and a button on the centre console helps you switch instantly between the four driving modes. One of which is a ‘hold’ function that allows you to store the battery power up while on the motorway before switching off the engine in town.