Audi A3 e-tron Sportback 2014 review

26 Jun, 2014 11:45am Oliver Kew

The Audi A3 e-tron Sportback is a glimpse into Audi's future models, and it's an excellent all-rounder

Verdict

5
Adding a spritely yet real-world frugal drivetrain to the beautifully built Audi A3 Sportback has resulted in a simply excellent all-round family car. At around £30,000 it’s not cheap, though that’s slightly offset by the potentially low running costs, government plug-in grant and exemption from road tax and congestion charges. What’s more, with Audi plotting a range-wide expansion of ‘e-tron’ plug-in hybrid technology, the A3 e-tron is an exciting glimpse of what’s to come.

Audi CEO Rupert Stadler confirmed to Auto Express recently that he sees plug-in hybrids as Audi’s future, and this Audi A3 e-tron is the firm’s first production car to use the tech. In 2015, there’ll be an A6 e-tron followed by a Q7 e-tron and many more after that, so how is Audi’s plug-in future shaping up?

Slotted into the A3 Sportback’s body – tweaked for e-tron duty with a slim-sparred chrome grille, S-line bumpers and bespoke 17-inch alloys – is a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine. It develops an unremarkable 148bhp, and a disappointingly strained engine note given this car costs about as much as an S3. The clever bit, though, is the addition of a 101bhp electric motor integrated into the car’s six-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Altogether, the system generates 350Nm of torque – the same as a standard VW Golf GTI.

That’s enough to haul the front-drive A3 e-tron to 62mph in a respectable 7.6sec, and 138mph flat out. At first glance, the unavoidable 125kg penalty of the mid-mounted, low-set battery pack looks like a fun-killer, but it actually gives the A3 e-tron more even weight distribution than a typical diesel version. Plus, the new A3’s MQB platform saves up to 90kg of weight versus the previous model, so the e-tron’s 1540kg kerbweight, while porky for an A3, is far from shameful.

No A3 model (S3 hot hatch aside) is a true entertainer, majoring on grip, refinement and safety understeer before driver engagement, so the A3 e-tron’s extra mass isn’t a deal-breaker on challenging roads, given the familiarly light and accurate but numb steering, and sure-footed chassis. That said, the low-set driving position is spot on and the gratifying torque hit up to 80mph does make the A3 e-tron one of the more entertaining A3s.

Audi A3 e-tron Sportback pan

The real play value comes in maximising fuel-range, however. A button on the A3’s centre console allows selection of pure EV or hybrid-running modes, plus a ‘charge save’ setting which leaves the battery alone in anticipation of urban running later in your journey. A fourth mode uses extra regen-braking to recharge the battery, and utlises the 1.4 engine as a battery-charging altenator. It sounds complex, but the beauty of the A3 e-tron for many will be its simplicity: just hop in, treat it like a normal automatic as Audi intended, and enjoy uncanny silence and superb fuel economy.

By assisting the petrol engine under hard acceleration, killing petrol power at urban speeds and relaxing both sources at a medium-speed cruise, the A3 e-tron makes wonderfully serene, effortless progress. The eco-figures are predictably staggering: 176mpg and 37g/km are a commuter’s dream, as is a 31-mile electric-only range with a top EV speed of 80mph. Forget the blue-sky thinking though and the A3 e-tron remains impressive in the real world. In a challenging mix of urban crawling, A-roads and everything inbetween, our test car indicated 64.2mpg. A full compliment of charge and fuel offered a calculated range of 526 miles.

Audi A3 e-tron Sportback interior

The best-of-both-worlds numbers might worry A3 TDI fans that their choice is outmoded, but the e-tron’s Achilles heel is the high price of early technology adoption. Against its frugal diesel sisters, the A3’s UK price of £29,950 (after the plug-in £5000 grant is deducted) is steep, but for a car which crams so much intuitive yet sophisticated kit into an immaculately finished product, the e-tron justifies the outlay, even before running costs are considered. And if this is what e-tron can do for an A3, we can’t wait to see it on Audi’s more exciting models. A TT e-tron, anyone?

Disqus - noscript

This hybrid version of the A3 may tempt some eco-conscious buyers away from the 1.8L petrol or the 2L diesel with higher output - for the rest of the package seems pretty familiar.
As for the price, £30k after the grant seems quite the norm for this class of hybrid with similar capability and performance. It does not feel dear when compared with E-Up and E-Golf for instance and holds its own even against the BMW I3.

A tempting proposition. It may not be as sporting as a petrol equivalent, but the weight penalty is something that can't be easily worked around with the technology currently on offer to car manufacturers.

I was at Goodwood and checked this car out- really impressive, though I was wondering if Auto Express or anyone reading this could clear up something?

..The spec sheet claimed the car could get 0-60 in 4.9, I think under electric only, with 7.6 for the 'hybrid' speed. Was this a typo on Audi's part?

I was lucky enough to drive one of these on Friday at an event in Warwickshire. It's a nice car to drive. Quite strange driving is in electric only mode.
The biggest downside at the moment is the interior. IT will be based on the A3 Sport model and only come with cloth interior. There will be no options list initially. The pre-production cars we were driving had the s-line interior with leather sports seats and a sunroof. Apart from the sunroof, this is pretty much the spec Germany will get it seems.
It doesn't set you alight when you drive, but i still averaged 80mpg and wasn't driving it carefully by any means.

Key specs

  • Price: £34,950 (before grant)
  • Engine: 1.4-litre 4cyl turbo and electric motor
  • Total power: 201 bhp (total average system power)
  • Total torque: 258lb ft (total average system power)
  • Transmission: Six-speed e-S tronic, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62/top spd: 7.6 secs/137mph
  • Econ/CO2: 176.6mpg/37g/km
  • On sale: July 2014
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