Audi A3 e-tron

Motors went to Audi's A3 e-tron launch centre in Vienna to test its new plug-in hybrid.

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A3 e-tron will be positioned in the range as a premium offering with all the extras thrown in. For now, A3 e-tron will only be available in Sportback form (five-door). 

Apart from its unique and sophisticated grille, standard roof rails and subtle e-tron badging, e-tron looks like the standard and handsome A3 Sportback. 

Inside the cabin is near-identical but for the dash-mounted 'EV' button. Under e-tron's boot floor, the wheel-well space is taken up by the petrol tank, while under the rear seats the battery pack is housed. 

A3 e-tron's hybrid power comes from an electric motor (powered by a rechargeable battery pack) and a 1.4-litre petrol engine. The front-wheel drive, five-seat hatchback weighs 315kg more than the standard Sportback, but it has sufficient power to make you unaware of this. 

When calculating hybrid and EV power it is never a simple case of addition. Audi tells us that a maximum of 204hp is produced, along with an impressive peak torque of 350nm. 

Performance is also pretty brisk and sporty with 0-100kph taking just 7.6 seconds. Going 0-60kph takes just 4.9 seconds, which shows that about town the e-tron is pretty nippy. The hybrid system is a simple one to use, and as the car features an automatic gearbox, drivers can simply concentrate on driving without worrying about having to be 'technically' minded. 

The small EV button has four selectable drive modes: EV, Hybrid Auto, Hybrid Hold and Hybrid Charge. The default setting, when you press the start button, is 'EV' (or Auto if it's too cold). If you are reasonably light with your right foot you can drive the e-tron on electric power only up to 130kph - after that the engine kicks in.

The official EV range is 50 kilometres, so in the real world you can knock a few kilometres off this, depending on the topography of the area you're driving in. In EV mode you produce zero CO2 emissions using battery power - unless you accelerate really hard and then the engine kicks in.

'Hybrid Auto' mode allows the car to do the thinking for you and is ideal for inter-urban driving.  

'Hybrid Hold' mode does what it says on the tin and stops the battery being further depleted. This is useful if heading for a built- up area where you wish to use EV mode. 

'Hybrid Charge' mode uses the petrol engine's surplus power to charge up the battery. This mode is best used when doing longer runs. 

Charging with the cable is easy as the four rings in the grille hinge open to reveal a charging socket. The battery is quite small and takes only a couple of hours to charge fully, unlike the eight or so needed in a full EV, for example. With a full charge and fuel tank, Audi quotes an 800-kilometre range. The great thing is if you run out of electric power, petrol power will keep you going. 

A3 e-tron is economical with 2.2l/100km (128mpg) recorded as an average consumption by fellow journalists on one varied, 107-kilometre route we took. Our trip computer displayed that we used EV power for 65% of the journey and that the petrol engine was active for just 35% of the complete trip. Audi quotes an average of 1.9 l/100km or 148mpg on the combined fuel cycle. 

Audi A3 e-tron is a very composed and refined 'bit' of engineering. It arrives in Ireland towards the end of the year for 151 reg. It won't be cheap, but will be very cheap to run and quite cool to own. The technology is effortless to use and for town users the hushed cabin and joy of strong EV propulsion will definitely be enjoyed.

Michael Sheridan


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