Luxury brand Audi embraces an electrified future with the debut of its stylish 2016 A3 e-tron plug-in

Nov 08, 2016

Audi’s goal to create a tech-savvy plug-in electric without sacrificing its well-known brand benchmarks – drivability, quality construction and a “special car feel,” have yielded the A3 e-tron; a sportback with one foot solidly placed in the luxury world and the other taking a step into the electric vehicle lifestyle realm. Audi USA President Scott Keogh calls the A3 e-tron “a real, proper, fully-rounded driving machine.” The A3 e-tron is a premium compact 4-door that gives consumers the ability to join the Electric Evolution/Revolution without abandoning Audi’s sporty handling, attractive lines and prestigious luxury. You’re maintaining your petrol dependency but making a step in the right direction.

The e-tron is powered by a 1.4-liter gasoline engine that works with a 75-kilowatt electric motor, and an 8.8-kWh lithium ion battery. The electric motor/generator sits between the internal combustion engine and the S-Tronic six-speed dual-clutch transmission. The hybrid system runs the electrical components and the electric motor is used as the starter motor for the internal combustion engine. The battery pack has been designed to last the life of the vehicle and comes with an 8 year/100,000-mile warranty. A mobile charger with 120- and 240-volt cables comes with the car. An interesting point: e-tron’s charging port is positioned behind the Audi badge on the front grille, which means it doesn’t matter which side of the car the charger – in your garage, or elsewhere – is positioned. A full battery charge using 120 volts takes about eight hours. With a 240-volt charge, the battery achieves full capacity in two hours and 15 minutes. Fully charged, the A3 e-tron’s battery pack offers between 16 and 20 miles of all-electric driving – depending on which reviewer is test driving the car. With the national daily driving average between 34 and 40 miles, using the A3 e-tron’s EV Mode to get everywhere won’t cut it. Drivers going further than 16 to 20 miles opt to use the car’s 3 other modes, which use both the gas and electric motors together, giving the plug-in hybrid a total driving range of over 400 miles. When the gasoline motor is being used by itself, without the electric motor, the car gets about 33 mpg in the city, 37 mpg highway, and 35 mpg combined.

Audi’s A3 e-tron offers four electric driving modes. Hybrid Mode is used for most driving conditions – the car decides how to get the most efficiency – from electric or gas, or by using both at the same time. The EV Mode is for using electric power only: when the battery reaches zero, the e-tron switches to gas. Autotrader reviewer Jason Fogelson says: “In EV mode, the e-tron uses only its electric motor until its range is depleted. Top speed in EV mode is about 70 miles per hour, and its range can be as far as 17 miles if you drive conservatively.” The Hold Battery Mode hangs on to as much of the battery charge as possible, maximizing it during the drive. The Charge Battery Mode uses any opportunities possible to charge the battery.

Many reviewers have said the gas and electric hybrid system performs flawlessly in all four new technology drive modes and the renowned Audi driving experience remains intact.  Using both the gas and electric engines together, the A3 e-tron accelerates to 60mph in 7.6 seconds. The turbocharged 4-cylinder gas engine provides 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor offers 102 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque. Together, the two engines provide 204hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. In the EV mode, the A3 e-tron has a top speed of 80mph. With its gas engine on, it gets to 130mph.

Space wasn’t sacrificed when Audi added electric batteries to the successful A3 hatchback to create the new hybrid. Audi designers put the battery pack under the rear seat where the gas tank used to be, moved the tank to where the spare tire used to be and replaced the spare tire with a can of seal-n-air-type flat-fixer. By doing so, they preserved most of the A3 Sportback’s interior volume, which some reviewers consider roomy, while others term it “adequate.” The rear seats are decently sized, but remember: this hybrid is considered a compact, meaning headroom and legroom could be an issue for taller occupants.

Audi’s first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is an example of bridge technology, which modifies a gas vehicle with one motor into a next generation vehicle with two motors: one for gas and one that runs on just electricity. Perhaps the A3 e-tron’s biggest competitor for the luxury brand market space is the BMW i3 – the pure electric is a close match price-wise to the e-tron, but gets quadruple the electric miles: 90 miles versus the e-tron’s 16 to 20 miles. Both cars are pricey: the BMW i3 wins out if you’re looking for much greater electric range for about the same price, give or take a few thousand dollars. But the prestige of an Audi is undeniable, and some reviewers prefer e-tron’s comfortable drive characteristics and interior roominess over the i3’s electric drive and slightly smaller cabin space. Another important comparison between the two vehicles: the BMW i3 tops out at 150 miles with its optional gas-powered range extender; the Audi A3 e-tron gets 400 miles.

Concerning the interior, says: “The 2016 A3 e-Tron is pretty much identical inside to the standard A3. That’s no bad thing, as the A3 has brought unprecedented panache to the entry-level luxury segment. From the minimalist dashboard design to the top-quality materials, the A3’s cabin will impress you with its classiness. Intricate and well-finished details abound, such as the rotary air vent dials that surround the vents themselves and the MMI display that slides demurely into the dash top when not in use.”

Currently, the A3 Sportback e-tron is the only way consumers can purchase an A3 hatch in the United States. It comes in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. The base Premium trim includes 16-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, automatic wipers, a panoramic sunroof, heated side mirrors, keyless ignition and entry, cruise control, and eight-way power front seats with leather upholstery. The rear seats split-fold to 60/40. The e-tron has a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, LED interior lights, dual-zone auto climate control, Audi’s MMI electronics interface (which uses a 5.3-inch screen) Bluetooth, a rearview camera, front and back parking sensors, a 10-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite and HD radio and an SD card slot.

The Premium Plus and Prestige trims add extensive options including Audi’s proprietary digital music interface with an iPod cable, a navigation system with a larger 7-inch display, auto-dimming and power-folding side mirrors, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, driver assistance systems including lane-departure prevention, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and a frontal collision warning system with automatic emergency braking.

Pros: Audi style, luxury, technology, hatchback versatility and sporty driving characteristics. Cons: modest electric range, steep price tag.