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by Greg Steele

Audi will launch a plug-in version of its all-new small car, dubbed the Audi A3 e-tron, in 2014 in favour of a pure electric version, with Volkswagen Group engineers agreeing the hybrid technology is the best current solution for reducing fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions.

According to Dr Horst Glaser, general manager of development chassis at Audi, “electric technology is not far enough advanced to extend beyond a range of 150km without being very expensive”.

As a result, Glaser says plug-in hybrid – a best-of-both-worlds combination of combustion-engine and pure-electric propulsion – will be the way to go for the Audi A3 fuel miser.

In markets like the US and Japan, the relative unpopularity of diesel engines means plug-in hybrids will become the favoured ‘enviro’ technology. But in Europe (and Australia), where diesel is much more dominant – even with the strict Euro 6 emissions standard looming (due in 2015) – diesel would beat plug-in hybrid on a cost-effective basis.

But come Euro 7 and beyond, the cost of developing diesel to meet emissions regulations could be prohibitive – tipping the favour towards the plug-in hybrid.

Currently, almost all Audi models are available as clean diesel (Euro 6 standard), but the larger cars need AdBlue injection to remove the NOx out of the exhaust gases – requiring an extra tank, pump, fuel and exhaust mods. The smaller Volkswagen Group cars achieve Euro 6 without all the extras, but this may not be the case under future vehicle-emissions legislation.

The Ingolstadt-based brand’s Paris show concept, the Audi Crosslane Coupe (above), showed what a future plug-in hybrid could look like – combining a super-efficient, small-capacity petrol-turbo engine with a pair of lithium-ion batteries.

The result speaks for itself – an exceptional 1.1 litres per 100km fuel average and just 26g/km of CO2 on the European combined cycle. According to Glaser, 1.1L/100km is “an achievable figure for hybrid cars”.

And it’s not just family hatchbacks set to get the plug-in hybrid treatment. The star of Porsche’s motor show line-up – the Panamera Sport Turismo – has an ‘e-hybrid’ drivetrain with 306kW total power output that is capable of 3.5L/100km and emits just 82g/km of CO2.

Porsche claims it can also travel on pure electric propulsion at 130km/h for a distance of over 30km.