It looks like a regular Audi A3 from the outside, but hiding behind the famed four-ring badge is something that makes the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron very different from every model that has come before it.
That front badge hides the charge point connection for the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, which is a plug-in hybrid, petrol-electric, genre-bending model that is still conventional in many ways.
The fact it only looks slightly different to the regular A3 – a chrome grille, some chrome design flicks on the front and rear bumpers, no visible exhaust pipes and e-tron badges on the boot-lid and front quarter panels – is something Audi thinks will make it more endearing to potential customers who don’t want to be seen as overtly eco-conscious.
Audi A3 Sportback e-tron program manager Johannes Salzberger told CarAdvice at the car’s international launch in Vienna, Austria, that it was a conscious decision to make the car look like a conventional model from the outside.
“With the A3 you have the comfort of knowing it’s like a normal car but with the new technology and the new plug-in hybrid system.
“It’s not like the BMW i3, which is a specialist car,” he said.
It also means the car isn’t compromised like purpose-built plug-in models such as the Holden Volt. The A3 e-tron is still a five-door, five-seat hatchback, and while the boot volume has been decreased by 100 litres to 280L due to the fuel tank having been relocated to under the floor of the boot, it seems normal from a passenger perspective.
The powertrain consists of a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is teamed to a six-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission. That transmission also plays host to a 75kW electric motor, and is backed by an 8.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack that is situated below the rear seats.
In total, the drivetrain can produce 150kW of power and 350Nm of torque for short periods. The company claims the car can hit 130km/h in electric mode and 222km/h in hybrid mode, while its 0-100km/h claim is 7.6 seconds.
More impressive is its claimed fuel consumption, which is rated at 1.5 litres per 100km on the European combined cycle test, with emissions rated at just 35 grams per kilometre. The consumption is aided further by low rolling-resistance tyres that were developed specifically for the new model, and Audi claims these reduce CO2 emissions by 5.3g/km.
However, it is worth noting that once the batteries are depleted, the range will incrementally rise as the engine will be required to power the battery pack directly.
As we found on our road test at the launch of the A3 e-tron in Austria, driving outside of the city limits hampers the effectiveness of the drivetrain. We recorded a fuel consumption average of 4.8L/100km over our 106km test route, and our best consumption was within the urban environment.
A lot of this comes down to which of the four driving modes are being used.
The modes are EV (full electric), Auto (both petrol and electric available and usable depending on the conditions), Hold (petrol engine only, with batteries taken offline to retain their charge level and add to it through regenerative braking) and Charge (petrol engine used to power car and recharge batteries). These modes are accessed via the EV button on the dashboard, which is one of the only giveaways that you’re driving anything other than a standard A3, though they can also be selected via the Audi MMI media system.
In our test the engine was called upon to back the batteries under hard acceleration (which Audi calls Boost mode), and we were also asked to use the Charge mode in order to replenish the energy levels of the batteries.
There’s no denying the high-tech drivetrain is complicated, and with extra complexity comes extra weight.
The A3 e-tron tips the scales at 1540 kilograms unladen – well above the 2.0 TDI version which is the second heaviest A3 front-drive model at 1395kg. The all-wheel drive 1.8 TFSI quattro weighs 1455kg.
Product manager Tobias Meyer said the A3 e-tron offers buyers three cars in one.
“It offers three different types of mobility – it is a BEV, a battery-powered electric vehicle, but it is also a PHEV with backup from a conventional ICE (internal combustion engine) and, being an Audi, it’s a performance model,” he said.
Audi Australia says it will include a “standard installation” pack with the purchase of the car, which will see a purpose-specific powerpoint installed on a separate circuit, though it will be a 10-amp 240-volt plughole rather than a higher-speed 15-amp point.
Audi says the car can be recharged in less than four hours from a regular plug, with that figure falling to just over two hours using a quicker “industrial outlet”.
Buyers in countries other than Australia can “remotely check the status of the car, such as the battery charge and electric range, and also call up a variety of service information and the car's location” by using the Audi Connect e-tron services app for smartphones.
The app also allows owners to manage when the car will be charged, and also preset the climate control without draining the car’s batteries.
But as with the standard Audi Connect system – which allows owners to install a SIM card and use their vehicle to connect to the web and even act as a WiFi hotspot – the hardware currently used by Audi makes it impossible for Australian consumers to make use of the services, as the frequencies available aren’t suited to the system.