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First drive: Audi A3 Sportback TFSI e. Image by Audi UK.

First drive: Audi A3 Sportback TFSI e
Audi provides a 204hp plug-in hybrid alternative to a diesel A3 Sportback.

 



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Audi A3 Sportback TFSI e

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

This Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e is the most powerful model in the current line-up this side of the 310hp S3, but its reason for existence isn't speed; rather, it's a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) with low emissions, almost 40 miles of zero-emissions range and minimal tax requirements. Is it the A3 to go for as a result?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e S line
Pricing: A3 Sportback range from 23,865; 40 TFSI e S line from 34,960 (or 457.77pcm on PCP, with a 10 per cent deposit and optional final payment of 16,371.85 across 48 months at 6.2% APR, 10,000 miles per annum), car as tested 36,825
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol plus 80kW electric motor and 13kWh lithium-ion battery pack
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic
Body style: five-door plug-in hybrid hatchback
CO2 emissions: 29g/km (VED Band 1-50 Alternative Fuel Cars: 0 first 12 months, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 234.5mpg, 13-13.8kWh/62.5 miles, 40.4 miles EV range
Top speed: 141mph (limited, Hybrid mode; 87mph limited, Electric mode)
0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Power: petrol 150hp at 5,000-6,000rpm, electric 109hp, system maximum output 204hp
Torque: petrol 250Nm at 1,550-3,500rpm, electric 330Nm, system maximum output 350Nm
Boot space: 280-1,100 litres

What's this?

As with other, larger Audis in the product portfolio, the PHEV version of the A3 Sportback is no longer called the 'e-tron' but is in fact now the '40 TFSI e'. Of course, there was a direct analogue to this car in the old Mk3 A3 family, which, er, was called the e-tron, so we'll forgive you if you're a bit confused on your Audi PHEV nomenclature these days.

Interestingly, the mechanical set-up of the new A3 40 TFSI e is not much different to the old A3 e-tron that appeared back in 2014. Both use a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine rated at 150hp/250Nm, and both have peak system outputs of 204hp/350Nm as a result. Both can do 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds and both are front-wheel-drive cars with six-speed automatic gearboxes. The differences amount to the technical minutiae, really, as the TFSI e has a slightly larger electric motor (80kW or 109hp, instead of 75kW or 102hp on the e-tron), a considerably larger battery - at 13kWh, it's 48 per cent more capacious than the 8.8kWh item on the e-tron - and so it has modestly better stats to go with that. Whereas the A3 e-tron could do 137mph in Hybrid mode and 80mph in Electric, the TFSI e increases those numbers to 141mph and 87mph. It can also purportedly go 40 miles on electric power alone, whereas the e-tron managed 31 miles; and, lest we forget, the TFSI e's EV figure is a more believable WLTP metric, whereas the e-tron's range claim was under the discredited NEDC. The 40 TFSI e will also run 0-37mph in Electric mode in a mere 5.2 seconds, which makes it great for 'scooting' in urban areas, while a scarcely believable combined economy figure of 234.5mpg compares favourably to the e-tron's 176.6mpg, as again this is a case of WLTP versus NEDC. Although good luck ever getting 234mpg from an A3 40 TFSI e, even if you religiously charge the thing every time the battery level drops.

Speaking of which, charging times take around five hours. That's on a 2.3kW domestic socket, but you can only trim it slightly to 4.5 hours by using a 2.9kW AC wallbox. Still, there's the option to replenish the battery on the move, using the 1.4-litre engine, and as it's only a PHEV then five-hour charging times are not notably slow. It's basically a case of 'charge it at home overnight, charge it while you're working in the office for eight hours a day', and you'll be fine. Beyond this, visually you won't easily spot a TFSI e from a regular TFSI. It's mainly down to boot badging and the plug-in port flap on the front nearside wing of the Audi to give the part-electric game away, although this is no bad thing because the Mk4 is an angular, aggressive-looking creation and rather handsome. Inside, the cabin is superb and, aside from an 'EV' switch on the centre console and a different digital display in the dashboard (there's a 'Power' gauge more prominent than the rev counter), it's all very straightforward in here. Bear in mind it loses a lot of boot space to house the hybrid clutter, though, as it has 100 litres less capacity than a regular FWD A3 Sportback with all five seats in place (280 litres) and just 1,100 litres with the second row folded away. Audi UK will sell the 40 TFSI e as a Sport, from 33,060, or an S line, as tested here, from 34,960, which also makes it one of the most expensive A3s by some distance.

How does it drive?

Hmm. Not... brilliantly, if we're honest. The problem is that the normal TFSI models in the current A3 range use the very lovely 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine, and if you opt to pair them up to an S tronic twin-clutch autobox then you get seven ratios to play with. The TFSI e, however, uses the older 1.4-litre lump and an ageing six-speed S tronic, and so its drivetrain doesn't feel advanced - odd, considering it's a forward-thinking petrol-electric. Revved out, the 1.4-litre sounds harsh and doesn't provide the liveliest of performance in a car which clocks in at a meaty 1,635kg with just a driver onboard, while the transmission feels slow-witted and can be occasionally foxed by sudden changes to throttle input. Compounding this is that we drove the TFSI e with low battery charge, so once its electrical reserves were drained the performance felt markedly flat and the fuel economy nosedived. We did try charging the battery on the move but, across 30 miles of spirited Cotswolds driving, the TFSI e didn't put any extra bars of capacity into the lithium-ion pack's gauge in the cluster.

It's not so much the lack of speed which bothers us, even though this A3 has a peak 204hp and should therefore feel quite brisk, and nor is it the relative lack of refinement to the drivetrain; driven more gently, the A3 TFSI e is quiet and cultured enough, and understandably it's deeply impressive once the 1.4 dies away and the Audi is running on its enhanced electric motor alone - noise suppression in the cabin is first-rate by the standards of this class. However, what lets the TFSI e down is the ride quality. The S line sits on 18-inch alloys and it always came across as just a touch too unsettled on poorer road surfaces. Sure, it's not outright uncomfortable to travel in but it doesn't deal with rucked-up tarmac in as dignified a manner as we'd hope, and the brittle ride spoils the otherwise-serene manners of the TFSI e when it's running as an EV. It's not as if this is a range-wide failing of the A3, because we drove a 35 TFSI S line Saloon only a few weeks before the PHEV Sportback and it rode with greater grace and dignity at all times than the TFSI e managed on a brief sojourn around the south-west.

Verdict

Technically impressive in terms of the integration of the electric running gear, when it comes to the A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e then Audi is perhaps slightly undone by its own pioneering spirit. If this was the company's first attempt at a C-segment hatchback PHEV, we'd perhaps be more blown away by the way it drives. Furthermore, if it just rode and handled like a 'normal' Mk4 A3 Sportback, we'd happily recommend it to you. However, it isn't the first of its kind, having been preceded by the A3 e-tron with which the TFSI e - surprisingly - shares so much hardware, and nor does it ride, handle or indeed perform in quite the same classy fashion as a plain petrol A3 that you could find elsewhere in the line-up. Factor in a high purchase price in the first place and you realise that unless you really need its tax-busting CO2 emissions to help you out long-term with the running costs, then we must conclude by saying the compromised, expensive A3 40 TFSI e isn't the best model in the Audi's range.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

3 3 3 3 3 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 19 Dec 2020









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2020 Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e S line UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e S line UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e S line UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e S line UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e S line UK. Image by Audi UK.

2020 Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e S line UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e S line UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e S line UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e S line UK. Image by Audi UK.2020 Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSI e S line UK. Image by Audi UK.








 

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