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First drive: Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.

First drive: Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Audi joins the plug-in electric revolution with its A3 Sportback e-tron, a premium-badged tax-dodge with lots of appeal.

 



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| First Drive | Vienna, Austria | Audi A3 Sportback e-tron |

Overall rating: 4 4 4 4 4

Mixing a 148hp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol with a 102hp electric motor you somehow get the 204hp Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. The numbers might not add up exactly, but they will for your fleet manager.

Key Facts

Model tested: Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Pricing: 29,950 (after 5,000 grant)
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and electric motor
Transmission: front-wheel drive, automatic
Body style: five-door hatchback
Rivals: BMW i3 REx, Lexus CT 200h, Toyota Prius plug-in
CO2 emissions: 37g/km
Combined economy: 176.6mpg
Top speed: 137mph (combined) or 80mph (electric only)
0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Power: 204hp at 5,000- to 6000rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1,600- to 3,500rpm

In the Metal: 3 3 3 3 3

The new model looks much like any other Audi A3 Sportback, so by definition it's familiar, the e-tron joining a mass of middle management machines on our roads. Only the sharper, single-frame chrome grille, more prominent badge (behind which is the e-tron's plug-in socket), subtle e-tron badges on the front wings and boot lid and 15-spoke alloy wheels differentiate it. That's either to its benefit or its downfall, as the e-tron looks fairly ordinary if you're hoping to make an environmental statement like you would in a BMW i3.

The interior follows Audi convention too, so solid build, excellent functionality and fine materials are all present and correct. The e-tron gains greater functionality in the pop-up infotainment screen, though again there's little inside to highlight that this A3 adds an electric motor to proceedings.

Driving it: 3 3 3 3 3

The A3 Sportback e-tron is understated in its looks and so too is it quiet on the road, impressively so. By default it moves off in electric-only mode, so Audi worked very hard on removing the background electric noise that's obvious in many EVs. That alone has required Audi to rethink everything from the sound of the climate control's fan to other noises that would otherwise be drowned out by the sound of an internal combustion engine.

Four drive modes are offered: pure EV, hybrid, a hold setting that keeps the remaining battery charge, and last of all a mode that pushes power to the batteries to charge them up as quickly as possible. Add in the Sport and manual modes of the six-speed automatic transmission and there's a lot of choice for the driver. Too much arguably; Audi e-tron drivers will need to be dedicated to the cause of ultimate efficiency if they're to get anywhere near the official 176.6mpg combined figure - a number around 100mpg less is a more realistic one in daily driving.

The EV mode will work up to 80mph, though do that and you'll struggle to manage the potential 31 miles on batteries alone. Regardless, as a hybrid it's seamlessly integrated, the TFSI engine all but silent in operation, until you ask a lot from it. Do so and there's sound, and not a huge increase in pace, the A3 e-tron feeling moderately brisk rather than in any way sporting.

Accept that mindset, as you'd expect the target customers to do, and understand that its conventionally powered (petrol or diesel) A3 relations deliver greater agility, significantly less understeer and more outright grip and you'll not be disappointed. If you're predominantly in town then the A3 e-tron's ability to glide around silently emitting nothing is genuinely appealing, as are its official emissions figures if you're buying it with company money.

What you get for your Money: 4 4 4 4 4

After a 5,000 Government grant the e-tron costs 29,950, which puts it right at the top of the A3 Sportback tree (S and RS models excepted), though Audi sweetens the deal by adding plenty of standard equipment. LED headlights, HDD nav plus, Audi's music interface and Audi connect internet services are all included.

Worth Noting

All that additional technology has to go somewhere, and the e-tron battery alone adds 125kg, while boot space suffers by 60 litres (seat up and down) compared to its quattro relations. Charging time is four hours from a domestic socket, or 2 hours 15 minutes from a public or home 'wallbox' charging point.

Summary

Audi's new A3 e-tron is a car that offers emissions-free driving within a fairly strict set of parameters, though achieves this without the compromises of many rivals. Audi's integration of the plug-in hybrid technology is impressive, the petrol and electric motors and six-speed gearbox working very well together. It comes with huge refinement, lots of standard equipment and excellent economy and emissions figures, the latter resulting in obvious tax and running cost advantages. It's just a shame it's not more distinct looking, as while it'll salve your environmental conscience, it'll do so without letting everyone know how green you're being.


Kyle Fortune - 25 Jun 2014









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2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.

2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.



2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.
 

2014 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. Image by Audi.
 






 

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