The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron looks like any other, but this is the most efficient version of the Audi A3. While BMW has stolen a march with its ‘i’ sub-brand of EVs, can the A3 E-tron be a game-changer or is Audi playing catch up?
Based on the five-door Sportback, the A3 E-tron’s chrome grille and larger, more aero-friendly 19in alloys are the only visual clues that this is a plug-in hybrid. Don't worry, the stickers pictured in our gallery are purely for the press demonstrator.
Under the conservative skin is a 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol four-pot teamed with a 99bhp electric motor, while under the rear seats – but, critically, ahead of the rear axle – is a lithium-ion battery pack. Total output? A handy 202bhp – the most powerful A3 bar the flagship S3 – yet with 188mpg and 35g/km of CO2, it’s more efficient than a plug-in Prius.
Impressed? The E-tron’s capabilities are solid: a 584-mile theoretical total range, with 31 miles of that under electric power.
While EV mode is the default setting, you can actively select electric or petrol propulsion. Say you’re driving from Birmingham to London: you can save the electric power for the capital’s congestion zone, sipping petrol instead on the motorway, where the engine is at its most efficient. Clever.
The E-tron will take such a journey in its stride, too. The driving position is identical to the regular A3, apart from a few buttons and the green-lit instruments.
The wheel-mounted shift paddles, no longer necessary for gearchanges, can now be used to select the amount of regenerative braking desired, so you can top up the battery as much as you want or use full power.
In EV mode there’s little noise, but the instant torque is great for gaps in traffic. It’s a smooth transition when the petrol engine takes over, but the superb refinement (as opposed to silence) is maintained. Here the throttle’s responsive, and the A3’s quick, with a 7.6sec 0-62mph claim.
When it comes to corners, the steering is responsive but lacking feel – no change from any other A3 – while there’s a surprisingly comfy ride, good body control and firm roadholding. Even in the wet it still grips well, but the it feels heavier than a regular A3 (it’s 349kg heavier, in fact) under throttle and around corners. In isolation it doesn’t feel hefty or overweight though.
You can also drive the E-tron at proper speeds in EV mode: it comfortably managed the 80mph speed limit in Germany with no trouble at all. Blend in brilliant levels of refinement and Audi’s built a genuine, premium eco-hatch.
So the A3 E-tron is progress, but more a tentative step than a revolution. It has the advantage of familiarity while being a subtle execution rather than a grandiose statement, and although UK prices are yet to be confirmed, it costs the same as an S3 in Germany – about £32k.
That’s the same price as a Prius Plug-in; proof that the A3 E-tron should be a genuine contender.