Audi has the perfect foundation to launch the new A3 e-tron hybrid hatchback. That would be victories in the last three years at the Le Mans 24-hour race for the famed hybrid-powered Audi racers.
Despite the high profile of electric-powered cars, Audi says the internal combustion engine is far from a spent force. The German giant is committed to a hybrid future and reckons by 2030, internal combustion engine will still be fitted to 80 per-cent of new cars sold, but in 20 per-cent of them, that engine will spend some or all of its time as a charger for an electric motor.
In the pipeline for Audi is the high-performance RS5 TDI bi-turbo where an electric motor operates as a form of supercharger to eliminate turbocharger lag at low speeds.
And for a glimpse of the future, consider the Audi Allroad Shooting Brake which debuted at the Detroit Auto Show in January. It is like the Le Mans racers with a petrol engine driving the front wheels and electric motors driving the rears.
Audi A3 e-tron Overview
To maximise exposure during Audi Hamilton Island Race Week – the yachting regatta Audi has sponsored for nine years – a handful of left-hand-drive A3 e-tron hatchbacks were air-freighted from Ingolstadt, Germany direct to the beautiful island, complete with German number plates. CarShowroom.com.au was part of the first group of Australian journalists to drive the A3 e-tron although many yachties got to sample the hybrid hatchbacks as they were used as shuttle vehicles from the marina to accommodation venues on Hamilton Island where the most common form of transport is electric golf buggies.
So the A3 e-tron is the A3 hatchback in S-Line form with a combination petrol-electric powerplant driving the front wheels. Due in Australia in March next year, Audi reckons the price tag will be about $60,000.
Audi A3 e-tron Engine
When you purchase an A3 e-tron, Audi will arrange for a qualified technician to inspect the electrical system of your home in preparation for installation of the battery re-charging wallbox (normally installed in your garage). Obviously Audi can’t be across the infrastructure of every single Australian household but the German giant reckons in most cases there will be no extra charge to suitably upgrade the system.
It’s a clever set-up which can convert AC to DC and includes a timer so you can maximize the cost benefits of re-charging in off-peak electricity times. From completely flat, the battery pack in an Audi A3 e-tron can be re-charged from a standard 10AMP home outlet in five hours or 2.5-hours using a 16AMP system.
You’ll need that because the Audi A3 e-tron is powered by the 110kW 1.4 TFSI petrol engine and a 75kW electric motor. System output is 150kW/350Nm.
Drive is to the front wheels via a six-speed S tronic automatic transmission.
Zero to 100km/h is just 7.6 seconds and combined-cycle fuel consumption is rated at 1.6l/100kms – giving a range of 940kms on a single battery charge and tank of fuel.
The driver can select the EV mode via a dashboard switch. So you choose from ‘Electric Drive’ (EV) which has a range of 50kms; ‘Use Battery Charge’ (hybrid auto – this is the setting you would most commonly use); ‘Retain Battery Charge’ (hybrid hold – uses the petrol engine and keeps the battery charged); ‘Increase Battery Charge’ (where the engine is a generator).
A technical fascination is installation of the petrol/electric drivetrain. The petrol engine is actually shifted 6.0cms to the right to make room for the electrical components…engineering types will understand the difficulties involved with that shift but Audi was determined the A3 e-tron would look virtually identical to the regular A3 model.
The electric motor is located behind the petrol engine’s flywheel – it’s a permanently excited synchronous design which weighs only 34kgs and is liquid-cooled.
The 96-cell lithium-ion battery pack is stored in its own protected environment under the rear seat.
Audi A3 e-tron Interior
The familiar top-shelf Audi A3 presents itself when you open the door of the e-tron version. The cars we drove on Hamilton Island were German S-line models but we’re told their specifications mirror Australian versions – we noticed hallmark flat-bottom sports steering wheels, shapely seats, abundant leather and Alcantara roof lining just for starters.
Of course the gauges differ for the e-tron model. Otherwise there are hardly any differences to the regular Audi A3 pleasingly – styling is certainly not altered – but, for example, the driver information screen contains unique functionality options and in pure electric mode the rev-counter swaps to a power meter.
Importantly, all of this electronic stuff hasn’t diminished the practicality of the A3 e-tron – luggage space is still 280-litres with the rear seat in-place and up to 1,120-litres when folded.
Audi A3 e-tron Exterior & Styling
Subtle changes stamp the e-tron as a unique member of the Audi A3 family. Most obvious is the matt black front grille and, if you look closely, aluminium headlights and the Audi four-ring logo which very cleverly folds-out to reveal an ingenious plug-in set-up for battery re-charging.
Look closer and you’ll notice the sporty looks of Audi’s S-Line (a unique front bumper and side sills, matt black rear diffuser and 17-inch alloy wheels).
Look at the rear end and you’ll not see something every other Audi A3 has – that would be the exhaust tailpipe(s). For the A3 e-tron the tailpipe is hidden.
Audi A3 e-tron On The Road
Well runway actually. Roads on Hamilton Island aren’t plentiful so Audi set-up a driving course on the airport runway and taxiways. So consider this a brief preview from an island paradise and check back in ahead of the A3 e-tron’s official launch immediately preceding its March on-sale date (bet the location won’t be as exotic as Hamilton Island).
Sure the kilometers covered on Hamilton Island weren’t too taxing, nevertheless your CarShowroom.com.au correspondent was dutiful and tried the Audi A3 e-tron in the various e-tron modes. Airport staff had thoughtfully racked-up numerous baggage trailers to ensure any out-of-control Audi A3 e-trons didn’t collide with the private jet parked nearby belonging to Hamilton Island owner Bob Oatley (he also owns Oatley Wines and the Sydney-Hobart winning yacht Wild Oats).
Amazingly some nay-sayers still try to tell you, electric cars are golf bugger-slow. Wrong.
And, here’s the thing dinosaurs – with 330Nm of torque available immediately, the Audi A3 e-tron, like other new-generation electric cars, delivers neck-stretching acceleration. Ah, 7.6 seconds zero to 100km/h is akin to the regular 1.8TFSI A3 and you’d never suggest it struggles to keep up in freeway merging.
At the other end of the scale you’d get plenty of arguments if you suggested the regular Audi A3 1.8TFSI isn’t a slick all-round German prestige hatchback. So it is in the A3 e-tron – those unique spring/damper rates, 55/45 weight distribution, plenty or rubber courtesy of the 17-inch alloy wheels and of course the Audi version MQB platform mean, in any mode this car has performance credentials aplenty.
Repeated attacks of the usual ‘swerve-and-recover’ test produced little body roll, impressive point-in and of course great balance.
All of this with combined cycle fuel consumption capability as low as 1.6l/100kms don’t forget.
Early days of course but the portents are good. As well as our Hamilton Island experience, international reports on the Audi A3 e-tron we’ve read are good and, seriously, who would expect Audi – the star brand of the Volkswagen Group, the world’s biggest car-maker - to encounter a snafu with its first volume-selling hybrid model…like that was ever going to happen.
Audi A3 e-tron Issues
It wouldn’t be ethical to fling any criticism in the direction of the Audi A3 e-tron after such a limited drive.
Audi A3 e-tron Verdict
Naturally we’ll have to wait until we get more seat time to provide a fuller evaluation but from what we’ve seen and (briefly) sampled the Audi A3 e-tron is already the premium small car hatchback for us. Sure the A3 e-tron is a little pricier than its most direct rival but consider a few points: top-shelf driving dynamics thanks to Audi’s crisp version of the MQB platform, an extra 50kW/208Nm and the beautifully styled interior and exterior which are Audi hallmarks.
Audi A3 e-tron The Competition
Obviously it’s the Lexus CT 200h. Lexus is priced less (from $39,990), unquestionably delivers a lot of car for the coin and Toyota is amongst the industry’s front-runners for hybrid development. But we’re ranking the Audi A3 e-tron ahead for styling (outside and inside) and even at this early stage, we’re inclined to suggest the German chassis engineering is in front for sporty driving dynamics.