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Audi A3 E-Tron a smart electric

Audi A3 E-Tron promises fuel economy as low as 1.5-litres/100km.

Like many other manufacturers Audi is trying to second guess which way automotive propulsion systems will go. "Engines" will inevitably change due to ever tightening environmental restrictions and other influences.

Plenty rides on the outcome — which engine comes to dominate. Get it right and you’ll reap billions, get it wrong and you will do your dough. Audi has a whole bunch of irons in the fire including hybrid petrol/electric cars, methane gas powered cars and plug in full electric vehicles.

Full EVs still have a way to go on two fronts, cost and range. Batteries have not come down in price to the expected low level and even good plug in EVs can go perhaps 250km best case scenario.

Which leaves Audi’s A3 E-Tron petrol-electric hybrid as the most likely contender for the near future from the big German. It is one clever piece of kit due, here in about 18 months at a possible 10-20 per cent premium over a similar spec’ conventional A3

FUEL ECONOMY

The E-Tron promises fuel economy as low as 1.5-litres/100km when the 50km battery range is factored into the economy figures of the petrol engine. Unlike other petrol electric hybrids on the market, the A3 E-Tron can be put in "generate" mode to recharge the battery when driving.

It can also be plugged into either a domestic or three phase commercial power outlet to recharge the battery system in as little as two hours.

And it doesn’t look whacky in the slightest. No goofy styling from Audi thank you very much. The E-Tron looks the same as any other A3 inside and out until you open the bonnet or look under the boot floor.

MOTIVATION

The car we saw in Germany last week -- and which will be the same as the one we’ll get here -- was powered by a 1.4-litre, TFSi petrol engine with 110kW/250Nm output boosted by an in line 75kW electric motor neatly integrated into the six speed dual clutch manumatic transmission.

It drives the front wheels, which harvest regenerative power from brake application and deceleration. This set-up is sufficient to push the small Audi from 0-100kmh in a sharpish 7.6 seconds which is better than most of the conventional A3 that just arrived here.

It runs a 96 cell, 250-400 volt lithium ion battery system that helps the E-Tron achieve up to 1000km range on one 40 litre tank of petrol. The system is complex as it has a cooling system to extend the battery’s service life as well as an electronic control system.

PRACTICAL

The battery system is mostly under the rear seats forcing the pressurised petrol tank behind the rear axle which could create problems in some countries for safety reasons. Cargo capacity is unaffected by the electric drive system and is 280 litres with the rear seats in place, 1120 litres with them folded.

The engine is familiar being in many Audi/VW vehicles but this is the latest and greatest version featuring full aluminium construction, internal anti-friction coatings, clever thermal management that optimises efficiency and even an oil quality sensor if the car is used for months at a time simply as an EV without starting the petrol engine.

The powertrain delivers strong performance from a standstill with no lag at all thanks in part to the torque instantly available from the electric engine.

MODES

The A3 E-Tron can be driven in one of four modes; EV, Hybrid auto, Hold and Charge modes. In Hybrid auto mode the car determines the best strategy for optimum fuel efficiency. The A3 E-Tron will also get Audi’s excellent Drive Select system offering different dynamic set-ups including Normal, Comfort, Individual and Dynamic.

CLEVER

Clever stuff includes 50 per cent of braking using the regenerative system before initiating the conventional brakes, a glide function to reduce fuel consumption and boost mode with both engines running at full capacity for maximum acceleration.

The A3 E-Tron gains all the interior goodies that came with the recently introduced new model A3— Audi Connect online services, a range of apps, the ability to dictate texts and have info read to you, and if you have a smartphone you can program it to tell the car to perform functions from a distance such as start the engine and adjust the air conditioning.

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