Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Could a plug-in hybrid be the ultimate replacement for your diesel car? Here's why Audi thinks so

Its rivals might be going electric-only, but Audi says plug-in hybrids can still play an important role in Australia.

Speaking to CarsGuide at the launch of the updated RS6 and RS7, Audi has outlined why plug-in hybrids are still an important part of its brand, despite a significant focus on fully electric models from some of its key rivals.

Audi is rolling out a new range of plug-in hybrid variants which it dubs ‘TFSI e’ available in both SUV and Sportback versions of the Q5, as well as the upcoming Q8, making Audi’s largest SUV available as a V8 twin-turbo, a V6 plug-in hybrid, or as a fully electric e-tron.

Audi has tested the waters with a PHEV before in the form of the A3 e-tron in 2015 and the Q7 e-tron in 2017, and while it's finally able to deliver on a more mainstream PHEV offering, it could be too little too late as rivals like Volvo look to go electric-only early in Australia, while Mercedes-Benz has dumped the idea of plug-in hybrids altogether in the Australian market.

But Audi sees the relatively niche technology in a different light - one which could serve as a replacement for your long-range diesel tourer. According to the brand’s National Product Manager, Matt Dale, it’s not too late for Audi to start adding PHEVs to its range in 2023.

“In Europe plug-in hybrid technology was, five or six years ago, a transition toward battery electrics - Where we see this technology working in Australia is complementing both the [combustion] and battery electric ranges - they can all live in the same environment.

“The whole of Europe can fit into our country, and we like to travel long distances. Not just for business, but for holidays as well. Plug-in hybrids suit those longer journeys like we currently see with diesels. Our Q5 TDI can do over 1000km in driving range [between refills], and PHEVs could be the new technology to offer customers that level of versatility.”

“We’ve been here before [with the A3 and Q7 e-tron] to test the waters with a small hatch vs a large SUV and that achieved our goals [to investigate] the early inception of the technology - now we can really take advantage of it, which is exciting for us.”

The current diesel Q5 base model (35 TDI) is one of the longest range and most efficient combustion vehicles on sale in Australia with a fuel consumption of just 4.8L/100km, granting it an average driving range of 1354km, extending further should you use it for a longer mainly freeway journey.

Theoretically, the new plug-in hybrid Q5 55 TFSI e could travel up to 2700km on a full tank of fuel and a full charge in hybrid mode with an official fuel consumption figure of just 2.0L/100km, but would require essentially lab driving conditions and the car to be charged up as soon as its 17.9kWh battery ran dead. For day-to-day driving there are simply too many variables to land on a real-world maximum range.

Still, as a long range tourer, there’s an argument to be made that a plug-in could play that role. Surprisingly, and despite the addition of a reasonably large 17.9kWh lithium-ion battery, the Q5 55 TFSI e even maintains the same 2000kg braked towing capacity of the rest of the range.

Where it doesn’t stand up so much is price. At the time of writing, a base 35 TDI costs $70,850 before on-roads, while the PHEV which is only available in the highest S-Line trim package wears a price of $102,900. It seems doubtful that you’ll make back the additional $32,050 outlay on fuel cost, certainly not inside the warranty period of the vehicle.

It looks as though for these reasons and others, PHEVs will remain a niche choice in Australia. Until the end of October this year, plug-in hybrids accounted for 8481 units. The segment is up 68 per cent year on year, but is being dwarfed by both plugless hybrids and fully electric vehicles which are outselling them at a ratio of nearly 10:1 each. Electric vehicles have been the real star of 2023, having surged 200.8 per cent thus far, going from 1/3rd of the volume compared to plugless hybrids to almost equal.

With Volvo and Mercedes choosing the electric-only route, at least Audi will still be able to serve a luxury buyer in this niche. The brand has an unusually deep catalogue of vehicles to pull from, as over in its home market of Germany nearly its entire range is available with a TFSI e powertrain. Only time will tell if the brand gets beyond its current re-introduction of the technology on its Q5 and Q8.