The nippy five-door hybrid premieres the battery packs and electric motor options for all Audis.

Every man now has access to Iron Man’s electrifying set of wheels — sort of. The Audi A3 Sportback e‒tron may not look as sexy as the electric-powered R8 supercar Tony Stark drove in Iron Man 3 but the petrol-electric hatchback doesn’t require a billionaire’s budget to buy one either.

Explore the 2015 Audi A3 Range

Carsguide believes the A3 will be the most convincing hybrid on sale when it arrives in Australia early next year priced about $60,000, which is less convincing.
However, that’s the price early adopters pay for the latest technology, be it in a mass-production vehicle or a bespoke supercar. 

What the A3 shares with the R8 e-tron are the innovations in battery packaging and electric motors that Audi plans to roll out across its range.

Hybrid drivetrains are the focus, given they negate the “range anxiety” of pure EVs (that is, “How far can I go before the charge runs out?”) and let buyers decide whether to use the electric motors for good or evil.

In the case of good, the battery pack in the A3 will provide electricity for up to 50km. Those with a more aggressive driving style can combine petrol and electric propulsion to hit 100km/h just 7.6 seconds after takeoff with fuel economy still rivalling that of a small-displacement diesel.

For those with their heart set on emulating their Marvel superhero, Audi plans to build “on demand” production versions of the electric-only R8 early next year. Range is said to have been boosted to more than 400km and the sprint to 100km/h is said to be in the low 4-second bracket … which should suit wannabe superheroes.

For those with less lofty aspirations, the A3 Sportback e-tron hides its many talents under a regulation A3 exterior.

Discreet e-tron badging, subtle changes to the front end chromework and a ridiculously low fuel use sticker on the windscreen of the five-door hatch are the only indications this vehicle is a petrol-electric plug-in model.

VALUE

At an estimated $60,000, the Audi will be on par with the Holden Volt and about $8000 cheaper than the futuristically styled BMW i3 hybrid. That’s commendable. Less so is the e-tron’s $17,000 premium over a conventional 1.8-litre turbo.

As a return on investment, the price difference equates to a lifetime of fuel. That doesn’t factor in theenvironmental advantage, given most city dwellers will comfortably reach work — even make the round trip — before the battery charge is drained and the petrol motor kicks in.

TECHNOLOGY

The electric motor, like the engine, drives through the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The Audi uses energy regeneration to help charge the 8.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack nestled under the rear seats and boot, in theory extending the range beyond the claimed 50km.

It will also decouple the rivetrain when it detects the driver is coasting and doesn’t require motive power. The power and fuel savings are minor in isolation but, abetted by components such as low rolling-resistance tyres, they quickly add up.
The combined outputs of engine and motor are 150kW/350Nm.

DESIGN

For all visual intents and purposes, the e-tron is a regular A3. The grille surround is matt black with 14 horizontal bars and forked chrome struts spread across the air inlets. Down back, the exhaust has been hidden. That’s about it.

Changes inside include new display graphics to show battery charge and energy use and a button that toggles between the various hybrid modes, from pure EV to automatic to hybrid charge (the engine feeds the battery) and hybrid hold (battery charge is preserved until the A3 gets off the freeways and encounters urban driving).

Relocating the 40-litre fuel tank under the boot reduces cargo volume by 100L to 280L.

SAFETY

As an A3 variant, it inherits a five safety stars. It’s the top-scoring small car( 36.41/37) in ANCAP’s database, marginally ahead of the Mazda3. Seven airbags are standard and options include lane departure and blind spot warning.

DRIVING

There’s a degree of irony in the fact the added mass of the e-tron setup — highlighted by the 125kg of batteries mounted above the rear axle — makes this the best-handling A3 by offsetting the regular car’s nose-heavy attitude.

Weight distribution is 55-45 (as opposed to 60-40) and it shows in the more enthusiastic turn-in to corners and the way the car sits flat around bends.

This is a genuinely sporty car, if not a hot hatch in the vein of Audi’s S3. It is also the best-transitioning hybrid Carsguide has driven — the shift from motor to engine and back is heard rather than felt, even under the hard acceleration needed to encourage the petrol donk to fire up when the battery is charged.

For those who can commute on electric power alone, recharging the battery takes less than four hours from a regular household socket.

There will doubtless be an optional fast-charger in the Audi catalogue but most owners won’t need it unless they are besotted by the idea of electric-only driving and want all the bells and whistles that come with it.

That will include the smartphone app to monitor the e-tron’s state of charge and to determine when battery charging starts, as well as preheating/cooling the car.