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Audi A3 Sportback e-tron 2015 review

EXPERT RATING
7
Chris Riley road tests and reviews the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.

Talk about choice. You can buy six versions of Audi’s A3 Sportback, with a choice of four different engines. Make that seven with addition this week of the A3 Sportback e-tron

This one is a bit special, though, because it's a plug-in hybrid - a car with both petrol and electric motors - that plugs into a powerpoint when it needs to be recharged.

The five-door hatch is the first of a new wave of Audis that will be followed by a plug-in version of the Q7 early next year and an e-tron version of the R8 supercar, just like the one Tony Stark drives in the Avengers movie - although there's no plans for a right-hand drive version yet. All promise a combination of super performance and outstanding fuel economy, in a car that thankfully doesn’t look like a child's toy - unlike some competitors.

The A3 e-tron is in effect three cars in one.

It can run on electricity alone, it can operate on a combination of electric and petrol power and it can work with the petrol engine by itself just like a normal car - a normal A3, in fact.

The good news is there's no risk of being left stranded because the petrol engine cuts in automatically when the battery runs out.

Audi claims a combined range of 920km, but it's something of a moving target because energy reclaimed from braking tops up the battery along the way.

The hybrid powertrain consists of a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that delivers 110kW and 250Nm plus an electric motor that produces 75kW and 350Nm.

The electric motor is integrated into the six-speed automatic transmission, but the combined output is 150kW and 350Nm, with drive to the front wheels.

The e-tron weighs 305kg more than a normal A3, of which 125kg is the battery pack.

The pack sits under the rear seat and the petrol tank has been pushed back and reduced to 40L to make room, with a slightly smaller boot and tyre repair kit instead of a spare.

To help offset the extra weight the bonnet and front guards are made of lightweight aluminium.

The charge socket where you plug it in is hidden behind the sliding front badge, with claimed fuel consumption just 1.6L/100km.

A chance to do your bit to save the environment, without looking like a goose doing it.

The thing is at $62,490 the e-tron costs $24,000 more than the fuel-saving, multi-displacement COD model.

At $1.20 per litre for petrol that equates to something like 400 tanks of fuel, enough to take you a whopping 425,000km - or the cost of fuel for the life expectancy of the car.

That makes no economic sense - although the car comes with some added attractions like leather, sports seats, LED headlights, drive mode select, DAB digital radio, 20GB hard drive, satellite navigation, park assistance, front and rear parking sensors plus a rear-view camera.

The decision to buy this particular car is more a philosophical one. A chance to do your bit to save the environment, without looking like a goose doing it.

It's targeted at city folks who travel less than 50km to work and back each day, who can recharge the 8.8kWh battery using off-peak power for as little as $1.01.

In fact, Audi has kicked in 10,000km worth of green power credits to help you on your way.

Audi Australia boss Andrew Doyle said the company stands for sophistication, sportiness and progressiveness.

By 2030, he added, 40 per cent of cars on the road will have some form of electrification and almost two thirds would be hybrids.

“We really need to stand and a range of alternative drivetrains is how we think we need to do this,” he said.

On the road 

Charging takes five hours using a normal power point, or half this time with one of Audi’s special charge stations that it will install free of charge if you buy the car.

Fully charged and ready to roll we pointed our car towards Sydney, but our test drive was a little different from usual.

The challenge to drive from Bowral in the Southern Highlands to Sydney airport, using as little fuel as possible.

After all, that's what it's all about, right?

Rated at 1.6L/100km, we started well getting 67km from a battery that was supposed to be good for just 50km. But real life has a way of intruding and with time running out we needed to abandon our quest and make a run to catch our afternoon flight.

That meant deploying the exterior mirrors, which we'd folded in to save drag, and moving from an 80km crawl into the cut and thrust of the fast lane.

The shift from electricity to petrol power is seamless.

In spite of all this we still managed to finish with a creditable 2.7L/100km after a 150km drive - in any other car we'd have been over the moon.

Our change of tactics paid dividends because at least we got to learn something about the ride and handling, not to mention the performance.

Although it's heavier than a normal A3, the weight is more evenly distributed, with a 55/45 split front to back.

With a lower centre of gravity it sits better on the road and feels more planted, with better turn into corners.

The shift from electricity to petrol power is seamless and, boosted by the electric motor or not, it will not disappoint.

Verdict

Looks like an Audi. Drives like an Audi, but has the ability to deliver amazing fuel economy - what a shame it's so expensive. For the same price you could have the high-performance S3 (I know which one we'd take).

Pricing Guides

$26,990
Based on 144 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$18,990
Highest Price
$79,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
1.4 TFSI Attraction Cod 1.4L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $18,990 – 33,990 2015 Audi A3 2015 1.4 TFSI Attraction Cod Pricing and Specs
1.8 TFSI Ambition 1.8L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $24,990 – 36,990 2015 Audi A3 2015 1.8 TFSI Ambition Pricing and Specs
1.8 TFSI Ambition Quattro 1.8L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $29,990 – 32,990 2015 Audi A3 2015 1.8 TFSI Ambition Quattro Pricing and Specs
2.0 TDI Ambition 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $26,750 – 26,990 2015 Audi A3 2015 2.0 TDI Ambition Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7