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Until now the only place we have seen an Audi e-tron is at the Le Mans 24-hour race. Next year we will see Audi e-trons on the roads of Australia.
Winning car races is never easy, but hybrid diesel-electric Audis have taken out top spot at Le Mans for the last three years, despite increasingly tough competition from Toyota and Porsche.
It's an old saying but a true one - 'racing improves the breed'. The white-hot pace of competition pushes engineers, cars and drivers to the limit, and forces them to come up with the immediate solutions. Solutions that can be passed onto the guys and gals designing road vehicles - like the Audi A3 e-tron Sportback.
Audi A3 e-tron Sportback is a plug-in, petrol-electric, hybrid that uses a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine giving up to 110 kW of power and 250 Nm of torque; the electric motor produces up to 75 kW and 330 nm. However, the two power sources produce their best effort at different times so the combined figures show a maximum of 150 kW of power and 350 Nm of torque. That's plenty in a car of this size.
Audi A3 e-tron Sportback is a plug-in hybrid and can be charged from any normal household socket. Charging from 'empty' to 'full' is likely to take about five hours, however 'topping it up', as is likely to be the case in real life driving, can take significantly less time. A special charger can be purchased and installed that reduces full charge time to around two hours.
The battery sits under the back seat, necessitating the relocation of the petrol tank to underneath the boot floor. This means a reduction of boot capacity from 380 litres to 280.
Cleverly, the charging point sits behind the Audi four-ring badge in the radiator grille, it's revealed by turning a knob which causes the badge to move out and to the side.
Audi A3 e-tron can be driven purely on electricity, only on petrol, or the two in combination. The driver can chose which way to run it, but most owners will simply let their car do its own thing, having advised the car of how green and/or sporting, they feel at any given time.
Pure EV (Electric Vehicle) range is typically about 35 to 50 kilometres, with petrol power extending that to as much as 940 km according to Audi's calculations.
Prices and specifications are yet to be finalised, but expect high levels of equipment and a tag of about $60,000. We will fill in all the blanks when we attend the media launch of the fascinating new Audi A3 e-tron Sportback early in 2015.
The Audi A3 e-tron Sportback looks and appears to drive like any other Audi A3. Looks can be important to buyers; some want a vehicle that screams out that it's different and the owner is keen to be seen as environmentally conscious. Others simply want to quietly do the right thing.
We say 'appears to drive' like any other A3 because our initial test drives on A3 e-trons were carried out on Hamilton Island; the cars were specially flow in from Germany and can't be registered in Australia as the steering wheels are on the wrong side.
Audi had the A3 Sportbacks on Hamilton to show them to potential customers attending the annual Audi sponsored yachting Race Week.
Driving on acres of concrete at an airport isn't exactly a common test drive (though we've done it in other cars in the past) but did give us a chance to test acceleration, braking and cornering.
Though it weighs about 200 kg more than the standard A3, the e-tron had the extra torque of the electric motor to instantly assist acceleration. The added grunt will make for easy hillclimbing and safer overtaking.
I've long predicted that the biggest selling point of electric cars isn't going to be their green credentials but the fact that their performance and near silent running are both enjoyable. This all-new Audi hybrid certainly supports that theory.
The Audi e-tron's handling felt good as the extra weight is low down in and placed in roughly equal amounts front and rear. However, we will have to wait till the Audi hybrid is launched in Australia in March 2015 to comment on normal on-road behaviour.
Finally, can I yet again rant about the fact that Australian governments are doing absolutely nothing to assist people to get into low-emission vehicles with electric power? Every other developed country on Earth provides a combination of subsidies, lower taxes or registration, free parking, the right to drive in transit lanes even with only one person in the cars, cheaper electricity; often much more...
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