Audi A3 Sportback e-tron 2016 review
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
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How do you know if there’s a vegan at your party? They’ll tell you. Yeah, you’ve probably heard that one, but the same goes for many hybrid and electric cars whose odd-ball styling tells every other road user that the driver is acting selflessly to save the planet. And you should thank them, immediately, for being amazing. So if you’re the type that does good things just for kudos then BMW’s new 330e petrol-electric plug-in hybrid is probably not for you.
The 330e looks just like a regular 3 Series, the only hints that it might be a bit different are the low-key eDrive badges behind the rear doors and the charging port near the left front wheel.
Press your face up against the glass to look inside and the only thing in cabin you won’t see on a normal 3 Series is the eDrive button near the gear shifter.
Beneath the skin the 330e is actually quite different. Under the bonnet is the same turbo-petrol engine found in the 320i – a 135kW/290Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder – but located in between that and the eight speed transmission is a 65kW/250Nm electric motor.
There’s never been a 330e before – it’s the second of BMW’s new i Performance hybrid cars to come to Australia, hot on the bumper of the X5 Xdrive40e SUV which arrived in May.
BMW has priced the 330e at $71,900, that’s just $2000 more than the 330i and places it a rung below the 340i range-topper. Standard features are identical to the 330i. The cabin is wrapped in Dakota leather, there’s an 8.8-inch multimedia display, with 360 degree surround view and reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, DVD player, proximity unlocking, power adjustable front seats and 19-inch alloy wheels.
But wait there’s more. Before you get in your 330e after it’s been sitting in the sun all day you can cool the cabin down remotely using a phone app. No other 3 Series can do this, because they don’t have a battery cooling system which can also be harnessed to regulate the cockpit temperature.
Like all 3 Series models, there’s two cupholders in the front centre console, another two in the fold down armrest in the back and bottle holders in all four doors.
The 330e has a maximum five-star ANCAP crash test rating, plus there’s stability and traction control, AEB, collision and blind spot warning and active cruise control. There’s also two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points for child seats.
Having a petrol engine and an electric motor at your disposal provides some interesting driving options and this where that eDrive button near the gear shifter comes in. The Save Battery mode lets you purr along purely on petrol, while braking recharges the battery. Auto eDrive sees the petrol engine and electric motor work together. Max eDrive will let you drive the 330e on electricity alone at up to 120km/h (the petrol engine will kick in after that) and you’ll make it about 30km on a full charge.
Even if you’re not environmentally minded the thought of not having buy petrol for your weekday driving is enticing.
Sure, 30km doesn’t seem far but according to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development the average Australian’s commute to work is 15.6km. It’s entirely possible then for many Aussies to get to and from work without burning a drop of petrol. Even if you’re not environmentally minded the thought of not having buy petrol for your weekday driving is enticing.
The 330e comes with a charging cable that’ll plug into your regular household power point and fully charge the car in about 3.5 hours. BMW also sells a wall unit charger (installation costs $1750) which can give you a full charge in 2.5 hours. The electricity bill comes out at about $2 per full charge, which is cheaper than a train ride to work with an armpit in your face.
There are also currently 262 BMW charging stations around Australia with 256 being free to use.
The 330e’s Australian launch took us on a 50km round trip through Melbourne’s inner suburbs – this really is the natural habitat for the 330e where most of the time you’re in stop-start traffic and covering short distances. BMW executives admit that if you live in the country clocking up bigger miles a diesel would a better proposition.
The plan was to see if we could make it to the 25km halfway mark on a single charge. We were at a disadvantage from the outset, having used our test car to film the above video beforehand which left just 15km of range showing on the dash display.
Selecting Max eDrive mode for pure electric driving, the 330e covered exactly 15km before reverting to petrol power. This accuracy suggests that 30km from a full charge is quite realistic.
The car switched itself over into Save Battery mode for the rest of the journey, without myself or my co-driver detecting it – so smooth and imperceptible was the transition from electric to petrol.
Driving in Save Battery can charge the 330e faster than a wall unit and after driving 12km we had regained 25 per cent of charge.
With 10km of charge showing, we started our return trip back using just electric power. We made it 15.5km. So you can run on empty in an electric car too, then?
Our total fuel usage was 2.3L/100km, not far off BMW’s official 2.1L/100km figure. So even in a combination of modes the 330e is very fuel efficient.
In the same way that the 330e looks just like a regular 3 Series, it also drives just like one too - the ride is on the firm side of comfortable and handling is excellent. Our test car was fitted with the M-Sport package which brings sports suspension for better handling, but the compromise is a harder ride.
The lithium-ion batteries under the boot floor along with the hardware which goes with them adds 165kg to the weight of the car and you don’t notice it until you meet a corner with a bit of speed on. The batteries also reduce the volume of the boot by 110 litres to a still-useful 370 litres.
Gripping the chunky steering wheel the 330e goes exactly where you point it, that sounds obvious but this accuracy is a BMW trademark.
Performance when you mash the pedal in Auto eDrive mode is excellent with both the petrol engine and electric motor joining forces for an output of 185kW and 420Nm. That’ll fire you from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds.
The silent running in full electric mode is a thing of beauty. At one point as we cruised along at about 60km/h I could hear a cracking noise, and being a panic merchant I thought it was the windscreen, then realised we were moving along so quietly we could hear the lightest of rain drops splashing against the glass. Time spent in traffic is never tranquil but that was pretty nice.
The 330e shouldn’t be thought of as purely an eco-car, it’s not – that’s the i3. The 330e is really just a 3 Series with benefits. It gives you a smart-tech alternative to just sitting in the traffic setting fire to petrol and going nowhere fast every morning and evening. And with its unassuming looks the 330e normalises hybrids, too – a future we are heading towards, where hybrid cars look like every other car.
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