High on engineering content, short on range
For those not wishing to wear their environmental credentials on their shoulder by driving a car as overtly styled as a BMW i3, Audi’s first plug-in hybrid would seem to have it all. Visually, ‘e-tron’ badging will be subtle on production cars, while inside an efficiency meter in place of the tachometer is the only way to detect that underneath this very familiar skin is a very different kind of Audi.
How different? If you believe the figures, 176.6mpg, 37g/km with 0-62mph in 7.6sec and a top speed of 138mph different. In other words, proper performance coupled with science fiction fuel consumption and, lest I forget, a 580-mile range, 30 of which can be accomplished in electric mode via a battery that can be charged in just four hours via a conventional three-pin plug. Or you can simply ask the engine to do it for you as you drive along. So, in short and at least in theory, here is a car with all the benefits of electric power, with none of the crippling range and charge-time drawbacks that have hobbled so many other cars to come to this small and only slowly growing market.
And it requires nothing extra from you as a driver. It has four selectable modes, but you can just leave it in auto and it’ll spend what time it can (and at speeds of up to 80mph) whooshing you along on a tide of electrons before letting its 1.4-litre petrol join in either when the battery is running low or when more power is required. In total it has more than 200bhp.
But if you now suspect there is a sizeable qualification heading in the direction of this tale, may I be the first to congratulate you on your perspicacity. There are some smaller problems surrounding this car and one very big one. The lesser grumbles include a compromised boot even before you take into account the space required by a vast bag that carries all the cables should you wish to charge it away from home. It’s also quite heavy, tipping the scales some distance the wrong side of 1.5 tonnes, inevitably blunting the A3’s scarcely sharp handling. But the real issue is the fuel consumption. I drove it 300 miles, primarily on motorways and at average traffic speeds, and it did not 176.6mpg nor even 76.6mpg, but less than 45mpg. In other words less than I’d have expected from a top-of-the-range A3 diesel (which is both quicker and cheaper, by the way).
To the company buyer or the London dweller where there are tax issues to consider, the A3 e-tron will undoubtedly make sense and I commend Audi for integrating the electrics so seamlessly and unobtrusively. But for most people most of the time, you’re still better off saving the money and buying a diesel.
£31,635 (before £5000 government grant)
Engine: 1.4 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged, plus hybrid electric drive
Power: [email protected]
Torque: 238lb [email protected]
Transmission: six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Top speed: 138mph