Matthew Bellamy famously bawled something about his plug-in baby crucifying his enemies, and while Audi’s latest hybrid hatchback may not intend to slay rivals with such violent conviction, it does plan to introduce stress and emissions-free motoring to the masses.
Thanks to the clever combination of an electric motor and a small petrol engine, the A3 e-tron Sportback is arguably the first compact car to offer all of the benefits of internal combustion (impressive range, respectable performance and the ability to refuel in seconds) with the fuzzy feeling of social responsibility offered by a car that emits just 37g/km of CO2.
Best of both worlds
Those brave enough to take the plunge into all-electric motoring will undoubtedly bemoan the many hurdles: Where do you install the wall charger? How far can you actually drive? How real is the risk of breaking down on the hard shoulder of the M3 in a snowstorm?
Although Audi’s e-tron still requires a certain amount of commitment on the charging front, it doesn’t come with the worry of conking out. Thank the 1.4-litre TFSI engine for that, as it cleverly kicks into action when the 96 individual battery cells that power the 75kW electric motor run low or when the driver requires added grunt.
An EV switch on the dash allows the user to toggle between driving modes: ‘EV’ for all-electric drive, ‘hybrid hold’ that ensures all battery power is conserved until manually called upon and an ‘auto’ mode, which decides what power source is best for the situation. There’s also a “charge” setting that replenishes the batteries via the engine.
Previous all-electric offerings and more recent ‘range-extenders’, such as the BMW i3, have purposefully pushed the boundaries of futuristic car design. This is great for making a statement but not so good for tempting the masses away from their fossil fuel burning run-arounds.
Audi has ensured its A3 e-tron looks like an, erm, A3, with only a few exterior flourishes marking it out from its comparatively prehistoric brethren. Clues to the e-tron’s game-changing intentions mainly reside inside, where a new instrument cluster displays charge, efficiency and boost rather than a typical rev counter and a small digital display highlights battery juice levels and the combined range of the petrol engine and battery cells.
There’s also a smartphone app that allows owners to remotely heat or cool the car, check on battery levels, locate a parked car and ponder fuel efficiency figures of previous journeys. The app is a bit clunky and not nearly as beautiful as the system employed by BMW in its ‘i’ range.
Expect to motor for approximately 550 miles on a single tank and charge – that’s London to Aberdeen for around £55 – but that figure can be significantly increased if you can sniff out a high-speed charging point along the way.
Audi engineers claim that the A3 e-tron can be recharged in 2 hours 15 minutes via an industrial charger, or around 3 hours 45 minutes from a standard domestic socket. Not ideal if you’re relying on battery power alone but the addition of the engine will put an end to awkwardly long waits at service stations.
Daily commutes and journeys under 30 miles can be covered using battery alone, meaning congested, noisy and expensive petrol stations can be avoided by the majority of city dwellers with regular access to the charging network or those lucky enough to own a garage with space for a wall socket.
Those expecting Light Cycle performance from the A3 e-tron may be disappointed. Despite the option of choosing ‘Dynamic’ mode via the drive selector switch, the combination of front-wheel-drive and an extra 350kg from the hybrid system soon puts an end to properly spirited hoons.
It’s swift off the line though, with 350Nm torque happily launching this hatchback from the traffic lights quicker than anything else in A3 range (not including the potent S3, that is). The four-cylinder engine - which provides the majority of shove - is a bit noisy, mind.
It holds on to gears too long, resulting in an engine note that sounds like someone has thrown a packet of Duracell batteries into a blender. Not nice considering that the silence experienced in all-electric mode rivals that of a Rolls-Royce.