Plug-in petrol-electric hatchback gains extra tech and revised styling
Along with the rest of the Audi A3 range, the plug-in hybrid Sportback e-tron has had a nip and tuck, with an injection of tech on the inside and a tweaked appearance externally. It remains mechanically unchanged, though.
That means it still carries a 1.4-litre petrol engine and electric motor in the front, both driving through a six- speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, and under the rear seats lives an 8.8kWh lithium ion battery. All that equates to a combined output of 20lbhp and a 0-62mph time of 7.6sec, along with combined fuel economy of I66.2mpg and just 38g/km of CO2.
As with many hybrids, there are some drawbacks. Aside from a higher list price than mainstream A3s, it has to lug around the weight of its electric motor and battery, impacting on its dynamic ability. Furthermore, real-world economy is never as jaw-dropping as the official figures suggest, and the electric-only range is often more limited. We managed around 18 miles in typical use.
On start-up, the car defaults to EV mode, but regardless of which of its three powertrain modes it is running in, the e-tron remains impressively quiet at most speeds. Along with EV mode, there’s Hybrid, which uses a mix of electric and petrol power, and Battery Hold, which preserves the battery’s charge by getting the four- cylinder engine to do all the work.
The small drive battery ensures that a full charge doesn’t take too long (around two hours from empty, according to Audi), although the e-tron does a pretty good job of replenishing the charge itself. The petrol engine will do this as it runs, helped by regenerative braking. The brakes can be quite grabby, though.
The transition from electric to petrol and vice versa is pretty seamless, but enthusiastic kickdowns can result in slightly sluggish gearchanges. However, the e-tron offers relaxed cruising, with excellent refinement and a compliant ride.
Performance is brisk and there are different driving settings: Comfort, Auto and Dynamic. Comfort is fine for everyday use, but Dynamic, which adjusts throttle response, steering, and gearchanges, gives a greater sense of urgency to the acceleration.
However, throwing the e-tron into a corner while carrying some speed highlights a few of the drawbacks of its higher kerb weight. Where the standard A3 handles accurately and precisely, this hybrid has more body lean and less front-end grip.
Inside, a simple, user-friendly layout includes a 7.0in touchscreen atop an uncluttered dashboard. The e-tron is available in only one trim, but it is packed with tech, including Bluetooth, sat-nav and DAB radio, and now it gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration.
Everything else is as you’d expect from an A3. It is comfortable, offers great visibility, has a nice driving position and is fairly spacious, although around 100 litres of boot space have been lost as a result of hybrid packaging needs.
As an easy-going daily driver, the A3 e-tron is a great hybrid option that would be a perfectly usable car for many urban motorists. It is slightly disappointing that its driving dynamics don’t entirely live up to its straight-line pace, though.
The technical wizardry doesn’t come cheap, either. Even with the £2500 government grant, it’s £7000 more expensive than an automatic A3 Sportback 2.0 TDISE Technik. Sentencing it to a life of urban driving could make the e-tron cheaper than the diesel in the (very) long run if bought privately, but it makes better sense for company car tax-paying business users. If you’re in this camp, it’s well worth investigating.
Audi A3 Sportback E-tron
Facelifted A3 e-tron is a first-rate plug-in hybrid that’s packed with tech, if a little short on driver appeal
Price: £32,745 (after gov’t grant)
Engine: 4cyls, 1395cc, turbo, petrol, plus electric motor
Power: 210bhp (total system output)
Torque: 258lb ft (total system output)
Gearbox: 6-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1540kg
Top speed: 138mph
Economy: 166.2mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 38g/km, 7%
Rivals: VW Golf GTE, BMW 330e