2014 Audi A3 E-tron drive
* Pre-production E-tron driven * Petrol-electric hybrid emits 35g/km CO2 * Combined 201bhp and 258lb ft torque...
The Audi A3 E-tron is the company's first plug-in hybrid production car, and is only available as a five-door Sportback model.
E-tron cars we've driven before have been powered solely by batteries and electric motors, but the A3 E-tron combines this technology with a 1.4-litre petrol engine to give a range of nearly 600 miles.
The A3 E-tron has CO2 emissions of just 35g/km, yet offers near hot hatch levels of acceleration. We had the chance to drive a pre-production car around Frankfurt to see what this blend of economy and performance feels like.
What's the 2014 Audi A3 E-tron like to drive?
The E-tron will feel familiar if you've driven an automatic Audi A3 before. It uses the same six-speed DSG auto gearbox, although this has been specially adapted for the E-tron to work with the electric motor as well as the petrol engine.
The A3 E-tron has as much power as you get in a Renault Clio RS, as well as 258lb ft of torque. Acceleration is unsurprisingly brisk - Audi says it will hit 62mph from rest in 7.6 seconds, which isn't that far behind hot hatches such as the Ford Fiesta ST.
While the E-tron is noticeably quicker than its petrol and diesel siblings, though, it's also considerably heavier. There's more than 300kg of extra weight to carry, although the mass is more evenly spread over the chassis compared with the standard car.
The E-tron doesn't handle as well as our favourite A3s, but the differences aren't huge. Turn-in isn't as sharp and the ride isn't as supple, but it's still an agile and comfortable car. Moreover, an Audi source told us there is still some fine-tuning to be done to the damping, so it may improve.
The 31 miles of electric range should mean that most commutes can be achieved with zero tailpipe emissions. Audi envisages owners will then plug in the car at their workplace during the day or at home overnight.
Recharging the batteries takes less than four hours using a conventional household socket, or just over two hours with an industrial power supply. You can also use a mobile phone app to schedule charging at specific times, or top up the battery on the move using the charge function of the EV Mode button; if you were travelling at motorway speeds, this could charge the battery from 18% to full in around 40 minutes.
What's the 2014 Audi A3 E-tron like inside?
The A3 E-tron has the same stylish, uncluttered cabin as the standard A3. There are plenty of high quality materials and all of the switchgear feels solid.
Rear space is also unchanged, so there's enough leg- and headroom to let two adults travel in comfort.
Only the boot disappoints. The E-tron's large battery sits under the rear seats, so the fuel tank (reduced to 40 litres) has been moved right to the back. This means the standard A3's 380-litre boot has shrunk to 280 litres in the E-tron; that's only slightly larger than a Ford Fiesta's.
On the plus side, buyers still get the same easy-to-use infotainment system, along with unique dials and information readouts to remind them that they're sitting in a plug-in hybrid.
Should I buy one?
In Germany, the A3 E-tron starts at €37,000, which makes it around €2000 cheaper than the S3 Sportback. The S3 Sportback costs £31,260 here, so if the same pricing structure is adopted, the A3 E-tron would cost around £30,000 when it arrives in the UK. It will be eligible for a £5000 Government grant, too.
At that price, it would be around £3000 less than the range-extender BMW i3 or Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid. The Audi looks even better value when you consider that it bests the i3 for range and boot space, and outguns the plug-in Prius on CO2 emissions and fuel economy.
Taking performance into account, it's around £6000 more expensive than an equivalent petrol or diesel A3 Sportback. However, its claimed economy is more than twice as good as that of the 1.6 TDI model, which attracts a 14% company car tax charge versus 5% for the E-tron. At £30,000, the E-tron would cost a 40% taxpayer just £600 per year.
Private buyers are likely to be better off with a conventionally powered car, but for company car users and early adopters our early drive suggests the A3 E-tron could be the most accomplished and affordable plug-in hybrid yet.
What Car? says…
Audi A3 E-tron
Engine size 1.4-litre petrol-electric hybrid
Torque 258lb ft
0-62mph 7.6 seconds
Top speed 138mph (81mph in EV mode)
Fuel economy 188mpg