Electricity, even after a more than a century, is a fascinating energy source, and never fails to intrigue and bewilder us. We all like the "zen" like deployment of power of an electric engine, its absence of noise, vibration, and its massive torque, delivered in a beautiful silence. This is also the main charm of a hybrid or electric car. Especially in traffic jams. Just enjoy the music, your favourite jazz tracks, and the comfort of your seat... completely undisturbed by anything mechanical.
And when this hybrid package comes from the Audi stable, you can enjoy it even more. Because this car comes with superb dynamics, agility and, last but not least, performance. Last but not least also with style, just look at our test car, a fiery red A3...
Hans Knol ten Bensel
For its A3 e-tron, Audi has chosen the formula which is at present the most practical setup to achieve ecologically responsible propulsion, which is both suited as well for our fast, long motorways, as our congested mega cities: plug-in hybrid.
Indeed, you can plug in your Audi e-tron to charge its batteries, and then drive around under magical silent power for a good 100 km, and enjoy the boulevard ride in your (mega)city. Or you can commute briskly on this e-power, as this e-tron easily cruises at 120 km with its electric engine alone, with accelerations and pleasant pulling power to match. Top speed in EV mode is limited to 130 km/h.
Or you can forget about all this (home) recharging and just let the 150 HP four cylinder state-of-the art Audi engine do all the work. But it is not just your ordinary hybrid.
Audi gives you here the choice between three modes: first mode is "hybrid auto" which will use and discharge the battery as well as the engine, second mode is "hybrid hold", where it will keep at all times the battery charged at the maximum level,
or lastly you can opt for "hybrid charge", where it will use the engine power not only to propel the car, but also to fully (re)charge te batteries when they are not full of course.
During most of our test, we chose the "hybrid hold" mode, not least because this gives us a good "neutral" indication of the efficiency of the hybrid system, translating in a fuel consumption which is not positively influenced and improved by the aid of battery power.
We found out that the fuel consumption then approaches and matches the efficiency of a good modern diesel, certainly so when adopting a brisk, sporting driving style. In very dense city traffic jams the hybrid Audi can have the edge, as then the use of the electric power in start stop situations becomes very efficient indeed. When you add to this the smooth, "zen" propulsion, then, you will agree with us, the e-tron wins hands down.
In brisk, partly fluent city traffic with varying speeds and lots of accelerations the diesel powered car would be about 15 pct more frugal, according to our test experience. City driving consumption varied between 10,5 and 7,5 litres, brisk motorway driving resulted in 6,5 litres/100 km. of course, with the increasing use of electric power, these figures can improve dramatically.
Where the e-tron also clearly has the edge is in the availability of torque and pulling power. Indeed, the electric engine is good for 75 kW and instant 330 Nm of torque. In combination with the engine, this gives you quite a lot of horses and torque to play with. Not less than 150 kW and 350 Nm.
Energy is recuperated when braking... with the electric motor then charging the hi-tension batteries...
When you floor the accelerator, things then get really going: the A3 e-tron will catapult you from 0 to 100 in a mere 7,6 seconds, and the bare figures on paper do not tell the whole story: it is the completely effortless way in which this performance is delivered which is so inspiring and attractive.
This constant availability of all this power gives the e-tron the uncanny flexibility of a powerful feline, and one can make good use of any gaps or opportunities daily traffic situations may offer. This greatly enhances the driving pleasure of this e-tron which cars with "classic" propulsion can hardly match. Of course the e-tron has a high top speed, not less than 222 km/h.
As can be expected, the Audi engineers have worked in a high level of refinement into the drive train, which functions without any jerks whatsoever. Indeed, power flows seamlessly from electric motor to engine and vice versa, and they work also very harmoniously in combination. Audi has provided also a very restful "coasting" function, which sets in whenever conditions allow. The transitions between this coasting function and engine or electric power are also imperceptible, which is no small feat, especially at high speeds. Needlesss to say that the frequent use of this coasting function greatly improves fuel consumption.
Audi build quality...
The A3 impressed us again by its quality. Seats ar excellent, the body is immensely strong and stable, the suspension is set up ideally, especially when one can choose between comfort, dynamic and "auto" settings, where it chooses itself the proper setting adapted to your driving style.
The A3 is certainly a drivers' car, with precise steering, impeccable road manners, a very good balance between comfort and sportiness. The state-of-the-art MQB platform sees to this, along with the vast experience of Audi in setting up and calibrating suspension truly tells.
Finish and the quality of the materials used in the interior are also beyond reproach, and the alcantara covered seats in our test car were very comfortable indeed. The uncanny silence of engine and drive train lets appear road and rolling noise on rough tarmac somewhat more markedly, and the efficient four cylinder engine also is not entirely vibrationless when working hard.
The good ergonomics, the stylish instrumentation with the Audi typical beautiful lettering can of course also be enjoyed in this A3, along with the excellent ergonomics and the quality feel of knobs and handles.
A very smooth and powerful performer, with excellent economy when one considers the high performance level of this car. The plug-in hybrid set up certainly makes this Audi very versatile. It can hold its own in city centres where zero emission driving is required, and feels equally totally at home on the fast left lane of the Autobahn...
The A3 plug in hybrid has a lot to say for itself, and points indeed to the superb level of refinement, economy and sheer performance a contemporary car can achieve, certainly when it comes from the Audi stable...
Hans Knol ten Bensel