Audi A3 Sportback e-tron review
The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron has, like the rest of the A3 range, been the recipient of a mid-life refresh. As one of only two plug-in offerings from Audi, the hatchback is at the vanguard of the firm's electrification plans - which are set to expand dramatically in the next few years. A solid offering before, NGC finds out how the changes have affected the compact PHEV.
Review by Chris Lilly
The same vital organs remain the same as before for the A3 e-tron, which sees a 150hp 1.4 litre TFSI petrol engine work hand in hand with a 75 kW electric motor. Combined power output is rated at 204hp with 350 Nm of torque. On paper the Audi packs quite a punch then, an impression that's borne out by a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds. In reality though, the A3 e-tron rarely feels particularly fast, despite having more than enough performance for most. In part this is down to the silky-smooth 6-speed DSG automatic gearbox which delivers power in a very linear fashion. Another factor is the refined nature of the engine/motor combination which work quietly together. Probably the biggest factor though is the rapid acceleration in shorter bursts, utilising the instant torque of the electric motor and surprisingly gutsy turbo-petrol unit. Short sprints are tackled very quickly, and this gives an admittedly inaccurate impression that the A3 e-tron begins to run out of puff when at higher speeds. Quick then, but refined in its performance.
Audi has mercifully not tried to make the A3 e-tron a sporty model, and as such it's a very comfortable car to drive. If you want a more performance-biased model, the VW Group is happy to help with the VW Golf GTE. Although the performance figures are exactly the same, the two cars feel very different in the way they drive. With its GTE badge, VW has aligned the Golf as a performance model, and as such the car is a bit stiffer with sharper handling. It's no pure-GTI, but the impression of sportiness is there. The Audi on the other hand returns a supremely comfortable ride considering this is a small family hatchback. The added weight of the battery pack and electrical systems means Audi either needed to stiffen the suspension to retain the A3's agility, or keep it softer and offer a comfortable cruiser. Picking the latter, the A3 is a little at sea when pushing hard down a twisty road, but the rest of the time the Audi is a pleasure to drive. In town - whether in traffic or moving freely - on the open road, or on the motorway, the A3 e-tron behaves like a much larger car in terms of its ride. Long journeys can be completed easily and in comfort, while pottering around town is about as relaxing as it's going to get without resorting to being chauffeur driven everywhere.
Although the changes are subtle, the new A3 e-tron is actually quite different to the pre-refresh model. The exterior boasts new lights and bumpers front and rear, but perhaps the most prominent difference is a new front grille with added chrome. Essentially it's Sportback - read five-door hatchback - shape though, which is a handsome if unflamboyant design. Audi's A3 is a high selling model for the firm, and they quite rightly haven't messed about with the looks too much. As a stylised two-box design, the A3 is fairly practical for occupants, with a surprisingly good amount of leg room in the rear. Head and and shoulder room is pretty good too, and while the interior is not hugely spacious, it is far from cramped. Visibility all round is good too. As with the previous version, the A3 e-tron's boot space is limited compared to the rest of the class. The reason is because of the addition of PHEV components taking up space under the boot floor, which creates a relatively cramped load area. However, it only becomes something of an issue if really loading the A3 e-tron to the gunwales for a trip away or similar. The boot is perfectly large enough for normal use like carting shopping bags or school backpacks etc with no problem at all. Hindering things is a large single charging cable case that's fairly rigid, meaning that it can make it awkward to pack around, and a jack that is strapped to the boot floor.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Audi interiors are some of the best in the business at the moment, and the new A3 e-tron is no different. The infotainment screen rises out of the top of the dashboard, and is controlled by Audi's excellent MMI system. This comprises a dial that can be knocked in the main compass directions as well as being rotated, and is supported by shortcut switches to skip to the main functions; sat-nav, radio etc. The volume control is also a dial located don the transmission tunnel which is good for two reasons. Firstly, it declutters the centre console improving the lines there, while a dial is so much better to control the volume with than buttons, actual or touchscreen. It's a little point, but these are the aspects that buyers tot up when deciding which model to go for. The steering wheel is excellent, of a nice size, thickness, and design to be really comfortable to use, while the digital display on the test car is fantastic and customisable. Switchgear all feels superbly made and is beautifully fitted into the cabin, with a row of toggle switches running along the dashboard feature line. Use of aluminium detailing brightens up what would otherwise be a dark cabin, and the round air vents are both very practical and stylish. The seats all-round are comfortable no matter how long your drive might be, and they are supportive while cornering too.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Getting the official figures out of the way to start with, the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron emits 38 g/km CO2, will cover up to 29 miles on electric power, and returns 166.2 MPG. As always with PHEVs though, these figures are only useful to compare against other PHEVs. If you drive everywhere without charging the battery then those statistics will obviously be much worse. Likewise, if you almost never cover more than 25 miles in one go, your fuel economy figure will be almost immeasurably high. In real world driving conditions, on a 45 mile route with a mix of urban, A- and B-roads, and motorway - with around half of the route high speed driving - the A3 e-tron returned 57.9 MPG without any starting charge. Obviously the car was able to regenerate a bit of energy for the battery on the move, so that's not saying that the electric motor wasn't used, but it is relying on no external battery charging, and driving the A3 like a conventional hybrid. I think that figures is very good and is easily liveable with. Over 650 miles of driving, with some long trips taken without charging - one included a 250 round trip with just the initial charge from home available - the A3 e-tron returned 55.3 MPG. That's driving the Audi in a non-PHEV friendly way remember. If I had been able to charge more often, those figures would have been much better, and you can take that 55MPG as a worst case scenario almost.
Obviously the major green aspect of the A3 Sportback is the e-tron bit. The PHEV powertrain includes an 8.8 kWh battery and 75 kW electric motor. Brake regeneration is available by pulling back on the gearstick to active 'B', providing a fairly high level of braking strength, easily enough to almost drive just with one pedal with practice. The rest of the PHEV part of the A3 is actually relatively simple. The car starts in EV mode, which is good, but there are only two other options - Hybrid and Battery Hold. Some rivals offer Battery Charge too, using the engine to top up the battery. The Audi will do this anyway when the conditions allow, but there is no way to force it into doing so. There's also no 'eco' mode which is surprising. The Audi comes with a drive select system which alters the responsiveness of throttle and steering, and the speed of the gearchanges, but the options are 'Comfort', 'Auto', 'Dynamic', and 'Individual'. As you've seen from the above section, the car is pretty handy economically speaking anyway, but it's still unusual to not have an eco option on a PHEV. It will take about 3.5 hours to fully top-up the battery from a three-pin plug, and less than three hours if plugged in to a 3.6 kW home or public charge unit. The charging inlet is hidden behind the Audi logo on the grille, and uses the Type 2 standard. n app allows you to check on the status of the A3 e-tron's charge, and can control climate control settings and charge timings, both of which can be set up through the car's on-board system too. According to our calculations, the tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 33.
The A3 as a range comes well equipped, and the e-tron is even more so. Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, dynamic suspension, Audi Drive select, automatic headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, MMI Navigation Plus system with sat-nav, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and DAB, LED headlights, home and public charging cables, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, active lane assist, and cruise control. Options included on the test car included different 17-inch alloy wheels, driver assistance pack, sport steering wheel, and Matrix LED exterior lighting pack.
There is one main issue with the A3 e-tron, and that's the price. Coming in at £33,540 after the Plug-in Car Grant, the VW Golf GTE - which shares the A3 e-tron's platform and powertrain - starts from £30,635 after a recent price drop. Even the BMW 330e PHEV starts at a lower price, and it's a larger car. It's also a lot more than a competitively specified diesel or petrol model, even though big fuel savings can be made for e-tron owners if driven to its strengths. This means there will be few private A3 e-tron owners. The good news for Audi is that it will make a lot of sense as a company car purchase, with very low BIK rates and recharging likely to be available at the workplace. Then the A3 e-tron begins to make a lot of sense. This is good as the Audi A3 e-tron is a very good car. Comfortable, fast, and economical, the A3 e-tron ticks a lot of boxes.
Model tested: Audi A3 Sportback 3-tron
Body-style: Five-door hatchback
Engine / CO2: 1.4 litre TFSI petrol with electric motor / 38 g/km
Trim grades: Just one
On-road price: From £33,540 inc PiCG. Price as tested £38,788 inc PiCG
In the showroom: Three years / 60,000 miles. Battery warranty: Eight years / 100,000 miles
Review rating: 4.0 Stars