Can Audi’s petrol-electric A3 live up to the COTY-winning i3?
First published in the April 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.
MEET “the electric car that doesn’t look like one”. Audi’s words, not mine. But the more I look at my freshly arrived A3 e-tron, the more it looks like any other Audi A3. All the sheetmetal is shared, as is the glasshouse. It’s as plain as Jane has ever been.
Under the skin, though, there’s plenty of electric cleverness going on. Life’s particularly busy under the bonnet, with a 75kW/330Nm electric motor alongside the familiar 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo with cylinder-on-demand. Under the rear seat is an 8.8kWh battery pack, with a 40-litre fuel tank relegated to the boot floor, which has been physically raised to accommodate it.
Not that you’d know it from a quick glance inside. If it weren’t for the chunky fabric bag in the boot to house the equally chunky charging cables, the only way you’d notice the smaller boot (280 litres versus 380) is if your non-greenie neighbours had their A3 boot popped alongside yours.
Keener eyes will notice the unique grille and wheels, as well as other details reserved for the first rechargeable Audi available in Australia.
My first big test is to learn how far this thing can go between charges. Audi claims up to 50km, but it didn’t take long to establish that prediction is about as accurate as the seven-day weather forecast. It must include lots of downhill coasting or a generous dose of nanny driving. My best result to date is 42km and the worst 35km, then it’s another 4.5 hours to top it up on the charger.
Instead of a tacho there’s a power gauge that roughly translates to how far your right hoof is pushing the go pedal.
The battery charges at about 1800W through a standard powerpoint, although the charging time drops to 2.5 hours if you’re using the home charging unit provided as part of the deal with buying an e-tron. The 16-amp single-phase charger obviously requires a garage or carport, but that’s all you have to supply; unless your house has unsuitable wiring, the dealer covers the full cost of installation and the unit itself.
There’s about $3K worth of charger there, not to mention the petrol engine, which is a $6K option on a BMW i3. That starts to make the $62,490 base price more appealing.
The e-tron also gets a heap more features that you pay extra for on the 1.8 TFSI, including LED headlights, heated seats, satellite navigation and digital radio. No spare tyre, though – that’s a no-go given the stuff crammed beneath the floor. And it doesn’t come with electric seats, but they’re part of the Comfort Package I’ve scored, which also adds an LED interior lighting package and a dipping mirror on the passenger’s side to help see when you’re about to scrape those 15-spoke wheels. Ours is also fitted with metallic paint for an extra $1050, taking the tally to $65,530.
Over the next few months I’ll be quite eager to learn whether the Audi e-tron lives up to its electric whizzbangery.
Having spent three months in the COTY-winning BMW i3 last year, I’m keen to try its most direct showroom rival. While the two are very different in execution – the BMW is a ground-up carbonfibre design in a skinny suicide-doored body, whereas the Audi looks thoroughly conventional – they are almost lineball on price.
Let the games begin…
Overcoming the extra weight
The A3 Sportback e-tron weighs 1540kg, which is a significant 260kg heavier than the 1.8 TFSI, the A3 model that it’s most closely matched to on performance. The e-tron is claimed to reach 100km/h in 7.6sec while the front-drive 1.8 TFSI takes 7.3. Whereas regular A3 variants are available as Quattros, batteries crammed in the back means there’s no room to package the all-wheel-drive system into the e-tron.
Big wheels come at a cost
Those e-tron-specific 15-spoke wheels can be had in 17-inch or 18-inch diameters, the latter adding $1800 to the bill and increasing the claimed consumption from 1.6L/100km to 1.7L/100km. Not that the fuel figure is completely relevant; as I’m learning, you’re generally using either no fuel at all or a lot more than 1.6L/100km. And there’s no spare tyre under the already raised boot floor. Batteries, remember?
AUDI A3 E-TRON
Price as tested: $65,530
Part 2: 603km @ 11.6kWh/100km (plus 25.2L of fuel)
Overall: 603km @ 11.6kWh/100km (plus 25.2L of fuel)
Date acquired: January 2015