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Audi A3 e-tron 2016 long-term review

By Toby Hagon, 01 Sep 2016 Reviews

2016 Audi A3 e-tron

We rate and review the 2016 Audi A3 e-tron petrol/electric hybrid hatchback

 

Part One: Plain Jane

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 sheet metal 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.

Read more: Everything you need to know about electric cars

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.

Audi -A3-e -tron -electronic -speed -gaugeInstead 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 carbon fibre design in a skinny suicide-doored body, whereas the Audi looks thoroughly conventional – they are almost line ball on price.

Let the games begin…

Overcoming the extra weight

Red -Audi -A3-e -tron -frontThe 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)
Odometer: 2197km
Date acquired: January 2015

 

Part Two: Sounds of Silence

ONE great thing with electric cars is that you’re never torn between listening to the sound of what’s banging away underneath the bonnet and the latest chart-topper that you can’t get out of your head. Except that the standard sound system in my Audi A3 e-Tron is a tad disappointing, especially when it’s not working properly.

Our car has an intermittent problem whereby an amplifier or speakers go on the blink. It always seems to happen when Slash is winding up for Paradise City, at which point cranking the volume has little effect, except for early-onset distortion.

That lack of engine noise also creates its own hurdles. I’ve had the occasional private disagreement with the Audi A3 on when it should start. Or, at least, when I think it should have started. Press the button and the dash lights up, but grab a gear and there’s no drive.

Turns out you have to hold the start button for a second or two and make sure the green “e-Tron ready” symbol illuminates.

Two months in and I’m getting used to that, as well as some of the e-Tron’s other quirks. Like when you’ve done your 35-40 electric kays and the petrol engine comes to life. There’s often a mild hesitation, like you’ve lifted off the accelerator, but it only happens when the engine is cold.

Running in hybrid mode – whereby it uses the petrol engine and electric motor together, similar to a Prius – the switch is generally seamless.

Audi -A3-e -tron -electric -chargerThere are benefits to home charging, but dragging the chunky cable out every time is not fun.

This month I used the petrol engine more than the electric motor, mainly because the A3 got its first freeway run and the majority of the trip was in hybrid mode. Fuel use for the freeway run settled at 5.0L/100km, better than the 7L-plus I’ve seen with energetic driving around town.

Read more: How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

Helping its cause is the smart regenerative braking. Lift off on a flat road and it coasts freely, but start tipping down a hill and you feel the regen kicking in harder for more resistance, so you often don’t have to worry about the brakes.

It’s a clever way to trickle extra electrons into those batteries.

Speaking of charging, with solar at home I’m always eager to make use of sunshine but that often means charging when you really need to be driving. Inevitably I end up reverting to dirty electricity at night.

As for performance, the e-Tron’s electric-only 75kW is nothing exciting, but the 330Nm is – I’m hooked on it, and it makes the A3 a great gadget for zipping through the suburbs. Sans sound, that is. Oh well, at least I’ve worked out that if it were my money I’d be ticking the box for the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system.

Plug in for savings

Electricity use barely seems to change with the driving style, at least when the e-Tron is running purely on electricity. No doubt the regenerative braking would have helped, capturing braking energy to reuse later. Excluding fuel use – which was higher this month because I did some longer drives – I’m using about 20kW/h per 100km. That works out at a tad over $5 per 100 kays, which is cheaper than what it would cost to run on petrol alone, even in these days of cheap fuel.

AUDI A3 E-TRON
Price as tested: $65,530
Part 2: 557km @ 8.2kWh/100km (plus 25.7L of fuel)
Overall: 1160km @ 10.0kWh/100km (plus 50.9L of fuel)
Odometer: 2754km
Date acquired: January 2015

 

Part Three: On the Charge

MONTH three and I’m starting to get used to Audi’s take on the (mostly) electric car. Easy torque is the name of the game. And I’m loving that you can zip around keenly without making much noise.

Sure, there’s a lot to be said for the theatre of a barking, popping exhaust. But, as Tesla owners would attest, there’s also a certain appeal about making a brisk getaway without people thinking you’re a wally.

That’s arguably the Audi A3 e-tron’s biggest party trick. There’s little visual fizz, and the only giveaway to people inside is the lack of noise. Good or bad, depending on your perspective.

The charging thing is all good, though. My e-tron tops out at about 40km, which almost gets me to the city and back, and having the engine there for extra grunt is a bonus.

Read more: Plug-in hybrid mega-test

I’m also getting into free charging. My local shopping centre has a ChargePoint station, which I decided to utilise on the bread-and-milk run. Except there was a Nissan Leaf hogging the charging plug. The next day, too. A week later it’s there again sucking up free electrons. I can smell a rat.

Clearly some cluey local is making his electric car someone else’s problem – and getting a free parking space at the same time. I’m initially jealous I can’t play the same game, although it’s a bit like parking in the disabled spots without a permit. Uncool to the extreme.

Audi -A3-e -tron -boot -with -chargerSlightly higher boot floor than the regular A3 Sportback reduces boot capacity from 380 litres to 280.

Besides, I’ve got bigger problems, and it all comes down to technology.

First, my computer decides it doesn’t want to upload some urgent files. Then the Telstra phone network goes on the blink, leaving me scarily phoneless for hours. To top it off my e-tron refuses to charge. The little charging light that hides behind the four rings in the grille won’t turn green, instead staying a stubborn orange.

So it was back to the dealership for a check-up and the initial response wasn’t what I wanted to hear: “We’ve checked it and can’t find anything wrong; it’s charging fine for us.” Yet at my house, at three different powerpoints, it refused to accept anything resembling electricity.

“Did you use the charging cable that comes with the car?” I ask the service manager. Turns out they charged it from a wall charger, and the problem was tracked down to my charging plug, which most owners will rarely use because Audi installs a wall charger for nix when you buy an e-tron.

Those charging issues meant I used more good ol’ premium unleaded this month. As a result, fuel use was the highest I’ve seen, at 5.6L/100km. Most of it was around town, so it’s not too bad, but it’s more than I wanted to spend in an electric car.

Pick the difference

You need to be a trainspotter to pick the A3 e-tron from garden-variety A3s. The more finely slotted grille and unique alloy wheels are the most obvious differentiators, while there’s also a unique front bumper.

Inside there’s not much difference, either; the EV button and lack of a tacho (replaced with a power gauge) are the most obvious tweaks. There are also some unique screens in the trip computer to keep you up to date with what’s going on with the electricity.

AUDI A3 E-TRON
Price as tested: $65,530
Part 3: 688km @ 5.5kWh/100km (plus 38.5L of fuel)
Overall: 1848km @ 8.3kWh/100km (plus 88.5L of fuel)
Odometer: 3442km
Date acquired: January 2015

 

Part Four: Water Crossinge

I’VE never had a car tell me there’s a ferry on my route before, but that’s exactly what my Audi A3 e-tron tried to do on a recent crossing of Sydney Harbour. It was so convinced I should get out on the water that it even suggested we board a ferry and dock at Circular Quay. It would have been quite the voyage.

I refrained from obeying, but it was a reminder of how much computers have to deal with and how easy it is for a simple miscalculation to lead to grander confusion.

Fortunately, my final month with the e-tron was a lot less dramatic than aquatic adventures to the seabed.

Nearing the end of my predominantly electric propulsion I decided to crank up the petrol engine occasionally for more fiery performance. The e-tron is certainly an enthusiastic participant once you sink your right foot. The occasional chirp of the front wheels and 7.6sec 0-100km/h acceleration makes for decent smiles.

Despite its extra weight – the batteries and electric motor contribute to a porky 1540kg kerb weight – it’s athletic through the bends. The Sport mode is the most convincing of the steering settings, although most of the time I left the drive mode in Auto.

Crunching the vital numbers revealed that in a bit over four months I used a smidge over 100 litres of fuel in almost 2500km of motoring. That works out at 4.2L/100km. Better still, I only refuelled three times. It’s feasible that owners confining themselves to shorter drives around town may need to refuel only a couple of times a year.

As for electricity use, I chewed through 218kWh of electrons. That’s enough to power a 50W light globe for 182 days. Or you could keep your microwave reheating for 13 days. Just in case you’re wondering…

On an average electricity plan, that would cost something like $63, which is pretty good considering most of my e-tron kilometres were electric. So the A3 e-tron cost around $8 per 100km to run – equal to about 7L/100km.

You could halve that if you were diligent with your recharging, and it would be less again if you top it up with someone else’s electricity (don’t forget those shopping centre freebies!) or use solar.

A ripper on the running costs, then, but less impressive is how it looks. The e-tron is very A3, which is both good and bad. Of course, if I had taken that ferry trip it might have turned a few more heads.

Monitoring energy use

Keeping track of exactly how much the e-tron costs to run is no mean feat. Unlike with the fuel use, the car won’t tell you how much electricity you’ve used. To figure it out you have to drain the batteries’ useable range completely and top them up (the capacity is 8.8kWh, so if the battery is in good nick that’s how much you’ve put in), or buy an electricity meter, as I did.

Then grab an electricity bill to establish what you’re paying per kilowatt-hour. You have to add separate calculations for fuel, but all those details are on the bowser (and usually the receipt).

AUDI A3 E-TRON
Price as tested: $65,530
Part 4: 577km @ 11.3kWh/100km (plus 38.5L of fuel)
Overall: 2425km @ 9.0kWh/100km (plus 100.9L of fuel)
Odometer: 4019km
Date acquired: January 2016