2015 Audi A3 E-tron First Drive

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2015 Audi A3 e-tron Hatchback

(1.4L 4-cyl. Hybrid 6-speed Automated Manual)
  • 2015 Audi A3 E-tron

    2015 Audi A3 E-tron

    Our drive on the streets of Frankfurt was a good introduction to the Volkswagen group's strategy for hybrids. | September 19, 2013

22 Photos

A Hybrid Hatchback That Doesn't Disappoint

"You'll be able to use kickdown when we've gone round this corner," says Alex Pesch, pointing to an on-ramp on the navigation screen of our prototype 2015 Audi A3 E-tron.

Pesch is the A3 program's project leader, and he's riding shotgun as we negotiate some side roads in and around Frankfurt, Germany. We're doing so in near total silence, as the electric motor in this Audi plug-in hybrid is pulling us along as quietly as a raft on a river.

The car starts itself in EV mode, which makes sense because unlike typical hybrids, this car will accelerate swiftly on battery power alone all the way to 80 mph. And it will do so without the gasoline engine kicking in seconds after you plant the accelerator. If you can resist driving it that fast in EV mode, Audi says it will deliver 31 miles from the E-tron's 276-pound battery pack, not to mention another 520 miles on gasoline. When it comes to range, this A3 has it in spades.

A Hybrid That Goes 138 MPH?
The on-ramp soon arrives, the Autobahn we're merging with is clear and we stamp the throttle pedal hard enough to ensure that the kickdown button is triggered. The noise level rises slightly as the gasoline engine fires to life. We surge forward with impressive urge and a crisply subtle growl from the direct-injection 1.4-liter four-cylinder under the hood.

Rated at 150 horsepower, the gasoline engine is coupled with an electric motor rated to produce 99 hp. The synchronous motor, which also doubles as the starter, is sandwiched between the gearbox and the gas engine. Audi says the drivetrain combination in the A3 is good for a 0-62-mph time of 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 138 mph.

A six-speed DSG automatic sends the power to the front wheels. Its wide ratio spread enables the electric motor to operate through a narrower rev range, an arrangement that allows for more efficient motor design, explains Pesch. It provides the same features you get in a conventional auto-shift car, including a manual paddle-shift mode, a creep function and a gear indicator.

The adapted DSG transmission also includes an additional clutch that decouples the motors to allow coasting, which is a more efficient use of kinetic energy than recuperation. Or it is, provided the E-tron's driver anticipates the road conditions well enough to make use of the car's unfettered momentum.

Cleverly Hidden Charge Port
The 2015 Audi E-tron's 8.8-kWh battery lives under the rear seat, while the repositioned gas tank sits beneath a slightly raised trunk floor. Despite the tank's proximity to the A3's back end, Audi says this car can absorb a 50-mph rear impact without the plastic tank rupturing.

Adding a battery pack and shifting the gas tank rearward lends this A3 a very favorable 55/45 front/rear weight distribution, to the noticeable advantage of its handling. The E-tron turns out to be the best-balanced, sweetest-handling A3 in the range, which makes for a pretty satisfying steer. It rides well, too, although there's still some shock calibration work to be carried out. Hopefully that won't firm things up significantly.

At the other end of this A3 E-tron, neatly hidden behind the four rings on its grille, is the power socket for the charging cable. Recharge times vary depending on your power source, of course, but Audi says you're looking at 3 hours and 45 minutes using a 220-volt European household socket. So an overnight charge, which you can time via switches beside the Audi's socket, is more than enough to replenish the battery. An electrically powered heating and air-conditioning system also allows you to warm or cool the car before you get in it.

The E-tron's 31 miles are reckoned to be enough to allow for most commuting trips without resorting to the gas engine, this practice encouraged by the car's automatic defaulting to EV mode on start-up. The gasoline engine can instantly be engaged via the kickdown button, however, or by using a center console-mounted rocker switch.

The Stealth Hybrid
Much like the hidden charge port on the outside, the interior of the 2015 Audi A3 E-tron masks its identity as a hybrid. The most obvious indicator is the main left-hand instrument gauge that has been turned from a rev counter into a power meter. It indicates charging via regenerative braking, the most efficient power range for the gas engine to operate in and, toward the end of the needle's travel, a boost zone when both the engine and the electric motor work in tandem.

You can also select an energy flow readout on the infotainment display. Depending on the car's range, a yellow and green bar graph indicating its distance potential with gas and electric power is displayed. Other than this, there's little inside this car to indicate its dual-motor, plug-in status, although the trunk floor is slightly higher owing to the presence of the gas tank beneath it.

The A3's exterior looks much the same as a stock A3, too, thanks to the hidden socket and lack of additional aerodynamic aids. It does have low-rolling-resistance tires, however, their compound biased toward resistance elimination rather than road noise suppression. And because it's so quiet, the hum of pavement rolling beneath you is more easily heard than in a conventional A3.

The Advantage of a Dual Drivetrain
The 2015 Audi A3 E-tron is a fascinating car that has the potential to be very cheap to run, besides providing entertainingly strong performance and well-balanced handling to go with it. The E-tron's fuel- and money-saving potential are best realized if your daily slog to work falls within its 31-mile electric range, in which case the cost of your commute will tumble significantly.

And because this is a hybrid, you have the convenience of a 550-mile range using both onboard energy supplies. True, this E-tron isn't likely to be cheap when it goes on sale in the U.S. in early 2015, but it'll have lower running costs than your average econobox while delivering punchy performance, excellent handling and some technical intrigue.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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