Audi intends to electrify most of its lineup in the coming years and is even planning an all-electric model to rival Tesla. The first of these electrified models, the 2016 A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid is going on sale this fall with an electric driving range of around 17 miles and a total driving range around 400 miles. Audi sees the A3 e-tron as the perfect starter electric car for those individuals who want an electric car, but need a longer driving range than many of today’s electric cars can offer. How well does it succeed? Audi invited us up to San Francisco to check it out.
The 2016 A3 e-tron will rival many plug-in hybrid models, like the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid and even a host of new plug-in hybrids coming from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It’s powered by a 1.4L four-cylinder electric motor that is mated to an electric motor. Combined, the system generates a total 204 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque. An 8.8 kWh battery provides up to 17 miles of pure electric driving and once the battery is drained, the A3 e-tron converts into a traditional hybrid. In hybrid mode, the A3 e-tron will get close to 40 mpg.
The A3 e-tron also features four driving modes: EV, Hybrid, Hold Battery and Charge Battery. The Hold Battery and Charge Battery options are ideal, since the first allows you to reserve the battery power when you want, like on a freeway, and then use it when you return to slower speeds in the city. The Charge Battery mode is great because in this mode, the four-cylinder motor will charge the battery, which is perfect if you are traveling for a while at highway speeds. Then, once you get off the freeway, you can turn it back into EV mode to use the power the engine has put back into the battery.
Recharging the A3 e-tron will take up to 8 hours on a standard 120-volt outlet, but if you plug it into a faster 240-volt outlet that time drops down to just over 2 hours.
One of the best parts about the A3 e-tron is that it drives and feels just like a regular Audi. In EV mode there aren’t any delays and Audi even estimates that the A3 e-tron will reach 60 mph in a respectable 7.6 seconds. It also has a top speed of 130 mph, and if you’re in EV mode you can travel at speeds up to 80 mph. Another plus is that there aren’t any penalties to the interior, since the battery is located under the rear seat – making sure that you still have adequate cargo capacity at 13.6 cubic feet.
On our drive around Silicon Valley, it was easy to forget that we were actually driving an electric car. We took off from San Francisco on our way down to Palo Alto in EV mode; once the battery was depleted, the A3 e-tron transitioned so smoothly into hybrid mode we didn’t notice it at all. Despite being a bit heavier than the standard A3 models, the A3 e-tron handles well and can even feel sporty when the road gets twisty. Overall the A3 e-tron feels more like a regular car than many of the other hybrids on the market, which was great, but there was one issue that may keep some electric car buyers away – its electric driving range.
Audi estimates that most drivers commute less than 15 miles each way to work each day, which means that you’d only be able to drive one way in electric mode, if you’re office doesn’t have a charging location. If you’re lucky enough to have a very short daily commute then you may be able to stay in EV mode, but if you’re commute is a bit longer, you may want to look at the 2016 Chevy Volt, which can travel up to 53 miles in EV mode.
Driving range issues aside, the A3 e-tron is a very easy car to live with, since it doesn’t have very many compromises over its gas and diesel-powered counterparts. Its interior is just as comfortable and spacious as the standard A3 and with a starting price at $37,900 before the federal and state tax incentives are applied makes it an easy box to check at the dealership. The A3 e-tron is the first of many future Audi plug-in hybrids, since the automaker is planning on electrifying almost every model in its lineup, including the R8 sports car.
All images @ Marc Carter for Inhabitat and Audi