Audi’s answer to finite fossil fuels is a hybrid petrol-electric engine capable of stellar mileage. Australians will be able to own a hybrid Audi as of March next year with the launch of the Audi A3 e-tron.
The e-tron is a variant of Audi’s established A3 range of hatchbacks. It looks little different in spite of packing two engines and a floor lined with batteries.
Combined, the electric- and 1.4L TFSI-engines are good for 150 kilowatts and 940 kilometres. The e-tron savagely undercuts the rivalling Toyota Prius by sipping 1.6 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres. (The Prius falls short at 3.9L for every 100 kilometres.)
Another pivotal difference separates the A3 e-tron from its Toyota rival. The laws of aerodynamics dictated Toyota’s Prius look foreign and futuristic when it launched. Not everyone was game for the radical design.
Audi’s hybrid draws a stark contrast by looking like any other A3. Masking the advanced tech in familiar skin should make the move from petrol to a hybrid feel natural.
Easing the transition is pivotal for Audi, the company’s Australian managing director, Andrew Doyle, told Good Gear Guide, at the e-tron’s launch in Melbourne. The A3 e-tron holds great implications for Audi’s future range, which will no-doubt inherit variations of its hybrid technology.
Charging the A3 e-tron is comparable to charging a smartphone. An ordinary charger will replenish its batteries within 5 hours, but a fast charger takes less than three hours. Audi will instal the fast charger at no cost in most cases.
The electronic batteries optimise the design of the A3. Whereas stock Audi A3’s have a weight distribution of 60:45, the A3 e-tron achieves 55:45. The batteries line the floor of the car, under the rear seats, to inch the A3 e-tron towards an ideal 50:50 weight distribution.
Batteries pay taxes in weight. Differentiating the e-tron from its A3 companions is a body that is 300 kilograms heavier. The company’s drive specialist, Steve Pizzati, said the A3 has had its suspension tuned to accommodate the gain, while the low centre of gravity — sourced from the batteries — helps the car stay tight in the corners.
The e-tron is no slouch as it accelerates to 100 kilometres-hour in 7.6 seconds — a time that undercuts the 1.4L variants in the A3 range.
Good Gear Guide took an A3 e-tron around a track for a few laps. Silent cars running are uncanny, and the sensation grows fourfold when the silence is punctuated by squealing tyres.
Lifting off the accelerator turns the residual kinetic energy into stored power for the battery. The technical process brings to mind the engine brake set off by down-gearing in a manual car. This could be the first economical process that appeals to petrol heads.
The only prohibitive detail about the A3 e-tron is its price. The car will retail for approximately $60,000; a price managing director Doyle claims is $7000 more than a petrol equivalent. The continually rising cost of petrol could justify the investment in an Audi A3 e-tron.
Audi will sell the hybrid at 16 select dealerships in Australia, most of which are based in Sydney.
Good Gear Guide will reveal more about the e-tron’s performance in our eventual review.