2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron first drive

Gallery Audi A3 e tron Photo 1

Plug-in hybrid compact goes 15-17 miles on battery alone

What is it?

Audi’s plug-in hybrid A3 Sportback e-tron rolls into U.S. showrooms within days. It offers a fairly decent 15- to 17-mile range on battery power, a decent 37 mpg combined, a big 83 MPGe and pretty much all the fun-to-drive-ness of an A3. This ain’t no painfully pius Prius. The somewhat high sticker price of $38,825 is mitigated by federal and state tax rebates that can bring the cost down to as low as $33,157, depending on what state you live in, which is about the same price as a TDI … though those have issues of their own.

To make the A3 Sportback into a plug-in hybrid, Audi puts an 8.8-kWh battery pack under the rear seat where the gas tank used to be, moves the gas tank where the spare tire used to be, and replaces the spare tire with a can of seal-n-air-type flat-fixer. The benefit is that you don’t lose any of the A3’s 13.6-cubic-foot cargo capacity. Under the hood, engineers lined up a 150-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine, a 102-hp electric motor and a six-speed S tronic transmission all powering the front wheels. Combined system power — which is not the same as adding gas engine and electric motor outputs — comes to 204 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Curb weight is up about 400 pounds up from the A3 sedan, to 3,616 pounds, but the e-tron still gets to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, which is sporty enough for a semi-sporty hatchback as practical as this one. 

A3 e-tron grille

What’s it like to drive?

Not paying attention to hypermiling tactics at all, we got about 15 miles on battery power before the gasoline engine kicked in fairly seamlessly. We spent an afternoon and a morning driving it around in mostly suburban highway settings and, as we seem to do with all Audis, enjoyed being behind the wheel. If you’re set on getting a plug-in hybrid, this one is certainly a lot more satisfying to drive than, say, a Prius or a C-Max Energi.

There isn’t anything close to it as far as wheel-to-wheel, sticker-to-sticker competition, though. And with that hatchback/Sportback configuration, the A3 is perfectly practical for everyday driving tasks. Push it a little harder, and it rises to the occasion better than any other plug-in hybrid out there anywhere near the price. There were a few minor hiccups as the brakes went from regenerative to hydraulic, but unless you were looking for them, you wouldn’t notice. The brake pedal is pretty light to begin with and not as linear as we’d like, but we could say that about a lot of brake pedals at this price point. One thing we appreciated was the glide function — when you let off the gas the e-tron coasts, rather than immediately slowing the car with regenerative braking, a tactic that extends range. It wasn’t clear whether stepping on the brakes while gliding engaged regen; no one at Audi could give us an answer on that, but we would hope so. 

A3 e-tron engine

Do I want one?

Manufacturers always quote a figure for “the average commute” that seems to fit their particular EV or plug-in hybrid’s electric range. In this case, Audi says you, the average American, commute 14 miles each way to work. We’ll go with that and say, if you can plug in at work, even at a regular old 120-volt outlet, you can perform the day’s driving tasks in an A3 Sportback e-tron on battery power alone. That would cut your gas bill down to nothing, further lowering the cost of the car over the long run.

Plus, right now the A3 Sportback e-tron is the only way you can get an A3 hatch in America, and we like the A3 hatch for its combination of sportiness and utility. Granted, a plug-in hybrid Prius is about eight grand less, but a plug-in hybrid Prius has half the battery capacity and lists only “up to” 11 miles range on battery power. Ford lists battery range for its C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid at 19 miles, the sticker price is about 10 grand or so less and the interior volume is considerably higher. We recall the C-Max is a fairly lively driver, too, considering its size and shape. But the A3 Sportback e-tron is the most fun to drive of those three.

Or just throw efficiency and environmental consideration out the driver’s-side window and buy yourself an S3 instead. 

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