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Audi A3 E-Tron Test Drive Review

Date: 07 August 2014   |   Author: Nat Barnes

Audi's first foray into alternatively fuelled cars is finally here. The new A3 Sportback E-tron is the German firm's first plug-in hybrid - but make no mistake, it certainly won't be its last.

Although open for ordering now, the first deliveries of this A3 E-tron won't be until January next year, and even then the restricted UK supply will make it a rare spot on British roads.

Audi is expecting to get just 500 of them in 2015, which will be swamped by the A3 Sportback's 23,000-odd annual sales.

Despite those low numbers, however, several large fleets have already expressed an interest in the E-tron, with it appealing more to company users that the standard A3's traditional 50/50 fleet-retail split. That's no real surprise with a three-year/60,000-mile RV estimated to be higher than the 43% of the 2.0 TDI S-line S-tronic, the E-tron's closest in-house rival.

Where that 2.0 TDI is even further off the pace is with the E-tron's 37g/km emissions, placing it in the mouth-wateringly low 5% benefit-in kind tax bracket. Even for 40% tax payers that means a bill the better side of £60 a month.

This A3 won't be the last you hear of E-tron, either, because it'll be the umbrella term for Audi's alternatively fuelled vehicles, the next likely to be a plug-in hybrid version of the next-generation Q7 off-roader due in 2015. But unlike VW's Golf, Audi won't offer a fully electric version of the A3.

Aside from the E-tron badges on the tailgate and front wings, and a hidden exhaust pipe, the A3 looks much the same as a standard Sportback. Under your right foot is a turbocharged 1.4-litre engine combined with a 75kW electric motor, giving the A3 a total of 204hp. That's enough for a respectable 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds and a 137mph top speed, although as ever with plug-in hybrids, the official 176.6mpg average fuel economy will be dependent on how the vehicle is used.

On the road, the car doesn't feel that different from a standard A3. There's a choice of four different modes, from full EV using the available electrical power to Hybrid Auto, where the car chooses between battery or engine power or both. The other two are Hybrid Hold and Hybrid Charge, which respectively either retain the battery's level of charge or increase it by using the engine.

In reality, the auto mode is the most logical one to stay in for the majority of the time, enabling the car to switch accordingly. The trip computer shows the remaining electric-only range (a maximum of 31 miles on a full four-hour charge) as well as the remaining electric and petrol combined range (a maximum of 584 miles, compared with the diesel A3's 706 miles).

The E-tron feels little different from the standard Sportback, which initially is a huge compliment. The rev counter showing economy and recharging modes does have you driving with a bit more circumspection, although the car's 220kg extra kerb weight makes
itself felt.

With the battery being the equivalent of two rugby players in the back seats, the A3 definitely isn't as lithe as usual and the ride is slightly firmer. Other losses come in the form of 100 litres less boot space and a smaller, 40-litre fuel tank.

Although the £5700 list price difference to the A3 2.0 TDI might be off-putting to those handful of retail buyers, the tax sums for company drivers make this a very tempting proposition. How fleets will react to the A3 with the arrival of Volkswagen's technically identical Golf GTE next year, as well as the imminent fully electric e-Golf, means this is a market that's about to become rather fierce.