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The Audi A3 was one of the first plug-in hybrid cars on sale, but this revamped version looks much more impressive.
MMI Touch navigation with 10.1in screen, dual-zone electronic climate control, twin leather upholstery, Audi pre-sense front autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, turn assist and swerve assist, wireless phone charging, alloy wheels
204hp 1.4 petrol plus electric motor, 245hp 1.4 petrol plus electric motor
Sport, S Line
Six-speed S-tronic auto
Audi was an early adopter of plug-in hybrid technology. The A3, sharing architecture with the Volkswagen Golf, was available as a plug-in hybrid in its previous generation, using the same engine and electric motor combination as the Golf GTE.
The A3 E-Tron, as it was then, was a rare proposition, offering plug-in hybrid power in the compact premium car sector.
But insiders at Audi privately admitted that making the car only available in a high-specification equipment grade hampered its chances.
The A3 E-Tron disappeared from price lists when official fuel tests migrated from the old NEDC to WLTP in 2017, but as the new A3 was introduced in the spring of 2020, the latest plug-in hybrid version was only six months behind it.
And it needed to arrive quickly. There was a new kid in town. Mercedes-Benz launched a plug-in hybrid version of the A-Class in the spring of 2020 and, for company car drivers in particular, it looked very impressive indeed.
Key to Audi's launch of the new A3 40 TFSI E is matching the Mercedes-Benz's low BIK tax liability. The A 250e's 44 miles of charged EV range and ultra low CO2 emissions put it in the 6% bracket for BIK tax for 2020-21.
Audi's fleet chiefs were relieved to find that when the car was evaluated in the official fuel consumption tests, some versions were capable of 40 miles, which make it as good as the Mercedes for tax.
It would also be available in Sport and S Line variants, with the option of adding the Comfort and Sound pack, giving customers the choice of lower priced versions. And while the standard S Line with 18in wheels didn't quite make it to 40 miles in the official test, Audi made it available with the Sport's 17in wheels as a no-cost option so the lower tax band could be achieved.
Audi also announced a more powerful 45 TFSI E version to follow, with 245hp versus the 40's 204hp, but because of the shorter EV range of the former, it would be a variant that targets retail customers more than fleets.
We are already familiar with the A3 from driving petrol and diesel variants. The TFSI E uses a 1.4-litre petrol engine combined with an electric motor to achieve its 204hp and low CO2 emissions.
The interior is as slick and well finished as we have come to expect, with the standard Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display, and tactile controls. The automatic drive selector is a switch rather than a gear lever, which is easy to use and reduces clutter.
Interacting with the multimedia system is a little better than in the Volkswagen Golf and Seat Leon, but it still lacks the intuitiveness of the best systems.
Performance is strong, and automatically shifting between the two power systems is seamless. It might not quite have the power output of the Mercedes, but it isn't far behind, and for those who think this is important, there is the more powerful 45 variant. Boot space is a little compromised with the lack of underfloor storage, but the rear seats fold.
But the A3 is let down by its running costs. Although it is broadly similar to the Mercedes-Benz A 250e, our costs data supplier KeeResources marks the Audi's residual value down significantly, giving a 5p per mile advantage for the Mercedes over three years/60,000 miles.
It's early days and things could change, especially if the A-Class hybrid is sold in significant volumes, but it's a slightly underwhelming start to life for the Audi, which is otherwise a fundamentally sound product.