2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron review
Isaac Bober’s 2016 Audi 3 Sportback e-tron review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The A3 Sportback e-tron is a plug-in hybrid that doesn’t actually need to be plugged in much and offers a great driving experience and plenty of standard kit.
2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Pricing From $62,490+ORC Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 1.4 turbocharged four-cylinder petrol; 75kW electric motor Power 110kW at 5000-6000rpm Torque 250Nm at 1600-3500rpm Electric power output (briefly) 75kW Electric torque output (briefly) 330Nm Transmission six-speed S tronic Body 4312mm (long); 1785mm (wide excluding mirrors); 1424mm (height) Weight 1540kg Spare None Fuel Tank 40 litres Thirst 1.6L/100km combined
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WHEN AUDI showed off its first gorgeous R8-fashioned e-tron concept at the Geneva Motor Show in 2009 the world waited with bated breath for the production version of the plug-in hybrid supercar it had teased. It never came until in 2015 Audi announced a very limited run of R8 e-tron variants. Rather, the first model, for the likes of you and me, to wear the e-tron badge is this, the Audi A3 Sportback…
And I think Audi’s decision to make the A3 Sportback the first e-tron might have just been a stroke of genius. When it launched locally last year, Audi said it didn’t want the A3 Sportback e-tron to be a compromise for buyers and that it wanted to give owners an “innovative and extraordinarily efficient mobility solution”.
What is it?
The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, besides the badges, looks, to all intents and purposes just like a typical Audi A3. And that’s the point. Audi doesn’t want this car to stick out like a sore thumb. It wants it to be familiar and useful and for there to be no hindrance to buying the thing.
And it is. The A3 Sportback e-tron goes up against more overt electric offerings from BMW, like the i3, or downmarket competitors like Toyota’s Corolla Hybrid. But let’s move on. The A3 Sportback e-tron runs one of Audi’s, or so it claims, most technically advanced turbocharged petrol engines which weighs just 100kg, which we’ll come back to shortly.
Despite carrying an electric motor and a whopping great big battery as well as a petrol engine, there’s still room for four inside, you could fit five, with three across the back, but the middle passenger would be perched fairly uncomfortably. The boot is of a little on the small size (but there’s a reason for this) and the communication and infotainment system and general build quality is everything you’d expect from Audi.
What’s the interior like and how practical is it?
Let’s go straight to the back of the car. Lift the tailgate and you’ll discover the boot looks a little small, and it is. Indeed, the boot offers 100 litres less (or 280 litres all up) than its non-hybrid siblings, due to the petrol tank, a 40-litre unit, being located beneath the boot floor. The A3 Sportback e-tron runs run-flat tyres, so there’s no spare. The load height is just 675mm off the ground.
The usable boot space is further diminished by the fact you’ve got to carry a fairly decent sized bag with all of the cables required to charge the thing. Of course, if you’re just nipping to the shops and won’t need to charge the car’s batteries while out, then you could always leave the bag at home. Don’t do that, the one day you might need it, will be the day you left it on a shelf in the shed.
Back into the cabin, and most of the rest interior is straight out of the regular A3 models, indeed, Audi claims its positioned as a “premium” model in the range and charges accordingly at $62,490+ORC. As standard it gets Audi drive select (which allows the driver to adjust throttle and transmission mapping, not suspension), front and rear parking sensors, LED headlights and daytime running lights, leather accented sports-style seats, Bluetooth and audio streaming, digital radio and sat-nav via the 7.0-inch retractable screen.
From the driver’s seat you’ll notice there’s no rev counter in the A3 Sportback e-tron, instead it offers a power meter which shows ‘Power’, ‘Boost’ above that and ‘Charge’ below Power. In the same dial, on the right-hand side, is a battery meter that shows the level of charge in the, well, battery, and in the bottom corner of the speedo opposite is a fuel gauge.
The driver’s seat is nice and adjustable and comfortable for longer distance drives, the steering wheel feels good in the hands and vision right around is good. Over in the back, there’s room for two adults or kids/teens to sit nice and comfortably. The seats offer a decent shape, but legroom isn’t huge, and you won’t really want to be stuck in the middle seat in the back as both the transmission tunnel and back of the centre console rob space. That said, there’s a centrally-mounted air vent for back seat passengers (the system is dual-zone climate, not tri-zone, meaning the back seat passengers are beholden to whatever temperature is set in the front), which is a good touch and something that more cars should offer as standard, especially in this country.
There are top tether mounts for all three seating positions, but ISOFIX mounting points are for the two outboard seats only… you wouldn’t want to perch a child in the middle seat even if there were ISOFIX points for one.
The boot we’ve already touched on. At 280 litres it’s pretty small, but it’ll be fine for a weekly shop or carrying luggage for a family of four for a short trip away. Fold the back seats and the boot grows to more than 1000 litres.
What’s the communication and infotainment system like?
Right off the bat, let me say that I’m not at all a fan of remote controls for tablet-style infotainment screens. And by that I mean, a non-touch sensitive screen that requires a controller mounted somewhere else to use it. But, all complaints about eyes off the road aside, the system in the Audi is pretty good.
Navigating through menu items and finding what you want is pretty darn easy thanks to the shortcut buttons. And the ‘back’ button is great too, because it means you can’t ever truly become lost in the system. I managed to sync my iPhone to the system very easily and quickly and call clarity on both ends of the line was excellent. Doing the typical things like accessing my music album and playing it was a cinch.
What’s the performance like?
Up on the dashboard is the EV button which allows you to dive into the four driving modes (which are displayed on the main 7.0-inch screen): EV, Auto, Hold and Charge. Initially, it can seem a little daunting, only it isn’t, although every time you turn the car off and back on again the system will default to EV mode.
This is great if the batteries are topped up and you’re not stomping on the throttle as it means you’ll be able to glide around town with the electric motor relying only on the battery. And the A3 Sportback e-tron will happily drive on electric power alone at more than 100km/h.
At highway speeds you’ll likely get less than the claimed 50km range, although on a couple of runs back from the airport along the M5 and then M7 and M4 in Sydney, I managed to get around 45km on battery power alone.
Because I had the car parked out on the street while testing it, I wasn’t able to charge the batteries of a night time. This meant I relied on the petrol engine, a 1.4-litre TFSI petrol engine that makes 110kW, to keep the batteries topped up while driving (Charge mode). And it’s able to charge the batteries from empty to full in about 30-40km of driving. The petrol motor is backed up by a 75kW electric motor for a total system torque output of 350Nm. The petrol engine is mated to a six-speed S tronic transmission – Audi quotes a combined figure of 1.6L/100km but depending on how you run the thing that number will rise significantly.
Most of the time I found myself using Auto mode which allows the on-board computer brains to work out when to use the electric motor/batteries and petrol motor. Go over about 60km/h and the petrol motor will sneak in and take over. One thing that really surprised me and that I totally wasn’t expecting was just how smooth the switch was from electric to petrol; there was a slight bump as the petrol motor cut in and, obviously, a little bit more noise. My time in the A3 Sportback e-tron managed to better what my Skoda Octavia 103 TDI averages, returning 4.8L/100km across a mixture of around town and highway cruising.
There is absolutely no compromise to this engine and motor set-up delivering performance that’s easily able to flatten hills, overtake at will and yet be kinder to the environment than its siblings.
Start fiddling with drive settings and select Sport, not that you probably would, and then the electric motor will fall silent, well, more silent with just the petrol motor doing the work (Hold setting which keeps the remaining battery charge). This changes shift points for the transmission, meaning it will hold gears a little longer and so rev a little harder. Go for a manual gear change, something I only did a handful of times, because it’s just not that kind of car, and both the petrol motor and electric motor will come on-stream and deliver all 350Nm of torque.
Make no mistake, this is an incredibly grunty little car. Because the battery is reasonably small, it doesn’t take all that long to charge. Audi claims just 2.5 hours from a public charging station, or more from your plug at home (around four hours).
What’s the ride and handling like?
Like the new VW Tiguan, the Audi A3 is based on the Volkswagen Group’s modular MQB chassis. And, like the Tiguan, the A3 is civilised, comfortable and undemanding. It’s a platform that gets the job done without giving too much excitement which, given the type of car this is, might not be that big a deal…
The A3 e-tron is substantially heavier than its siblings which start off at 1235kg, while the e-tron tips the scales at 1540kg, more with a driver on-board. There’s no adaptive dampers. Instead steel springs are used to manage the A3 e-tron’s bulk and, in the main, they do a good job of hiding the extra weight.
Across rubbish roads, the A3’s suspension manages to filter out the rough edges, although the suspension can sound a little noisy at times. And with hundreds of extra kilograms to handle, the A3 e-tron doesn’t like being chucked about like a hot hatch.
Despite a better weight balance than its siblings, the extra weight will see the A3 e-tron plough straight on in a corner if you’re entry speed is poorly judged, or if the surface is a bit slippery but, hey, point me at a front driver that doesn’t fall into understeer when pushed too hard… Dial it back to normal-person speed and the A3 e-tron feels fine.
One of the key issues is the transmission which has been tweaked for the A3 e-tron to favour efficiency over performance which means it can be reluctant to shift down when desired and when it does it’s a little slow. But, given what this car is, this might not be such a big deal.
The steering is precise and the action is consistent, but there’s little in the way of feedback. And the brake pedal, thanks to the brake energy regeneration which makes the pedal feel heavy, lacks progression in its action. The flip side is that whenever you do use the brakes you’re feeding electricity back to the batteries, so I guess you’d call that a win?!
How safe is it?
The A3 Sportback e-tron shares its five-star ANCAP safety rating with the rest of the A3 range (which realised 36.41 out of 37 when it was tested in 2013). As standard it gets seven airbags, stability and traction controls, and the usual ABS, brake force distribution, keyless entry, ISOFIX mounting points and top tethers, and run-flat tyres. There’s a cost-optional Assistance Package which adds lane departure warning, active cruise control which allows the system to lock onto a car in front of it and maintain a set speed, as well as autonomous emergency braking which helps to reduce the severity of a nose to tail collision by applying the brakes if the driver fails to do so.