In March 2015 Audi Australia will launch its first production plug-in Hybrid vehicle, the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. While the more than 100 people sitting on waiting lists will have to wait until November for a special Audi customer test day, EFTM has driven the first examples to arrive on our shores.

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First Drive

Our drive program was quite limited, given the launch took place on Hamilton Island where ironically electric golf buggies rule. However a slalom course was devised on the taxiing area of the Great Barrier Reef airport, so yes it was a case of fanging cars around an airport – sound familiar?

What we have here is basically a high spec Audi A3 Sportback fitted out with what is currently the most practical way of using electricity to preserve fuel. A 110kW 1.4 TFSI engine has been slid sideways by 6cm to accommodate a 75kW electric motor with a total system output of 150kW and maximum achievable torque of 350Nm.

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Depending on a whole range of factors the A3 e-tron can cover up to 50 kilometres in pure electric mode. Most impressive is an all-electric top speed of 130km/h, more than enough for any Australian road.

Hybrids have long since ditched the sluggish performance reputation and the A3 e-tron is no different. 0-100km/h arrives in 7.6 seconds, in fact I thought it felt even more rapid than that. Flooring any plug-in hybrid will always result in the need for the combustion engine to join in. However the A3 e-tron can do a fairly brisk 0-60km/h in 4.9 seconds in complete silence providing you don’t push through the kick-back indent under the accelerator.

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The A3 already handles with aplomb, but with the added 125kg battery pack beneath the rear seat, weight distribution is now 55/45, rather than the more nose heavy standard models. The 40-litre petrol tank, down from 60-litres is now located over the rear axle. The short run I had was essentially only good for determining two things, agility and pace. The car feels heavier because it is at 1540kg, but better balanced, with excellent throttle response matched to instant power and torque. It’s a fun, premium plug-in hybrid.

How It Works

The drivetrain is broken down into three units: a 1.4 TFSI petrol engine, electric motor and a new six-speed, dual-clutch transmission. There are numerous ways the driver can manage how the two engines operate. EV mode, Hybrid Auto, Hybrid Hold and Hybrid Charge can be dialled up to maximise performance and efficiency.

Audi A3 Sportback e-tron

But it’s really the plug into the wall factor that will interest most. The Audi charging system comes as standard for the e-tron. A stylish wall box can be mounted to house the control unit and the two charging cables, a typical household and industrial 16amp cable. With a 16amp outlet a complete charge will take 2.5 hours, a normal domestic plug around 5-hours.

EFTM has driven other plug-in hybrids including the Holden Volt and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the charging port for both those models in located alongside the petrol filler hole. Uniquely and in my view cleverly the port on the A3 e-tron is hidden away up front behind the four rings which slide out of the way. Inside is a status light along with two other buttons that activate immediate charging or delayed timed charging.

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Fuel consumption according to the European way of calculating such things is a mere 1.6L / 100km, which in reality is not the case. As with all plug-in Hybrids it is possible to use zero fuel if short trips and a light foot is how you role. However normal combination driving will simply extend the fuel with a claimed range of 940km on a full charge and full tank of fuel.

Pricing / Specification

The A3 e-tron will be priced around the $60,000 mark. It’s been positioned as a premium option in the A3 range with high levels of standard kit including, 17-inch 15 spoke alloy wheels, MMI Navigation plus with MMI touch, Parking system plus with park assist and rear view camera, convenience key and dual-zone climate control.

Audi A3 Sportback e-tronInterestingly for Australian customers a home installation package will be offered. This includes the installation of the higher output 16-amp power outlet which is the bees knees when it comes to obtaining the faster 2.5 hour charge. The work will be carried out by an approved Audi electrical partner and in most cases covered by the purchase price. If you live in a prehistoric house, of which there are many, it should be noted that a complete rewire could be on the cards, Audi won’t be covering that side of things.

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Final Say

Audi has been developing e-tron technology since 2009 but are a relatively late bloomer in terms of launching this kind of technology at a mass production level. But it appears worth the wait, with a hybrid drivetrain that works seamlessly, packing a decent punch and inheriting all of the typical Audi handling and build quality traits. Audi will offer e-tron technology across TDI diesel models into the future starting with the Q7. But I couldn’t help thinking that while the Audi A3 e-tron is very impressive, for mine a decent efficient diesel of which Audi already do so well is still the better option, at least for now.

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Chris Bowen was dragged kicking and screaming (as if!) to Hamilton Island as a guest of Audi Australia