Audi’s plug-in hybrid offers efficency and interior space

The Audi A3 has been around since 1996, but 2016 marks the first time a plug-in hybrid powertrain can be had with the hatchback. In fact, the A3 Sportback e-tron is Audi’s first plug-in hybrid. The A3 e-tron’s technology is shared, however, with the A3’s corporate cousin, the VW Golf GTE. Nevertheless, the A3 e-tron is blazing a hybrid trail into the premium hatchack segment.

The 2016 model year is also an interesting time for Audi to debut the e-tron powertrain in the A3. For 2017, the A3 is undergoing a thorough refresh that includes new exterior appointments, an undated interior with Audi’s virtual cockpit, and a host of new driver assistance features.

Regardless of model years and its looks, the A3 e-tron has all the right equipment for efficient driving. Its main power comes from a turbocharged, 1.4-liter four-cylinder mated to a six-speed dual clutch that sends power to the front wheels. Sorry, no quattro option here. It’s 8.8-kWh battery pack gives it enough juice to drive roughly 16 miles on electricity alone, after which the gasoline engine propels the car and recharges the battery.

To find out how the A3 e-tron performs in real life, we spent a week with one. Our Misano Red pearl tester was missing its charging cable, but we were still able to get a true sense of how the A3 e-tron works and what type of commute it works best for.

Continue reading for the full driving review

  • 2016 Audi A3 e-tron – Driven
  • Year:
    2016
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    six-speed dual-clutch
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    204
  • MPG(Cty):
    42
  • MPG(Hwy):
    48
  • Torque @ RPM:
    258
  • Displacement:
    1.4 L
  • 0-60 time:
    7.5 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    138 mph
  • Layout:
    Front Engine; Front Drive
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Video Walk-around


Exterior

2016 Audi A3 e-tron – Driven
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2016 Audi A3 e-tron – Driven
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2016 Audi A3 e-tron – Driven
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The A3 e-tron can be summed up by the Audi badge. For one, the car is distinctly Audi. It carries the large grille with horizontal slats, its got the detailed headlights with LED accents, handsome wheels, and an overall appearance of luxury. But more importantly, the Audi badge pops out and slides sideways to reveal the e-tron’s charging port. It’s this little trickery that gives owners something to smile about while simultaneously keeping the body free of extra doors.

The double body lines are still found rolling over the front wheel well and over the door handles while the bottom line juts upward as it runs between the wheels

Beyond the charging port, the A3 is a smart looking hatchback. The roofline slopes rearward, though at a modest angle, while the rear hatch offers a wide opening to the cargo area. Like any other A3 Sportback, the e-tron uses the same styling cues. The double body lines are still found rolling over the front wheel well and over the door handles while the bottom line juts upward as it runs between the wheels.

All the variants of the A3 are getting a refresh for 2017, but this 2016 model still looks fresh off the design table. That’s one thing about recent Audis – at least subjectively – is their designs tend to hold appeal, even years after debuting.

Interior

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2016 Audi A3 e-tron – Driven
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2016 Audi A3 e-tron – Driven
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The A3’s interior is typical Audi as well. Spartan, clean, and well-designed are the typical descriptors for Audi cockpits, and that holds true for the A3. The dashboard is devoid of excessive trim pieces and do-dads that clutter. Rather, the A3’s IP is smooth and sculpted with an apparent attention to detailing, perhaps my favorite of which are the air vents’ rings that click sharply when rotated to open or close airflow. It’s small, but adds something special.

Behind the wheel, the driver is treated to a sculpted, three-spoke steering wheel. The gauge cluster features two analog dials with a TFT display in between. The 2017 refresh is bringing Audi’s virtual cockpit to the A3, making the gauge cluster all digital. Still, the 2016’s gauges are well-designed and easy to read.

That power button allows the driver to retract the MMI screen for instances like nighttime driving

The center stack houses most of the A3’s controls, though it doesn’t look that way. Up top is the seven-inch MMI screen that rises upward from within the dash. The row of switches below the air vents houses controls for the drive mode selector, hybrid modes, parking sensors, hazard lights, traction control, and MMI screen power button. That power button allows the driver to retract the MMI screen for instances like nighttime driving.

The HVAC system resides further below and is a great example of simplicity. Dual zone temperature controls, defrost, fan speed, recirculation, and airflow location are all present, as well as the seat heaters.

Two cup holders reside ahead of the gear shifter while the MMI system controls all reside behind the leather-booted shift lever. Controlling the MMI system does take some getting uses to, especially for the non tech savvy. The center rotary dial allows for scrolling and selecting. Two toggle switches move fore and aft, allowing for quick selection of navigation, telephone, radio, and media controls. The four chrome-faced buttons beside the center rotary knob offer control for on-screen buttons. A simple menu and back button finish off the control switches.

In practice, the A3’s interior is comfortable. I did have issues getting comfortable at first though, as the seating position felt extremely high within the car, perpetuated by the low-slung armrests. A few days and couple dozen miles made me forget the first-drive troubles. Outward visibility is also good thanks to large windows and side mirrors. Blind spot monitoring kept stress levels down when navigating thick traffic and the backup camera makes negotiating tight parking spaces a breeze.

Of course, there’s more to the A3 Sportback than just its front seats. Rear seat passengers get a comfortable place to ride thanks to nicely padded seats, a center folding armrest, and dedicated rear air vents. Leg and headroom are both generous for this size of car, making longer trips a pleasant experience for all aboard. Fold down those rear seats, and the cargo room is impressive, making many of today’s crossovers look foolish in their high-riding design. With the rear seats in place, the A3’s truck can swallow 13.6 cubic feet of stuff, giving plenty of room for a week’s worth of groceries or a weekend’s worth of luggage.

Drivetrain

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2016 Audi A3 e-tron – Driven
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2016 Audi A3 e-tron – Driven
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As mentioned above, the A3 e-tron comes powered by a hybrid drive system that incorporates a gasoline four-cylinder with an electric motor and battery pack. More specifically, the gasoline engine is a turbocharged, 1.4-liter TFSI unit that makes 150 horsepower. It works in conjunction with a 102-horsepower e-motor system, that in total, generate 204 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mated to a six-seed dual clutch transmission that powers the front wheels.

The A3 e-tron comes powered by a hybrid drive system that incorporates a gasoline four-cylinder with an electric motor and battery pack

The battery pack is an 8.8-kWh lithium-ion unit that can propel the A3 e-tron a maximum of 16 to 17 miles on a full change. Audi says the average one-way commute is 14 miles, allowing A3 e-tron owners to commute without using the gasoline engine at all. Electric and gas combined, the car has a total range of 380 miles. Top speed in EV mode is an impressive 80 mph.

When it comes time to charge, the battery can be filled in as little at two hours and 15 minutes with a 240-volt charging system. Those using the more conventional 120-volt system will need eight hours to fully charge the car.

The A3 e-tron’s hybrid drivetrain offers four modes: EV Mode, Hybrid Mode, Hold Battery Mode, and Charge Battery Mode. Starting off, EV Mode is just what it sounds like. This driving mode keeps the engine from turning on and provides the driver with full EV power. Hybrid Mode has the A3 e-tron acting like a conventional Hybrid, say a Toyota Prius. The car chooses which power source to use for the current situation, whether it be battery or engine power.

Hold Battery Mode is a particularly useful mode when charging at home and traveling via highway to a crowded city. This mode keeps the battery fully charged during driving, allowing the driver to use EV mode at a later time. Lastly, Charge Battery Mode uses the gasoline engine to power the vehicle and recharge the battery. Recharging only happens at highway speeds, and in my experience, takes roughly 20 miles to fully charge the battery.

Performance wise, the A3 e-tron can hit 60 mph in 7.6 seconds and can reach a top speed of 138 mph. Fuel economy is the bigger story, of course. The EPA rates the car at 35 mpg combined and 83 MPGe. The 1.4-liter TFSI does require premium fuel, however, adding to the A3 e-tron’s operating costs.

Price

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Prices for the 2016 A3 e-tron start at $37,900 before options, taxes, and other fees. That gets you the Premium trim, the first of three available trim packages. Opting for the mid-range Premium Plus bumps the price to $42,000. The range-topping Prestige trim starts at $46,800.

However, that price can be brought down by any government subsidies for buying a green car. If fact, the U.S. Government is currently offering a $7,500 tax credit for plug-in hybrids.

Competition

BMW i3

2015 BMW i3 High Resolution Exterior
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The BMW i3 is offered in two forms: pure EV and EV with a range-extender. Since we’re talking about the A3 e-tron, the proper comparison is with the range-extender model. The i3 is a compact city car that’s powered by a 22 kWh lithium-ion battery that gives an all-electric range of 80 miles. Once the battery is below six percent of charge, a small 650 cc, two-cylinder gasoline engine kicks on to recharge the battery. This gives the i3 more driving range, but because its fuel tank only holds 1.9 gallons, the range is limited to an additional 60 to 80 miles. Long highway trips will require a stop nearly every hour.

Pricing wise, the BMW i3 starts around $47,000 for the range-extender model. Of course, the i3 is eligible for the same tax credit incentives as the A3 e-tron, so the final price can theoretically fall into the upper $30,000 range.

Read our full review on the BMW i3 here.

Chevy Volt

2016 Chevrolet Volt – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Yet another popular plug-in hybrid on the market is the Chevy Volt. The Volt uses a 18.4 kWh battery pack and a 1.5-liter four-cylinder range-extending engine to power the car. In full EV mode, the Volt can travel roughly 53 miles on a full charge. At that time, the gasoline engine kicks on a provides a total range of 420 miles. That’s thanks to an 8.9-gallon fuel tank.

Pricing for the Volt starts at $34,000 – a much less expensive option than the BMW. What’s more, the Volt offers more cargo room and a longer driving range than the i3. If you want more info on the Volt, be sure to read our full driven review of the 2016 Volt in the link above.

Read our full review on the Chevrolet Volt here.

Conclusion

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The 2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron is a fantastic little car apart from its plug-in hybrid system. Its large cargo area, folding rear seats, and handsome design make the A3 Sportback a welcomed member of Audi’s small-car lineup. Adding in the hybrid powertrain only adds to the fun. Sure, it does add cost, but sadly there’s no other way to have an A3 Sportback in the U.S. For whatever reason, Audi simply doesn’t sell it here.

Now as I mentioned in the driving video, the A3 e-tron does have its advantages for those with short commutes with a plug-in on either end. Those with longer drives would do better with a TDI-powered car – that is, if VW ever fixes its dieselgate debacle and makes the TDI engines available in the U.S. Diesels typically do well on long-haul highway trips where the e-tron’s plug-in hybrid powertrain is well suited for short, slow, in-city commutes.

Those wanting an alternative to the Prius, Volt, or C-Max Energi might find the A3 Sportback e-tron a great choice. The plug-in hybrid market is growing, so the competition is getting stronger. That’s great for the consumer, that is, unless they’re of the indecisive mindset.

  • Leave it
    • On the expensive side
    • Requires premium fuel
    • Best when used for short commutes
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